Story: Alhadi Agabeldour Adam

Published on
Thu, 16/05/2013 - 14:47

Alhadi is from Darfur, Sudan. He has always been active as a human rights activist. He has published articles in Arabic newspapers and magazines and has been interviewed as an expert on the Sudanese situation by international newspapers such as The Washington Post and The New York Times. Additionally, he also writes short stories and poetry. In 2009, it became too dangerous for him in Sudan. He left his country and ended up in Belgium. In the fall of 2010, he followed a civic integration programme at bon.

That’s 3 years ago, and Alhadi is now a recognised refugee. He does volunteer work, follows language courses, he remains active on international forums, and he participates in poetry festivals and artistic projects. Last year he published his tenth book of poetry.

Who? Alhadi Agabeldour Adam
Comes from: Sudan
Age: 41
In Belgium since: 2009
Education: Alhadi studied law and international criminal law. He is a writer, poet, and human rights activist.
Civic integration programme at bon: spring 2010

Let us look back for a minute to the spring of 2010, as that is when we met you. How did you end up at bon?
When I arrived in Belgium, I was sent to the Sint-Truiden asylum centre. A few months later, I started the civic integration course in Hasselt, but then I had to move to Brussels suddenly. I ended up in Sint-Lambrechts-Woluwe. In contrast to Flanders, civic integration is not mandatory here, but I urged my social assistant at the OCMW to find me a civic integration programme here, and that is how I ended up at bon. Since then the world in Brussels has opened up to me (laughs). 

You studied international criminal law, but it was not easy to acquire diploma equivalency?
I studied law in Libya and international criminal law in Sudan. I have to acquire papers from both countries for diploma equivalency. It is almost impossible, but I have not given up hope yet. I want to study again in the future and achieve my master’s. In the meantime, I want to and have to find a job urgently!  I will scrub, load, lift... I am absolutely not picky, I just want to shout ‘I NEED A JOB!’ I keep hearing that I am over-qualified. I do indeed have a strong CV, but what does it serve me right now? It is very frustrating, believe me!

I can believe it, but in the meantime, you are not sitting idly.
No, that is not how I am. I fled Sudan, I had to fight for my life and my freedom. Belgium granted me asylum. I am a free person here, freedom of opinion exists here. That is very important for a human rights activist and writer. I am also still contacted by the Sudanese and international press as well as international organisations such as the United Nations to give my opinion on Sudanese issues. I publish stories and poems on Arabic-language blogs and websites. I also try to share my poems and stories with the Dutch-language audience. bon put me in touch with Zebrart vzw at the time. My profile and CV are on their website. I was given the opportunity to participate in cultural events in Flanders and in Brussels via their network. During my programme at bon I was referred as a volunteer to the Soup and Information point by Refugee work Flanders. I still go help out every Wednesday. When I arrived in 2009 I also received soup and information there myself. I find it very fulfilling volunteer work that I look forward to doing every week. During the summer I also work at Refugee work’s information stand at festivals. The people of Refugees work Flanders have become like a family to me, we have become very close friends.

Let us elaborate on your writing talent. You have already published ten books of poetry. Did you inherit that talent from someone? What is your poetry generally about?
Yes, it does run in the family. My mother and my cousin also write poetry. Poetry is not material, it is not linked to a fixed location. My poetry is about memories, about Sudan, about Belgium, about memories, emotions, romance, democracy, about something that suddenly moves me, something that I see in the tram or on the street, etc. I do not write in my calendar: ‘today I am going to write a poem’. It happens spontaneously. It sometimes happens that I wake up in the middle of the night and get a creative urge, and then I start to write (laughs).

Last year you wrote a poem about the victims of the bus accident in Sierre and their families
Of course I did not know the children but the idea that those children left in happiness and did not return alive touched me deeply.  I was in Ghent at the time, where I participated in an artistic festival. There, I wrote the poem ‘Droeve kaarsen’ (Sorrowful Candles) in Arabic. Afterwards, it was translated by Ilse Wijnen.

You write in Arabic, but you would like to have a Dutch-language audience for your poetry. It is not so easy to translate a poem with the right feeling?
No, indeed, that is very difficult. I do think that I have finally found someone that can express my emotions in his translations. I am, by the way, still looking for a publisher (laughs), if you happen to know someone? 

We are happy to help you find someone. In conclusion, Alhadi, you are a human rights activist, and in Sudan, blacks are strongly discriminated. Do you also experience discrimination in Belgium?
In Sudan, discrimination is always present, everywhere. The blacker you are, the worse it is. I understand the language so I know what they are saying and they are not discreet. Here in Belgium it is not always clear. I do not always understand the language very well.. I have not personally experienced any discrimination here yet. I can ride the bus and a white person will come and sit next to me. I can sit at the same table as a white person, I can walk into a place where they are dancing, and join in. I do not feel that someone will look at me strangely because of the colour of my skin. In any case, it is not comparable with the situation in the Sudan.

Alhadi, I thank you very much for this interesting conversation and I wish you much success with all your projects. Keep sending us your poetry!

With thanks to Ingrid Vandervelden