Who Is Me

Who Is Me.

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An Iraqi Saint of a doctor with dying Iraqi children July/August 1998

With so much going on in Iraq, I thought readers might like to read about some of my experiences, and see some photos I took of Iraqis, when I visited the country in 1998…

Jean Sasson

Different degrees of dying…
Sad and sick baby.
Darling little girl
Dr. Hameed with his young patient
Business cards, Baghdad summer of 1998
The Al-Rasheed in Baghdad, Summer of 1998

I tried to post these photos at the proper place in my blog, but for some reason the site didn’t cooperate. 

In July & August of 1998 I made a memorable journey to Baghdad.  After writing THE RAPE OF KUWAIT, and hearing my “banker” volunteer driver Soud A. Al-Mutawa talk about how fond he was of ordinary Iraqi citizens, I was always curious to find out for myself how it was that so many ordinary, but nice, Iraqis had fallen under a regime who not only tortured and murdered Kuwaitis, but also tortured and murdered Iraqis.  After leaving Kuwait, I knew that I must visit Iraq.  But years passed before the timing was right.  In 1998 I felt the time had come.  Lots…

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IRAQ: The current situation

MAYADA, DAUGHTER OF IRAQ

MAYADA, DAUGHTER OF IRAQ

The situation in Iraq is horrifying. There are so many questions as to how this has happened. While I will write more about that later, for the time being, I believe that most thinking people will want to know some of the history of Iraq’s formation through the eyes of an Iraqi woman who was born and raised in Iraq. If you have an interest, I encourage you to read Mayada’s story.

Soon I’ll post my thoughts on the current situation in a country I had so wanted to finally find and enjoy peace.

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Advice On Marrying A Saudi And Living in Saudi Arabia

This is all very interesting and good information from a woman who knows what she is talking about. She is an American married to a Saudi, and living in Saudi Arabia. You can totally trust her advice on life in Saudi Arabia.

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Saudi Women Demand Equal Citizenship Rights

The difficulties faced by Saudi girls is mind-boggling.

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Famous Rejection Letters

Nearly every writer has the disappointing experience of receiving a rejection letter. With my book PRINCESS, which has gone on to sell many millions of copies and is still selling, my agent at the time received 10 or 12 rejection letters, while only two editors/publishers (WILLIAM MORROW and ST. MARTIN’S PRESS) who were interested in the book. Some of those editors who finally rejected the book called me to chat about the book and the princess. I remember one editor telling me, “Well, no one really cares about a Saudi princess, so I’ll have to pass.” I heard later that she lost her job because she rejected PRINCESS, which became a huge bestseller in many countries. Over the years I’ve discovered a number of editors who are gems, all women in fact, who love the books I write and do the best they can for me. But most editors are just like the rest of us, and they make decisions on their personal likes and dislikes in a book. Also, there is a lot of fear in the business of making a mistake by buying the rights to a book that does not do well. So, a lot depends upon their decision. However, when we read the stories of really famous authors whose books sell worldwide in the millions, it is a shock how often such books are dismissed as being unworthy of publishing. I had one editor reject ESTER’S CHILD because she told me that she didn’t “Like nice Arabs taking a central role in a book!” I was shocked that she let her prejudices interfere with a business decision. ANYHOW, it’s interesting to read this blog written by one of the greatest bloggers online. I think you’ll enjoy it, too.

Cristian Mihai

letterFor any aspiring writer, a rejection letter, regardless of the provenience of said letter, is one of the most dreaded of objects. In this line of work getting rejected is considered a sort of literary murder – people are knowingly destroying something you’ve spent time on, and a lot of it. But the thing is everyone got rejected, more or less. I can think of very few instances when writers found publishers/agents from the first try. Or the second, or the tenth.

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Two years

This young man is an inspiration to many. I think you’ll like his writings, his books, his blog. Take a look and see!

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Squirrel On My Head and Puppy In My Pocket by Jean Sasson

FOR THOSE OF YOU who know me as a writer who thus far has only written about the Middle East, and generally, stories about courageous Middle Eastern women, here’s a little sampler of a book telling some of my animals stories. Truly, the love of animals has ruled my life. I intimately connected with animals from the time I could see and feel. (This, according to my darling mother.) I’ve been the proud companion of 44 sweet creatures, including birds, chickens, dogs, cats, one horse, and one squirrel. I’ve saved countless animals, whether I was in Saudi Arabia, the United States, Thailand, or other lands.

I’ve been trying to tell the story for several years. Although I keep getting interrupted, I will be finishing this book late 2014, so it should be published in 2015. Meanwhile, here’s the sampler of SQUIRREL ON MY HEAD and PUPPY IN MY POCKET…

SQUIRREL ON MY HEAD AND PUPPY IN MY POCKET by Jean Sasson:

While I can’t see across vast expanses like an eagle, nor smell scents from long distances like a dog, nor hear the slightest crackle of like a cat, I was born with a natural gift that is intimately linked to animals. My talent is that I can feel what all animals feel. I can feel their joy. I can feel their fear. I can feel their sadness. I can feel their pain. My feelings become so intense that I become the animal with my mind and body experiencing exactly whatever it is they are undergoing. If they are shackled, I am shackled. If they are confined in a small cage, I am confined. If they are injured, I am injured. If they are happy, I am happy.

This gift has been a mixed bag, making my life’s path at times more joyful and on other occasions, more sorrowful. But I have no choice in the matter. You see, I was born this way.

My dear mother once told me that the first animals I ever saw were the hens with their chicks running free in our back yard. She remembered that my baby eyes lit with excitement, my entire body wiggled while my tiny hands reached out and my feet kicked vigorously. I acted thus until the chickens were out of my sight. Later when I saw a homeless cat jump and perch and preen while sitting on a high shelf on the back porch, sheer joy bubbled from my lips as a series of baby squeals. Mom smilingly related that throughout my babyhood, I never failed to visibly react when in the presence of any animal, whether dog, cat, bird, cow, chicken, or even an ant. As I grew older and learned to speak, she said that I could see dogs, cats, donkeys or cows from long distances, exclaiming with such eagerness that it was a big challenge to calm me.

I find it puzzling that there were no pets in my family’s home until I was five years old, and due to my inborn love of animals, a tragedy ensued from that event, a tragedy I can barely think about today without tears flowing down my face.

My love of animals grew more profound with each passing year, and my feeling of oneness with all creatures grew more potent, becoming so intense that today it is more acute than ever. Some friends or acquaintances who have witnessed the pain I suffer from this ability to connect with animals claim it’s a curse, doing nothing more than creating a torment of sorrows. There are others who tag it as a gift, realizing that I have used my capability to help many animals gain the right to joy and freedom. Whether my oneness with the animals is a gift or a curse, it cannot be separated from whatever it is that makes me, me.

This heightened sensitivity has meant that it is impossible for me to turn away from an animal in need of help, even when such an action means that I might end up in a confrontation with another human being. Many times I have jumped in to uncertain circumstances that threatened physical altercation. I’ve discovered that most human beings don’t appreciate being informed that they are neglectful or cruel. One of my most dangerous moments occurred when I was driving down a country road in Southern Alabama.
On that day I caught a glimpse of a hapless dog tied to a tree. Suddenly I physically felt a noose tightening around my own neck. The chained dog brought on the familiar choking and gagging reflexes that always occur at the sight of a restrained animal. I felt myself strangling as I pulled against an invisible chain that I could painfully feel around my throat, although my own neck was physically free. As I always do when I see an abused animal, I rushed to the animal. I slammed on my automobile brakes and pulled to the side of the road before making a quick circle to return to the small isolated farmhouse where the dog was shackled.

I pulled in a dirt drive separating the house from the tree where the dog was sitting in a delicate manner. I stared at the dog. He stared back at me. But the dog was not barking, which is what most dogs do when a stranger comes into their territory. I was puzzled, but would soon discover the horrific reason for his cautious position and wary silence.

I turned off my automobile and further studied the situation. The small and unpainted farmhouse was dark. There were no chairs or swings on the front porch. There were ten or twelve empty coke bottles on the wooden steps leading onto the porch. There were no vehicles in the drive. In fact I could see no evidence of inhabitants. I returned my gaze to the unfortunate doggie. The poor creature had no dog house, so when it rained, there was no shelter to be had. I could not see a bowl of food or water. The poor dog spent his days chained and unable to move more than a few feet in any direction. I asked myself a question I’ve asked myself many times before and since, “Dear God! How can anyone be so cruel?”

I waited for someone to come out of the house so that I might speak with them about the dog. Many were the times I had proposed purchasing a dog house, or even to help build a fence for dog owners I did not know, although most owners grew defensive and dismissive of my offers as it was clear that I had found them to be neglectful. Usually such situations end with angry owners ordering me off their property. Generally it would take days to get humane societies or legal assistance to free animals. But I’m impatient when it comes to liberating animals, so I try to solve problems on my own, without any outside help.

After a few minutes, I decided that the house was unoccupied. I mused that perhaps the dog had been tied up and then abandoned. There were constant and painful surprises when it came to ‘human on animal cruelty’. But whether the dog’s owners were there or not, I knew that I was going to take action.

I stepped from the car and made my way to the dog. It was a small male, no more than 20 pounds with short tan fur. We locked eyes. He was following my every move. I saw hope in his intense gaze but my stomach tightened as I was once more mentally assaulted by his despair. His short tail wagged hopefully whenever I started speaking, “Hello little man. Don’t worry. I’m here to help.”
When I drew closer I knelt and reached out to him, I involuntarily gasped. The dog was not wearing a collar, yet he was hooked to a chain. Someone had torn open a hole in the dog’s neck with the sharp point of a metal hook, with the hook connected to the chain. His every movement was an agony. No wonder the poor creature didn’t bark or move about. The dog had been in obvious torment for some time, for the flesh of his neck had grown up around the hook.

My eyes followed the length of the chain, which was wrapped around the tree. The loose chain was so short that the dog had no more than three feet of movement in any direction.

My breaths were coming short and sharp. I was ready to fight whomever had committed this heinous act.
The small dog was getting excited but his movements were tempered by the hook growing out of his little neck. I sat still, holding his head in my hand while studying the chain, wondering how on earth I was going to free the dog. I couldn’t rip the deeply embedded hook out of his neck without causing him tremendous distress and pain. I stood up and walked to the tree and was relieved to see that the ends of the chain were not held together by a lock that would require a key. Instead, the ends of the chain were looped in and out of the two or three chain circles. “Jean, you can do this!” I said, giving myself encouragement that I did not feel. I set to work.

I was breaking another promise to my husband, Ted, who was a veterinarian. (We divorced four years later, but remained friends.)
Bless Ted’s heart, he had not once complained at my practice of taking dogs or cats or birds that did not belong to me to appear in his clinic with the poor creatures in tow. He always treated the animals and always assisted in finding good homes. But he had recently confided that he was fearful for my safety. My promise was that I would get him to help should I feel the need to free any animals. At 5’2” and weighing no more than 110 pounds, I agreed with him that it wouldn’t hurt to have physical back-up. Ted was a big guy, standing 6’4” and would intimidate anyone who didn’t know that in fact he was a very gentle man.

But after seeing the condition of the dog, I could not bear to walk away, to leave him alone and to leave him believing that I was not going to save him. So I kept unlooping the chain. That’s when I heard the front door of the farmhouse slam. I turned to see a man of 60 or so years standing on the porch. He was scratching his face and looking at me in great puzzlement.
He spoke loudly and in poorly spoken speech. “Ma’am, wat you doin with my dog?”

I stared at him, pausing for only a moment, impatient to scream at the cruel man, yet knowing it was best to remain calm. “I’m taking him.” I replied in a level, determined voice.

“You wat?”

I remained calm, but never stopped unlooping the chain. I glanced at the doggie and his ears had flattered. He was terrified of the man. No surprise there, I thought. With an owner so cruel, who knows what abuses the poor baby frequently endured?
“I’m taking this dog with me. He needs medical attention.”

There was a long silence before the door slammed once more. I looked to see that the man had gone back into the house. Perhaps he didn’t care if I took the dog, but I doubted that was the case. It had been my life experience that anytime I pointed out cruelty or became involved in saving animals from brutal situations, the owners always became defensive, the sort of people who saw nothing wrong with chaining or mistreating dogs, or starving horses, or torturing cats, or any other brutal exploitation against a helpless creature.

By this time I nearly had the doggie freed. That’s when the door opened once more. I twisted my neck so I could see the porch. There was the same man standing on the porch. To my surprise, he had a shotgun in his hand, although it was not pointed at me.

Strangely enough, I felt no fear. Anytime I am in the middle of a rescue, my adrenalin must flow in triple doses, for I can’t recall ever feeling actual fear or even alarm during such conflicts, although I do admit it was unusual to have someone come at me armed. But I was more determined not to leave this hooked dog to his owner’s mercy. Something extraordinary happens to me when an animal is in need, and I feel myself a superwoman, ready to fight to the death if necessary. So I kept unlooping the chain.

“You not takin my dog, lady.”

That’s when chain loosened from the tree and clattered to the ground. I quickly gathered the chain and lifted the doggie into my arms at the same time. I began walking to my car. I was moving slowly and purposefully but my mind was racing. Thankfully I had left the keys in the ignition. My car separated us, but I was young and agile while he was old and shuffling. I could easily beat him to my car. I was small but determined. I truly felt that in a physical altercation, that I would be the victor. Of course he could shoot me, but I felt strongly that he was not going to shoot me over a dog he cared so little about that he had intentionally maimed him.

“Lady, drop the dog,” he ordered in his loud gravelly voice.

You nasty brute, even your voice is revolting, I thought. But I kept my thoughts to myself, giving him a quick glance and speaking in a normal tone, “If you are going to shoot me over a dog, now is the time to do it.”

I had challenged him. Unless he was completely insane, I knew that the doggie and I would leave freely.
I maintained my composure, carefully placing the doggie on the back seat and placing the chain in a manner that I hoped it would not pull on the dog’s neck. Only then did I settle into the front seat and start my engine and slowly drove out of the drive.
The criminal was standing on the porch, looking at me in bewildered astonishment. I guess he had assumed that the sight of the gun would create a panic and I would abandon the dog and run away, leaving the poor critter for further torture. Fat chance, you disgusting worm, I thought to myself.

I gave a triumphant wave as I roared off.

That’s when I decided to name the little fellow Chance. “You got your chance when I saw you, little man,” I told him.
Chance was extremely intelligent and very polite. He looked at me with a smile, yet knew not to move around and jiggle the pain-causing-chain. I could feel his doggie happiness flooding the car. Somehow, Chance knew that he was saved.

Ted was seeing a cat patient when Chance and I arrived, but his assistant was properly horrified at the condition of poor Chance, dropping everything to help me move the poor dog into an exam room. When Ted rushed into the room, our eyes met over Chance. That kindly man didn’t say a word about broken promises, but set to work examining the poor dog. Ted grunted when he saw the hook imbedded into Chance’s neck, and quickly changed his schedule for an unexpected emergency surgery.

Sometimes there are happy endings in a life filled with misfortunes, and Chance’s life went from the bleakest misery to a life of happiness. One of Ted’s clients fancied Chance, and soon the healed doggie was blissfully settled with a family who appreciated his specialness and lavished him with the best foods and infinite love and care.

What happened to the vicious man with the gun? Regrettably, there were few laws on the books in those days to truly defend and protect
animals. Coincidentally Ted happened to be a good friend of the sheriff in our small city, and the two of them made the man a visit, warning him that he was in danger of being arrested for animal cruelty. That’s when the criminal said he wanted to take out a warrant against the lady who had come onto his property and stolen an expensive and greatly loved dog!

He decided against that action when the sheriff cautioned that he was walking a thin line that might well cause him to be booked for a felony, although what felony the sheriff was not yet quite certain. Ted, who was one of the founders and was the current President of the local humane society, forewarned that there would be routine checks at his home to make certain that he did not acquire another domestic pet.

I aided in the cause. The man’s home was located on the road to the home of my best friend, so I routinely checked his yard for chained dogs. Thankfully I never saw another animal in his yard, something that would have made it necessary for me to spring into a second hazardous situation with the same criminal.

Writing these stories evoke so many memories. I’ll never stop admiring Ted for the super cool manner he handled the many pet dilemmas I brought his way during the four years we were married, and the additional years we remained friends. Perhaps from all the “Jean’s animal stories” Ted had heard from my parents, he expected no less of me.

Such reminiscences carry me back to my family’s history. These memories lead into my early days, to the very beginning of my many years of animal love, consisting of my many pets, numerous and dramatic pet rescues, and in one sad case, the tragic deaths of sweet kittens brought about accidentally by my own childish misbehavior.

I’ll tell you more about those precious, but doomed kittens later. There are many other stories to come, but for now, here are some photographs of only a few of the 44 sweet animals who have loved and been loved in my home.

Just in time for the holidays!

Princess

Paris, the cat who understands English

Paris, the cat who understand English

This beautiful baby was saved from a life of horror living in a small cage in a pet store in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

This beautiful baby was saved from a life of horror living in a small cage in a pet store in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

This huge German Shepherd was one of the sweetest doggies I ever loved.  He was 120 pounds, and VERY protective, but would play with kittens.  He was a lovely member of our household.

This huge German Shepherd was one of the sweetest doggies I ever loved. He was 120 pounds, and VERY protective, but would play with kittens. He was a lovely member of our household.

Newcombe was being sold in a pet store in Columbus, Ga.  Poor baby had lived for 4 months in a tiny wire cage.  I didn't really have the money in those days but I bought him and brought him home and although he was the most difficult of all my babies, only because of mistreatment, he was greatly loved for the rest of his life.  Newcombe lived for 14 years...

Newcombe was being sold in a pet store in Columbus, Ga. Poor baby had lived for 4 months in a tiny wire cage. I didn’t really have the money in those days but I bought him and brought him home and although he was the most difficult of all my babies, only because of mistreatment, he was greatly loved for the rest of his life. Newcombe lived for 14 years…

Onya was an 80 pound German Shepherd who was an angel... Always wanted to please, and please she did.  I still miss her.

Onya was an 80 pound German Shepherd who was an angel… Always wanted to please, and please she did. I still miss her.

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HERE’S A REAL MAN, ZIAUDDIN YOUSAFZAI: father of MALALA YOUSAFZAI

Ziauddin Yousafzai, a proud Muslim father of his daughter

Ziauddin Yousafzai, a proud Muslim father of his daughter

MALALA 1

There are great men living among us, but sometimes it take an epic event for their presence to be known outside their limited geography.  

Rarely do men take the lead in fighting for women’s rights.  But I have just read about a man who has been fighting for women’s rights for his entire life.  That man’s name is Ziauddin Yousafzai.  Ziauddin is the Pakistani father of the very famous Malala Yousafzai, his daughter, and the courageous young woman who stood up for the education of girls in Pakistan.  As a result, Malala was shot in the head by a member of the Taliban.  

 

As you might have guessed, I just read “I AM MALALA.”  It’s an outstanding book that I recommend to everyone.  There is no more worthy book being sold today.   

Malala is an exceptionally brave young woman.  But, her father was more brave.  There could have been no Malala without Ziauddin, a man of astounding courage who has fought for his entire life for the education of all children in Pakistan, boys and girls.  When Malala was born, no one in the family was happy because she was a baby girl.  But Ziauddin stunned all by not only being happy about his daughter’s birth, but was extremely vocal about his pride to be the father of a daughter.  He insisted that his daughter be included in the family tree, much to the horror of other family members.  (Sadly, in most of the Muslim world, when daughters are born, everyone goes quiet with grief.  When sons are born, celebrations go on for days.) 

And so from the beginning of her life, Ziauddin’s daughter was lavished with love, attention, and books.  From the moment she reached the age of understanding, she knew that her father “had her back” and he would fight to the death to ensure that she, a mere girl in other’s eyes, would be treated equally with her two brothers.  And so Malala grew into her teenage years feeling confident that she had the right to speak her mind, to study, to learn, and to have and pursue dreams.  Ziauddin had taught his daughter how to struggle against injustice.  And Malala learned how powerful a person can be who speaks out against injustice.  Every child born deserves such a life.  

When reading this book, I adored Malala, and I marveled at Ziauddin.  He grew up at a time when women’s feelings  were not even considered, yet he respected women, and was proud to  express his respect for females, insisting that his school be open to girls, too. 

Ziauddin is not only passionate and confident with his beliefs, but he is exceptionally wise about many aspects of life.  Here are just a few tidbits in the book shared by Malala:  “My father also loved to write poetry, sometimes about love, but often on controversial themes such as honor killings and women’s rights.”   

When a Mullah in their village started a campaign against Ziauddin’s school, open to girls and boys, Ziauddin was not afraid to fight back, telling others, ‘Nim Mullah khatrai iman’ or, “A Mullah who is not fully learned is a danger to faith.”  (After living in the Muslim world for many years, I KNOW that it takes extraordinary courage for anyone to speak out against a Mullah.  Even powerful kings and dictators chose their words with care when addressing or discussing a Mullah!) 

When a doctor’s clinic was closed by the Taliban, the doctor approached Ziauddin for advice after the Taliban later offered to reopen the hospital.  Ziauddin advised his friend, “Don’t accept good things from bad people.”  He didn’t believe that a hospital protected by the Taliban was a good thing.  He was right, and not afraid to speak out against the brutal Taliban.

When the Taliban first came to their valley (SWAT) many people welcomed them with open arms, much to Ziauddin’s dismay, for he knew they were wolves in sheep’s clothing.  Later after the Taliban completely took over and began to murder many people, everyone was forced to flee.  When they returned to their village, they found a letter from a Pakistani soldier condemning the villagers for allowing the Taliban to gain control Swat.  Ziauddin told his daughter, “This is typical.  We people of Swat were first seduced by the Taliban, then killed by them and now blamed for them.  Seduced, killed and blamed.”  In fact, Ziauddin was being generous.  He was never seduced.  In fact, he fought against the Taliban from the first day until the last.

When Ziauddin received death threats from the Taliban, he refused to give up his activities to educate children or to stop warning his friends against cooperating with the Taliban.  Even after his friends were shot in the face by the Taliban, he kept on course.  Everyone believed that Ziauddin would be next.

But it was his daughter who was shot. 

After the attempted murder of Malala, Ziauddin “…argued that all he had ever wanted was to create a school in which children could learn….”  “My only ambition,” Ziauddin said, is to educate my children and my nation as much as I am able.  But when half of your leaders tell lies and the other half negotiating with the Taliban, there is nowhere to go.  One has to speak out.”

Although Ziauddin was unusually courageous, he was often frustrated, once saying, “I have a school, but I am neither a khan nor a political leader.  I have no platform.  I am only one small man.”

I beg to differ:  Ziauddin, you are NOT a small man.  You are a lion of a man, the greatest of men, one of the most courageous men I’ve ever had the pleasure to read about — a man unafraid to go against entrenched ideas and prejudices fully embraced by your society.  

When Mala’s mother continued to believe that women should not go out of the house, and should not speak to any man not of her family, Ziauddin told his wife:  “Pekai, purdah is not only in the veil, purdah is in the heart.”

Ziauddin kept a famous poem (written by Martin Niemoller, who lived in Nazi Germany) in his pocket:

First they came for the communists,

and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.

Then they came for the socialists,

and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists,

and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews,

and I didn’t speak out because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for the Catholics,

and I didn’t speak out because I was not a Catholic.

Then they came for me,

and there was no one left to speak for me.

I have discovered that it is very difficult to bring change to our world.  And, as hard as women might fight against abuses, we cannot bring this kind of massive social change until men stand by our side.  If only every thinking men would come forward like Ziauddin Yousafzai to fight for women’s rights.  If only every man would live as Ziauddin Yousafzi has lived, soon we could defeat the abuses man inflicts upon women.

Ziauddin Yousafzi is a modest man, calling himself a “small man,” but in fact he is one of the greatest men ever to walk this earth. 

We should all nominate Ziauddin Yousafzi for next year’s Nobel peace prize, and for the TIMES man of the year.  We need to hold him up as the kind of hero young boys should emulate. 

Ziauddin Yousafzai is a real man.  

    

 

  

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Making a Difference…really!

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