“Character is like a tree and reputation its shadow.”
― Abraham Lincoln
A young Sudanese poet satisfies hope for better days
by Nabeel Biajo published on VOA News
A young Sudanese poet has learned that her blog of English-language short stories and poems has the power to transform. Among those who follow her literary work – and many of her readers are Sudanese in the diaspora – she is called the Nubian Queen.
But the Sudan she writes about at NubianQ is new to her.
Najla Salih grew up far from Sudan but hearing the stories her parents told her about her homeland, she fell in love with it. It was from her mother and father that she learned of golden age Sudan, when the country was filled with what she calls “pure states of mind and transparent hearts.”
They were people she thought of as “the type that would go and do their masters and their PhD in England and the States, but would still come back to Sudan to work so that they can better their country”.
After 17 years and a college education in the United States, Salih returned to Sudan last year and discovered a different Sudan, not just the romantic place she knew from summer vacations.
“Whether it’s what you hear on the news or what your parents tell you or what other Sudanese people in the community tell you, usually it’s negative,” Salih says. “So you become so disillusioned by this over-glorified past of older generations.
“Sometimes it leaves you looking at everything as just not good enough: whatever happens in Sudan, that is. So I owed it not only to my parents but also to myself to see Sudan through my own eyes.”
Listen to Nabeel Biajo’s interview with Najla Salih
For a year now, the 27-year-old returnee has been traveling and looking at contemporary Sudan. It has enchanted her with all of its complexity.
Salih’s ravaged country
She is subtle in her writing, but she has seen the real Sudan. Here is how on her blog she views her role: “Here to satisfy your hope in better days no matter how ravaged, how unraveled, how hopeless….”
Sudan’s social and political problems need home-grown solutions, she says. Solutions different from those she imagined before coming home.
“I thought I had it figured out basically,” she says. “I come with my background, with my western education and my work ethics and my professionalism …
“For me – at this point and for the past year – I have just basically been observing. I have just been taking in everything that I possibly can and trying to understand”
As a writer, she has learned to use her craft in subtle ways, addressing the societal challenges that face her country with imagery and humor.
“When you want to address an issue… and it may be difficult to talk about. You can’t go about it in a confrontational way.
“If you do that, you’re going to have the other person be on defensive. They won’t bother to listen. They will just ignore you or they will get offended.”
She takes a humorous approach to take the edge off. “It’s a very dry humor. It draws their attention and makes them listen. Then, when they listen and they see the absurdness of it and the wrongness in it, then they take it more easily.”
A reformer’s definition of beauty
Salih says women in Sudan are discouraged from speaking out against gender biases in a predominantly patriarchal, or male-oriented, society.
“They put this idea in girls’ heads that this is something that is very unattractive. It’s not attractive to speak your mind. It’s not attractive to want to talk about what’s going on in Sudan.”
Women in Sudan are expected to only talk about petty things, she says. “What’s happening socially, who wore that, and who did this and who divorced who and who is dating who. It’s just very shallow things.”
Under social pressure, Salih noticed that girls try to conform to social standards of success and beauty. Some are forced to undertake what she calls “detrimental” practices to make themselves appear attractive.
“The fairer you are, the more attractive you’re considered,” Salih says. “The long thick luxurious hair and the curvaceous body.
“They use the whitening cream, and there are shots that you can take. It’s detrimental to their health. And it’s all so that they can conform to the society. So that they can get married and have that wedding.”
The need to conform to traditional Sudan’s sense of physical beauty is a prominent theme on her blog.
“I try to empower. I try to make girls and women feel proud, to feel comfortable in their own skin and – most importantly – to have their own standards.
“It’s alright to have your own standard of beauty and to stand by it and stick to it without feeling guilty or pressured to do other things.”
Salih has learned about the real Sudan, the rich culture and history of the countryside. She says the travel was transformative and she suggests that others do the same. Whether they have lived their entire lives in Sudan or are just visiting, she challenges her readers to travel and learn.
“Not just to stay in Khartoum or whatever city you happen to be in. Just explore Sudan because there is so much.”
The writer has discovered a rich and complex culture, not the idealized version her parents remembered. She wants to make her life in the country she has discovered.
“The more you see, the more you realize that Sudan is worth giving something,” says Salih. In the end, she says, “Sudan is worth it.”
Being Caught in the In-Between; Najla Salih aka NubianQ at TEDxSobaWomen
Born in Saudia Arabia, growing up in the USA while living at home with constant reminders of her duties to prepare to become the perfect Sudanese housewife, Najla turns the confusions of all these experiences and mixed cultural messages into a unique voice in poetry and short stories. Now living in Sudan she poses serious questions on the future of women as they are pulled in two opposite directions between modernity and self-fulfilment and submission to a conventionality that is no longer relevant to their lives
My Profile in TEDxSobaWomen Pamphlet
Najla Salih aka NubianQ
Through writing, Najla has discovered that differences may also indicate similarities. Born in Saudi Arabia to Sudanese parents and having lived in the U.S. until recently, Najla has had ample opportunity to experience different and sometimes conflicting social norms. The issues she is most keen to explore are women and Sudan. Through short stories and poetry, Najla sets out her keen observations in a direct yet lyrical language.
Found in In The City; by Editorial team
… And last but by no means least the formidable NubianQ. I have to say while all the other stories stirred something deep within me, Najla brought something out of me. After hearing her bold and often jarring lyrical poetry, I was itching to run home and put pen to paper and express much of own inner turmoil. Najla you were heard loud and clear. I felt impressed, moved, angry, accepting, loving and exposed all at the same time. We wish Najla all the best. She is a gifted writer who is obviously going places.
Sudan’s Bloggeratti: Part I
by Omnia Shawkat on April 28, 2013
Q’s prowess as a poet and writer has titillated us continuously since her blog launched mid-2012. Her talent lies in her ability to seduce you inside her story by the imagery and fluidity of the words. A truly beautiful addition is how entirely Sudanese the stories are; in essence and in their Arabic-laced descriptions.
Published in The Citizen Newspaper – June19th, 2013 in my weekly column Blography of Sudan
With its colorful background, an intriguing piece of Arabic calligraphy behind the name and the tastefully chosen pictures accompanying every post; this blog: NubianQ.com is a feast for the eye. However it is more than just that, in her first post, published on December 4th, 2009, NubianQ describes her blog as her Solitary Content. There she writes:“So this here is my solitary content, where my angels and demons reside in one space, … Where I can just be… me. Where I can lay down this heavy atlas and stretch out my aching shoulders and crooked spine and stand and just… breathe”. The urge to state her thought and feelings filtered by nothing but a sense for literary beauty which can be seen in the previous quote was translated in her writing style. Weather it is a love poem, a nostalgic prose, a narrative of political events or a photo; it is always personal, an honest description of the writer’s thoughts. NubianQ’s style is rather descriptive and romantic. She tends to beautifully and smoothly slide into the metaphors of the words blurring the lines between the objective descriptions and the subjective feelings. Other blurred lines in her writing are those between prose and poetry, which are sometimes only distinguishable by the posts’ category; poetry or short story. The blog also includes other categories; Monologues, her list of Sudan’s Finest websites and her photography. The subcategory (Short stories: THIS SHOULD BE IN A NOVEL SERIES) contains some of the blog’s finest pieces. NubianQ blogs mainly in English yet often uses some Sudanese-Arabic words. Nostalgia and questioning Sudanese stereotypes especially for females are topics frequently mentioned in this blog.
Out of her short stories I am glad to introduce you this snap shot -as NubianQ calls them-. Enjoy it.
Childhood by NubianQ
Renting out the old place and buying something new. Plans shoved in my face, enlarged halls, more room, a better view, easier access and honestly, that house is just too old fashioned.
That old place was my childhood.
No matter how many years it took me to come back, that old place was my anchor.
This is where I’m supposed to smile and nod with enthusiasm.
This is where I’m supposed to ask as if I really cared.
But don’t think me childish because truly, I do understand, it’s just, that was my childhood.
The only thing that runs across my mind like a steady drum is; I wish, I wish, I wish.
If only I’d whispered to each hall, room, closet, corner I love you.
If only I’d remembered to capture with the memory of each blink like a camera lens, the crowded visitors, sleeping bodies, rainbow of expressions around the seenaya [tray], Yuma [grandma] and how she insisted to pray without the chair, all the aunties in the kitchen preparing Friday’s fatoor [breakfast], Muna as she gracefully mopped the floors, the amount of dust that shaped the air.
If only I’d memorized the so many faces that are now long gone, held you tighter, imprinted your smell, your voice, your texture.
If only I could take these golden moments and spread them about, smoothen the wrinkles and just watch: secrets shared underneath the stars of the satoo7 [roof], being almost caught with our first drag of cigarettes, getting chased with the shibshib [flip-flop] for being almost 18 and still sliding in the mud as it rained, gathering around one mirror when there were so many others, pushing and shoving as we passed around that eyeliner.
If only I’d have just one last chance to slide down that banister, run my hands across every crack, every scar to these marbled floors and relive their stories, and just swing my body round and round that garage pole, lose my balance and just lay in the sun.
I wish I could go back to the familiarity of truth and simpleness, when what I spoke in my mind was awarded not punished, when I was not afraid to let my feelings run wild, climb trees, be muddied, be a complete mess and so, so free.
And now, when I’ll drive down that familiar street, littered with new shops and unfamiliar places, my house reshaped, maybe a bank, a school, I’ll make sure to slow down, lower the window and smile at the heat as it slaps my face, shade my eyes and in an instant remember, just like that fabled second right before you die, all the memories gathered in a sigh and say there goes my childhood.