News / Africa

A young Sudanese poet satisfies hope for better days

Najla Salih presents her poetry as a new view of Sudan, women and beauty during a TED talk on YouTube. (Courtesy Najla Salih)
Najla Salih presents her poetry as a new view of Sudan, women and beauty during a TED talk on YouTube. (Courtesy Najla Salih)
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
Listen to Nabeel Biajo's interview with Najla Salihi
|| 0:00:00
...    
🔇
X


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.

Watch and listen to Salih read her poetry on TED talk



“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.”

You May Like

US Gives Malaysia Questionable Upgrade in Human Trafficking Ranks

Malaysia’s upgrade seen as removing barrier to country’s participation in the US-led 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership More

Turkey, US Try to Establish Buffer Despite Differences

Coalition airstrikes in proposed zone would aim to drive out Islamic extremists, allowing targeted area to come under sway of anti-Assad rebels More

Video US: Millions Exploited by Vast Fortunes of Human Trafficking

State Department's annual report calls exploitation 'modern slavery,' brutalizing girls, women into prostitution and forcing men, women and children into low-wage jobs across the globe More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Wini
X
July 28, 2015 12:21 AM
The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Win

The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video Iran Nuclear Pact Wins Few New US Congressional Backers

Later this week, President Barack Obama returns from a trip to Africa to confront a U.S. Congress roiled by the nuclear accord with Iran, an agreement that has received the blessing of the U.N. Security Council. Days of intensive lobbying and testimony by top administration officials have won few new congressional supporters of the pact. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports.
Video

Video Washington DC Underground Streetcar Station to Become Arts Venue

Abandoned more than 50 years ago, the underground streetcar station in Washington D.C.’s historic DuPont Circle district is about to be reborn. The plan calls for turning the spacious underground platforms - once meant to be a transportation hub, - into a unique space for art exhibitions, presentations, concerts and even a film set. Roman Mamonov has more from beneath the streets of the U.S. capital. Joy Wagner narrates his report.
Video

Video Obama Encourages Kenya to Fix Cultures of Corruption, Discrimination

President Barack Obama bid farewell to Kenya Sunday with a major speech at as stadium outside the capital Nairobi where he called on Kenyans to change the cultures of corruption and discrimination that can hold society back. VOA East Africa Correspondent Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Europe’s Twin Crises Collide in Greece as Migrant Numbers Soar

Greece has replaced Italy as the main gateway for migrants into Europe, with more than 100,000 arrivals in the first six months of 2015. Many want to move further into Europe and escape Greece’s economic crisis, but they face widespread dangers on the journey overland through the Balkans. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Stink Intensifies as Lebanon’s Trash Crisis Continues

After the closure of a major rubbish dump a week ago, the streets of Beirut are filling up with trash. Having failed to draw up a plan B, politicians are struggling to deal with the problem. John Owens has more for VOA from Beirut.
Video

Video Paris Rolls Out Blueprint to Fight Climate Change

A U.N. climate conference in December aims to produce an ambitious agreement to fight heat-trapping greenhouse gases. But many local governments are not waiting, and have drafted their own climate action plans. That’s the case with Paris — which is getting special attention, since it’s hosting the climate summit. Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at the transformation of the French capital into an eco-city.
Video

Video Racially Diverse Spider-Man Takes Center Stage

Whether it’s in a comic book or on the big screen, fans have always known the man behind the Spider-Man mask as Peter Parker. But that is changing, at least in the comic book world. Marvel Comics announced that a character called Miles Morales will replace Peter Parker as Spider-Man in a new comic book series. He is half Latino, half African American, and he is quite popular among comic book fans. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports from Los Angeles.
Video

Video California Towns Welcome Special Olympics Athletes

Cities and towns in Southern California are greeting thousands of athletes who are arriving for Special Olympics, a competition for people with intellectual disabilities. The games will run from July 25th through August 2nd. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports from Pasadena, California, where athletes from Namibia, Singapore and Tanzania got a rousing welcome from local residents.
Video

Video Critics of Japan Defense Policy Focus on Okinawa

In Okinawa, many locals have long complained that Tokyo places an unfair burden on the tiny island by locating most of Japan's U.S. military bases there. As Japan's government moves toward strengthening and expanding the country's defense policies, opponents of those plans are joining local protesters in Okinawa, voicing concern about where the country is headed. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from Okinawa.
Video

Video IS Uses Chemical Weapons in Syrian Attack

Islamic State militants have added a new weapon in their arsenal of fear: chemical weapons. VOA Kurdish service reporter Zana Omer was on the scene within hours of a recent attack in Hasakah, Syria, and has details of the subsequent investigation, in this report narrated by Miguel Amaya.
Video

Video Historic Symbol Is Theme of Vibrant New Show

A new exhibit in Washington is paying tribute to the American flag with a wide and eclectic selection of artwork that uses the historic symbol as its central theme. VOA’s Julie Taboh was at the DC Chamber of Commerce for the show’s opening.
Video

Video Hoverbike Flying Toward Reality

Another long-standing dream of many technological inventors is quickly approaching reality: U.S.- and British-based firms are cooperating in the development of an individual flying platform they call a hoverbike. They say it may revolutionize the concept of flying, including in the U.S. military. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video As Japan Expands Defense Role, Protests Follow

The Japanese government is moving forward with a controversial security bill that would authorize the military to fight abroad for the first time since World War II. Leaders say it is critical to defend against rising threats from China and North Korea. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from Japan on the big changes ahead, and the opposition they are drawing.
Video

Video Replacing Poppies with Coffee in Myanmar

The remote mountains of Myanmar’s Shan state are home to the second-largest opium-producing region in the world. After a drop during the 2000s, production surged in the past eight years to feed an increasing demand for heroin in China. But farmers are now making less on the crop, and the U.N. is hoping many will make the switch to growing coffee. Daniel de Carteret reports for VOA from Taunggyi.

VOA Blogs