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

    Video Rubio Looks to Surge in New Hampshire

    Republican presidential candidate has moved into second place in several recent surveys and appears to be gaining ground on longtime frontrunner Donald Trump

    UN Calls for Global Ban on Female Genital Mutilation

    Recent UNICEF report finds at least 200 million girls and women alive today have undergone female genital mutilation in 30 countries

    UN Pilots New Peace Approach in CAR

    Approach launched in northern town of Kaga Bandoro, where former combatants of mainly Muslim Seleka armed group and Christian and animist anti-Balaka movement are being paid to do community work

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

    By the Numbers

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibiti
    X
    Hamada Elsaram
    February 05, 2016 4:30 PM
    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.
    Video

    Video Genius Lets World Share Its Knowledge

    Inspired by crowdsourcing companies like Wikipedia, Genius allows anyone to edit anything on the web, using its web annotation tool
    Video

    Video Former Drug CEO Martin Shkreli Angers US Lawmakers

    A former U.S. pharmaceutical business executive has angered lawmakers by refusing to explain why he raised the price of a life-saving pill by 5,000 percent. Martin Shkreli was removed from a congressional hearing on Thursday after citing his Fifth Amendment right to stay silent. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Super Bowl TV Commercials are Super Business for Advertisers

    The Super Bowl, the championship clash between the two top teams in American Football, is the most-watched sporting event of the year, and advertisers are lining up and paying big bucks to get their commercials on the air. In fact, the TV commercials during the Super Bowl have become one of the most anticipated and popular features of the event. VOA's Brian Allen has a sneak peek of what you can expect to see when the big game goes to commercial break, and the real entertainment begins.
    Video

    Video In Philippines, Mixed Feelings About Greater US Military Presence

    In the Philippines, some who will be directly affected by a recent Supreme Court decision clearing the way for more United States troop visits are having mixed reactions.  The increased rotations come at a time when the Philippines is trying to build up its military in the face of growing maritime assertiveness from China.  From Bahile, Palawan on the coast of the South China Sea, Simone Orendain has this story.
    Video

    Video Microcephaly's Connection to Zika: Guilty Until Proven Innocent

    The Zika virus rarely causes problems for the people who get it, but it seems to be having a devastating impact on babies whose mothers are infected with Zika. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
    Video

    Video Solar Innovation Provides Cheap, Clean Energy to Kenya Residents

    In Kenya, a company called M-Kopa Solar is providing clean energy to more than 300,000 homes across East Africa by allowing customers to "pay-as-you-go" via their cell phones. As Lenny Ruvaga reports from Kangemi, customers pay a small deposit for a solar unit and then pay less than a dollar a day to get clean energy to light up their homes or businesses.
    Video

    Video Stunning Artworks Attract Record Crowds, Thanks to Social Media

    A new exhibit at the oldest art museum in America is shattering attendance records. Thousands of visitors are lining up to see nine giant works of art that have gotten a much-deserved shot of viral marketing. The 150-year-old Smithsonian American Art Museum has never had a response quite like this. VOA's Julie Taboh reports.
    Video

    Video Apprenticeships Put Americans on Path Back to Work

    Trying to get more people into the U.S. workforce, the Obama administration last year announced $175 million in grants towards apprenticeship programs. VOA White House correspondent Aru Pande went inside one training center outside of Washington that has gained national recognition for helping put people on the path to employment.
    Video

    Video New Material May Reduce Concussion Effects

    As the 2016 National Football League season reaches its summit at the Super Bowl this coming Sunday (2/7), scientists are trying to learn how to more effectively protect football players from dangerous and damaging concussions. Researchers at Cardiff and Cambridge Universities say their origami-based material may solve the problem. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Saudi Arabian Women's Sports Chip Away at Stereotypes

    Saudi Arabian female athletes say that sports are on the front line of busting traditions that quash women’s voices, both locally and internationally. In their hometown of Jeddah, a group of basketball players say that by connecting sports to health issues, they are encouraging women and girls to get out of their homes and participate in public life. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.
    Video

    Video A Year Later, Fortunes Mixed for Syrians Forging New Lives in Berlin

    In April of last year, VOA followed the progress of six young Syrian refugees -- four brothers and their two friends -- as they made their way from Libya to Italy by boat, and eventually to Germany. Reporter Henry Ridgwell caught up with the refugees again in Berlin, as they struggle to forge new lives amid the turmoil of Europe's refugee crisis.
    Video

    Video Zika Virus May be Hard to Stop

    With the Zika virus spreading rapidly, the World Health Organization Monday declared Zika a global health emergency. As Alberto Pimienta reports, for many governments and experts, the worst is yet to come.