No Time Limit on Living Your Dreams
Kevin Ngo and Tim Carroll Interview Sala Abrahim
A multitalented man who’s unafraid of pursuing his passions, Sala grew up in Western Sudan. From there, he lived briefly in Washington State, Venezuela, and Spain, where he studied Political Science. Fuelled by determination and a strong sense of self-belief, Sala went on to work in Journalism, where he now uses his knowledge of Spanish, French, and Italian languages to further understand the political climates and culture of different countries.
Kevin: What is your name?
My name is Sala Abrahim.
Kevin: Describe the place you spent your childhood.
Well, I spent my childhood in Western Sudan. When I was growing up, there was this fascination about cinema, and we loved to go to the cinema. And so [throughout] my childhood, and early adulthood, I’ve been a great fan of cinema. You could say that cinema [has actually] helped us with understanding ourselves, and understanding the world better. It was our window to the world.
Kevin: Can you describe a sensory memory from your childhood, like your favourite meal, your most memorable smell. So anything to do with the senses, like sight, smell, taste, hearing.
To tell you the truth, I love potatoes. The thing is, anything that is cooked with some potatoes in it [is] my favourite meal. So I don’t really have any particular favourite meal. I have so many favourite meals.
Kevin: Do you have a favourite potato childhood memory?
No, what I remember is that when they used to cook potatoes, they used to have some cheese sprinkled on the potatoes. And then they cook it in the oven with some other ingredients, so it becomes very delicious.
Tim: Is that like an ethnic tradition? We want to hear all of this ethnographic traditional Sudanese food, is that a traditional Sudanese dish?
Well, there are a lot of meat dishes, we eat a lot of meat. Sometimes the meat is roasted or cooked, you know, just like ‘barbies’ here. But the thing is, I wasn’t a big fan of heavy meals like meat and stuff. So I would rather go for fish or potatoes, something light you know.
Kevin: Ok, next question, so where do you live now?
I live in Yagoona. I like Yagoona, because it is a quiet area. You have lots of birds screeching in the morning. There are lots of trees, I love trees. It’s my favourite suburb, you could say.
Tim: I want to just jump in for a second — you’ve lived in many places around the world, tell us about a couple of those. I know you lived in New York and South America.
I lived in different places, yeah. I lived in America and I also lived in South America. Actually, my association or my, let us say, connection to Latin America came through my studies of the Spanish language and Spanish history. I did that in Madrid, [at the] University of Madrid for a while. And then when I went to the States I just continued, and I lived in the Pacific Northwest, Washington State. So it is a beautiful area, really. In the summer you see people sailing and doing lots of activities. So for me, it’s a nice place to live in. The only problem is that there is rain. For me there is too much rain, it rains like every day. So that’s my favourite area. Also Latin America… I lived in Venezuela for a while. Actually, I love the culture because you see people are very open, they always like to go to parties or to celebrate national events. So there’s a lot of things that you could do in that particular culture. And also I must say it is very beautiful, especially the Andes Mountains — because you see, the people go there for holidays and sometimes they go fishing — there is a lot of fishing — at the big lakes on the mountains. Some people go fishing every weekend, you know.
Tim: Did you?
I wasn’t a good fisherman. I went a couple of times. The thing is we went as a group, you know. So it was fun. We had a good time.
Tim: So who did you hang out with there? Like who — when you say you were part of a group, what was that? Just a group of friends; like political people or writers?
No, no, no, some of them were students, because you know I was also doing some studies at the school, the Latin American Political and Social Centre. And this centre actually produces a lot of research papers on Latin America. The people that I went to school with, or let us say my friends, they all came from that centre, so we used to organise activities. And every weekend we [would] go fishing or just meet and hangout and have a few beers, but I’m not a beer drinker. So that was, let us say, my hobby.
Kevin: So Sala, you have studied journalism. Can you tell us about where you studied it and when you studied journalism?
Well actually, I studied political science, which in a way borders on journalism. Because in political science you do a lot of research and research papers, and then you have to collect information. You have to study the information, analyse the information, and then write the research. In journalism, there are three ‘Ws’ [to write a story] as they call it: who, what, when, and where. So according to that, you write your story. So in a way there are similarities between political science and journalism, but with journalism you need the information on the spot. You go and interview people, you get the stories, you write the story. In political science it takes longer. But because my background was in political science, it was easier for me to do journalism. Much easier than for other people.
Kevin: Would any type of job/professions that you were able to utilise your studies in political science, like any type of job related to that?
The thing is that, in most newspapers, they have an international section. In that international section, there will be a story about a country. Countries that are going through war, for example, or famine, or political problems. So you have to write about that, so yeah.
Kevin: So you said that you live in Yagoona now, does it feel like home to you?
Yeah, I feel much at home in Yagoona. I’ve lived in other suburbs before, but Yagoona is my favourite.
Kevin: You also speak fluent Spanish, something that might be considered rare for a person born in Sudan. How did you come to learn Spanish?
Well this is the truth, I have [a fascination with] language. I’m not a numbers person, I don’t like to crunch numbers. So learning a foreign language, it feels that it will help you communicate with other people from other cultures and other perspectives. So I look at it like a learning process, you know. By learning a foreign language, I will be able to learn about other people and other cultures, and then expand my horizon. That’s why I went into Spanish, and then French and some Italian — I speak a little bit of Italian, so yeah.
Kevin: It’s very clear that politics are very important to you. How would you define yourself politically, and how do you see world politics at this time as well?
I always say that I am firmly entrenched in the middle of the political spectrum. I’m not on the extreme right or the extreme left, as people say. Because the great ancient Greek philosopher, Plato, says that, ‘It’s better to take things in moderation’ or, ‘moderation is the best policy you could follow’. So I believe in that, and that’s why I always say that I’m fairly in the middle of the political spectrum.
Tim: Well, I’d say you’re on the left…
I’m not on the left, yes.
Tim: Everything I’ve read from you mate, implies that you’re on the left of the spectrum. Maybe I’m just reading into what I want.
Kevin: Okay, so next question — you have written a play called ‘No Time for Tears’ that was produced in New Zealand and Australia. What was that based upon, and can you talk a little bit about how the play was produced here in Bankstown with an African cast?
Yeah, well, that play actually was based on human rights violations. Especially when it comes to political opponents. It deals with dictatorship in the third world, and dictatorship in general. Whenever [dictators] are in power, they like to oppress people. There would be a lot of corruption and people wouldn’t be able to express their ideas or thoughts, and finally people who resist and come out strongly against the government or… regime, would end up being incarcerated or tortured. So I wrote the play along those lines. The other thing is that, for many people it was, and still is, difficult to understand what is going on under a dictatorship because they have never lived under a dictatorship. They don’t know what it’s like. So what I tried to do is, I tried to give them an idea about what it would be like under a dictatorship; so that’s why I wrote the play. The thing is that when I staged this play [for] the first time in New Zealand, and we had a Maori cast, during the rehearsals they used to rehearse everything and they were telling me, ‘Look. I know what you’re trying to say, but still this play is foreign to us’, or, ‘We are finding it difficult to understand, because actually it’s not part of our political experience, we haven’t been exposed to that kind of experience”. So I said ‘You are right,’ and gradually, when we proceeded with the play they connected with it and were like, ‘Oh wow! I understand what you’re trying to say… yeah, I feel the same way… Oh, that poor guy has been locked up and tortured’. So you know, it was a good — it was good of them to at least approach some of these complex issues. Issues of freedom, repression, political — or I call it, disempowerment of people.
Tim: What about in Bankstown?
In Bankstown actually, it took us a long time to produce the play. And I must say that Tim Carroll, the Director of BYDS, had played a major role in the production of this play. Because he gave us the space and encouragement, and actually he was a driving force behind the play, and I must say without him it would have been impossible to produce the play.
Tim: Do you remember how it came about, when you talked to Uncle Sam and he said, ‘Oh, you should go and talk to Tim… He’ll help you out with this’. So how was it different — do you think it was different — the kind of political foundation of it, because it was like a Pan-African cast as well. So there were people who had experienced totalitarianism.
The thing is that for the African cast, it wasn’t very difficult for them to understand the situation or remember the lines. I noticed that it wasn’t appealing to them or something. Deep inside them, they were going, ‘Yeah, yeah, it’s a good play’, but they still [lacked] that connection. You can remember the problems we had with the cast, because sometimes they don’t show up. You know, they’re waiting and waiting, and then they walk in and say, ‘Where are the rest of the people?’ Anyway, it was a good experience and I can’t blame the guys, because they don’t have a background in theatre. They’re just trying to improve their skills when it comes to theatre. So all in all, I mean they did a good job, even though we had some difficulties producing the play.
Kevin: So, you have written for pleasure as well as for factual stuff and journalistic materials. So can you talk a little bit about that?
Can please repeat that question?
Tim: Tell us about what you’ve written for those two things?
The thing is that, you know, when you write for pleasure — for me, I say that I write to enjoy myself. I come up with all these funny characters who don’t get along, or who are always cranky and unpleasant. It’s my creation. I feel like these are my creations, they have some sympathy for them, and that’s what I write for pleasure. I write just for myself, to let my imagination go wild sometimes. When I write, for example, as a journalist, or as a writer producing a play, the situation would be different. In a sense that I am bound by certain guidelines that I have to follow in order to produce a good text. I feel that my freedom is limited in that area, so these are the two differences.
Kevin: So you converse in Spanish with other native speakers, what does Spanish mean to you?
Spanish means to me a lot of things. First of all, the Spanish language is a very rich language. It has over 200,000 words, and there are so many expressions that you [can] use to express yourself in Spanish. The other thing is that I look at it as a medium that enhances communication between people. When you speak the language — there are so many Spanish speaking people around the world, so at least you know you are able to communicate with them, to understand how they feel, how they see the world, and how they think. So it’s kind of a learning process, it enriches your understanding of the world.
Kevin: What dreams do you have for your future, and what dreams did you have for your future when you were younger?
Well, the only dreams I have for the future — because it is very hard to predict the future these days — is that I would like to see the world, or people in the world, living in peace. I think that should be the dream of everyone. We live in a world of conflict and nasty politics right now. The other thing is that dreams I had when I was younger were totally different to what I’m dreaming of now. Because when you’re growing up, you’re trying to discover yourself… to prove that you can do things. People who are around you, your social environment, may encourage you to be yourself or be an achiever. So when I was growing up, I had dreams of achievement. What would I be doing in five or ten years from now, what’s the most important thing for me to do now. So you could say that it’s a process of setting goals and trying to achieve those goals. So my dream was actually to go to Uni and study and become successful. First of all, I wanted to be a teacher, because most people in my family were in schools teaching. So I thought it would be a good job for me, but later on I changed my mind and I said, ‘I want to be a researcher’. Then that changed, and I said that, ‘I want to be a journalist’. So what I’m trying to say is that there’s a difference — when you’re growing up, you’re dreaming about what you would like to achieve, and when you are grown up, you are dreaming about the whole picture, like what changes you would like to make.
Kevin: So, what does strength mean to you?
Strength means to me self-belief, or the ability or desire to confront challenges. Also, to stay on course no matter what. If you’re determined, or decided to achieve something, that is the way you feel.
Kevin: What is the most difficult thing you have had to overcome, personally?
There are so many things that I’ve had to overcome personally. Because through life, usually a person goes through trials and difficulties. The most difficult thing for me, was losing a loved one. Unfortunately, she died in an accident and I wasn’t expecting that to happen. That was a very hard thing to accept [and] get used to. Of course, I had to look forward to the future and be strong. That’s what I did, you know, it’s a long journey and I had to be strong and resourceful and resilient.
Tim: Do you think you were able to articulate that at that time, or soon thereafter? Or are you putting a layer from now?
No, the thing is that it took me time to reach that point.
Tim: And maybe looking back you realise that’s what has taken place.
That’s exactly right.
Tim: Because we just kind of tend to muddle through it.
The thing is that, sometimes when you — let us say, have a shock, something that you didn’t expect — everything you know will be in disarray.
Kevin: Were you able to turn that into a personal strength, and if so how?
I just reasoned with myself. I said, ‘Well look, I mean this can happen to anyone and… the world has to go on’. By being dejected or sad, that won’t change anything.
Kevin: What does freedom mean to you?
I always say that freedom is in the eye of the beholder. There is no particular definition to it. Because freedom for some people may be the desire to achieve happiness — or being happy, or being in a state of happiness — is freedom for them. But I usually see freedom as the ability to develop and be a human being. I mean… you are striving to improve yourself and improve the world around you. By doing that, actually you are engaging in an act of freedom. An act of creating an all new way of thinking, or [a] new situation that you could utilise for the betterment of humankind. So that’s the way I look at it now.
Kevin: If you had one piece of advice for your 16 or 18 year old self, what would that advice be?
Have confidence in yourself, and remember that the sky is the limit.
Edits by Fay Al-Janabi
Photo by Tim Carroll