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Shift – Poems, Pictures & Prose by Saaleha Idrees Bamjee


Lately I’ve been thinking (oooh, I channeled some Henry Ate* there) that it won’t be such a bad thing if it happens that I never make it as a serious writer.

Yes, it’s been this dream; this full-on burning, for so long, that the acceptance of this possibility does feel a bit like cutting off a thumb.

Digitectomising (not a real word) aside, I will not stop writing. I just need a bit of space to figure out where I see myself ascending professionally. I’m hoping our time in Egypt will bear some revelation (Inshallah Ameen).

I’m rather rudderless right now. Stagnant qi and mosquito-brained.

The freedom that freelancing affords me, now seems to be the very thing that’s frazzling me. I’m a dabbler of note, a doyenne of nada.

I am loving the layout and typesetting gigs though, and am keen on upskilling that. I don’t quite know where the papercrafting is heading, but I have learnt that hobbies-turned-jobbies are not all about the glitz and glue-buzz.

Was it not reasonable for me to believe that by the time I reached this age, I would have had it all figured out?

*really lekker now-defunct South African band

Fascinating bit I hope I understood correctly from Arabic class: The words Binte (Daughter of) and Ibn (Son of) have at their root, the letters Baa and Noon. The arabic word transliterated as “Banaa” means “to build”, implying a notion that your progeny build you (and your legacy perhaps?).

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I am a writer and photographer (look up my work on based in Johannesburg, South Africa. I have an MA in Creative Writing from the university currently known as Rhodes. My writing accolades include winning the 2014 Writivism Short Story Prize and the 2020 Ingrid Jonker Poetry Prize for my debut collection, Zikr.

23 thoughts on “Shift”

  1. well, not having it all figured out by “this age” is not a bad thing – seriously, I know about not knowing…companies pay me to tell them stuff like this: “knowing” or “having things figured out” is a strategic disadvantage in these times. Agility is the key and you lose that if you’re all prepared and shit.

    personally, just aimlessly wandering and stumbling across stuff has served me pretty well so far and I have no intent to change…

  2. saal, you write like no other i have ever read nor met. you have The Gift. And I know how it seems to feel in lmbo, but life would not be so interesting if we always had stuff figured out all the time.

    enjoy Egypt!

  3. The ‘finding yourself’ theory is a conspiracy set out to illustrate our insecurities. Who says that we have to only be great in one thing? Pssht!
    I don’t know what I am supposed to be – I am constantly dabbling in everything. I thought I wanted to be a programmer/ web designer/graphic designer/something in IT around Grade 10. I designed my high school website, messed about in the earliest Adobe programs, added Art as a 7th subject, etc. I hated it by the end of my matric year and refused to look that way, going in a different direction completely. I even got rid of my PC! I now find myself, after all these years, drawn to it once again.

    The love for things we are passionate about dwindles at times. Sometimes we need to store it in a drawer and look at it at a later time.

    Saaleha, your words are magical.

    Perhaps Egypt will inspire you as you delve deeper into the land of Prophets and Pharoahs 🙂

  4. even if dreams feel like theyr being deferred, they’r not totally laid to rest, are they? 🙂
    soldier on, hun…

    will be a pleasure to bookparty with u!

  5. Incidentally, my sister and I are off to Egypt as well, but I have no clue how long I’ll be gone for, maybe a couple months – maybe a couple years…depends on how much I like it.

    Re: writing…things like that you can’t plan. It just happens. Let it happen without putting to much thought into it.

    1. Azra, when are you two planning on leaving? There seems to be quite a few Saffas over there; for when things do seem a bit too ferengee, it’s nice to have reminders of home.

      1. We’re hoping to leave in May next year InshaAllah. I’m actually looking to get away from the Saffas LOL (but I know what you mean). Knowing people in a foreign place makes assimilation easier. Hoping to work/live there for a while…meet other people with similar interests etc. My uncle from Amsterdam wants to join us too, we’ll see how it goes InshaAllah. My initial choice was Tunis in Tunisia, but unemployment rates are high at the moment and proficiency in French is preferred. When are you guys leaving?

  6. I wait for the day that I can purchase and read your books. Takes me back to the days of your capsule accounts of your travels. Yep I remember them…
    What incredibly breathtaking writing! I mean honestly lady S, You already ARE a Serious Writer.

  7. You cannot give up on your dream. No no. You can postpone it though.

    Good luck with Egypt..maybe when you get back, you can focus on your dream again 😉

    1. Thanks Nafisa. I think it was something Salman Rushdie wrote somewhere to the effect that one must step out of the frame in order to see the full picture. So here’s to stepping out:)

  8. Ditto, except I think you are helluva lot more accomplished than me, you seem to make a success of thinks you do. I don’t know if that’s purposeful 😉

    I don’t think I could be a ‘serious’ or any kind of writer either, I don’t have the dedication

  9. hey is the cut as deep as the one you incurred in my badly lit apartment 🙂

    you need to focus and sit down and do it
    because we know you can and you write amazing stuff 🙂

    also i firmly believe keep hobbies as hobbies or in your case dnt take on more then you can handle 🙂
    but remember you will be approached when and if i need it 😉

    and aasia is right.. us knowing where we should be at this age is def all a myth.

    so bleh HUMBUG


    1. That one’s mostly healed. Focus, need a prescription of that:)
      I officially declare your flat the northern branch of ColourNouns’ Soul&Paper division. Rent payable in petit fours from Fournos.

  10. I love how arabic is so poetrical
    How the words disbeliever and farmer also have the same root letters, coming from the idea of concealing yet with such different connotations. 2 sides of a coin, one dark and one light
    “Serious” writer pffft
    Do Dr Seuss and Roald Dahl and JK Rowling come across as serious to you 😛
    Can writing ever take itself too seriously?
    That’s what happened with my thesis and I lost all passion for my topic

    1. I love how specific and at the same time, broad, the language is. It’s little wonder that Arabic poets who write in English have such a rich and meaningful way with the words.
      How is the t-word going?

  11. Sometimes, when you hold on to a dream very long and you’re so focussed on it, the motivation can disappear. It becomes like just a taken-for-granted part of you, which, perhaps, you subconsciously become bored of – though, consciously, you’d never let yourself believe that you are bored of it.

    Perhaps it’s just the soul’s way of showing you that you need to take a break, or stop trying so hard.

    In any case, there’s the old saying about “If you love something, let it go….” and if it comes back (you know the rest).

    If that dream is something meant for you, it will happen. So there’s no need to fear losing it in the swirls of life, and lack of direction.

    Just use the time you have to “be” – and see where life takes you. You’re fortunate in that you don’t have the pressure of earning (i.e. that being the male’s primary role) – so enjoy the freedom while you can, while always bearing in mind that this life is only a bridge on the way to the ultimate, true freedom.

    And, from personal experience I might add, use the free time you have now to lay the foundations for your future ventures – be they professional or personal. Once the little ones arrive, it can get mighty claustrophobic. (Not that that’s a bad thing – it’s just a huge change of mindset, adapting to a new stage of life).

    All the best to you…I look forward to hearing about Egypt. (Why are you going, btw?)

    1. Great sage as always Yacoob:) How is your little one?
      Naeem and I are planning on spending a few months in Egypt to study Arabic. We keep pushing the trip back as we can only leave once Naeem finds/trains someone suitable to take over from him at work for our months away. We’re at the perfect time in our lives to do something like this, because as you say, once the little people arrive, we will be all-consumed.

      1. That’s a good idea – it’ll help a lot more to be surrounded by the language. If you’re not staying in Alexandria, you really should visit. It’s a really beautiful place – much nicer than Cairo, in my view.

        She’s fine, and it’s amazing having a little person with her own developing personality, alhamdullilah 🙂 She seems to be starting with teething now, and I’ve heard that that can be a painful process (for the baby as well as the parents). I wrote my first poemy thing about her last week…well, it was part of a bigger poem, but an integral part. Stop by and check it out if you have time.

  12. Saaleha, I thinking that we would have it all figured out by now is an urban legend passed down from our parents, who infact, hoped to God we would have it figured out. But I reckon, this shouldn’t bother us so. We don’t have to commit anything we are not ready for.

    I.t.o your writing. I think you just need to focus. You write beautifully, and when you are ready with that manuscript, we will be waiting. So take your time, find the spark and watch it all come together.

    You’re like a mad geniusy-person-girl! it’s the October blues, walk it off 😀


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