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Zikr, a conversation with Saaleha Idrees Bamjee

I was first inspired by Saaleha’s food photography and styling while browsing on Instagram for, you guessed it, foodie inspiration. But I was even more intrigued by her fearless self-portraits. Her unwavering gaze locked into her own lens, making contact with the viewer as if to say “here I am”. I saw through her lens, an ‘old soul’.

I would soon discover her multi talented persona extended to the art of writing as well and that we would unknowingly collaborate on a collection of stories about Muslim women of which you can read more about here.

Saaleha has recently published a book of poetry called Zikr. The title could not be more apt for this anthology of prose in which she delves into her life and experiences and puts it all out there. Much like her fearless self-portraits this collection explores her life and the feelings and challenges she faces as a Muslim woman. A theme that will resonate deeply with many readers of this blog. Her style of writing is rythmic and musical and you’d be hard pressed to put it down once you start reading. It is a book of poetry but this applies to her other writing as well.

I caught up with Saaleha while she was in Cape Town recently to promote her book. Over breakfast we chatted about her journey as a woman, foodie, writer and photographer.

Tell me about your life as a young girl.

I was an only child brought up mostly by my grandparents. My father died when I was very young. My mum remarried and her second husband passed on as well. She later met her third husband and moved to Cape Town but I lived with my grandparents, aunt and uncle in Azaadville. You could say I was doted on, but it also meant asking a lot of people for permission all the time.

Was it a lonely time?

I had lots of friends, television and books. So I always had things to do.

What did you choose to pursue as a career?

I always wanted to write so I went to UJ in 2001 and did a BA in Marketing Communication and then an honours in Journalism which gave me a better entry to real writing rather than the fast paced and pressurized world of ad agencies and copywriting.

For a short while in 2005 I worked as a journo at City Press. I was then lucky to be mentored and work with Paula Frey, who is the first coloured woman to have started her own media company. It being quite a small company, I became a Jack of all trades and got into design, photography and writing.

How did you get into the blogging space?

I started blogging in 2005. My first blog was called Electric Spaghetti. It’s mostly about writing and life at that age which can be pretty cheesy. It did help me to meet lots of other bloggers though. It’s still online if you ever want to go and read all that cringy stuff. My food blog is called Ice Cream Everday.

How did you end up becoming an ambassador for Stork Bake?

My friend put my name forward as they were looking for influencers to work with. And I guess they liked my foodie content and I’ve now been working with them for 3 years. We shoot once a year. I get a brief from them and usually develop a recipe around a theme.

So what about romance?

(She laughs and I know this is going to be a good one). So after a few frogs as we all must do, I did meet my prince and it was online of all places. My now sister in law, Naqiyah Mayat, a well known lifestyle blogger came across my blog which had a pretty nice picture of me on the profile. She decided, because we were both from Azaadville, I sounded like a good match for her introverted brother in law and promptly set the wheels in motion. In 2008 we tied the knot and have not looked back since.

Who inspires you? And why?

My inspirations and informants change depending on where my interest is in any given time. Currently I’m looking at the work of British photographer Siân Davey. I’m just so taken with her process and how she captures her family life. I wish I did more documentary photography. I will do more documentary photography.

Your favourite author/book?

I don’t have any particular favourites. I have eclectic tastes. I love twisty Gone-Girl type thrillers (but equally annoyed at how every new thriller release is marketed as “The next Gone Girl”.) I enjoy rich detailed embroidered Roy-like narratives and I also appreciate the kind of tight writing Chuck Palahniuck does. I read a lot of Stephen King growing up. I recommend any writer starting out to read his book; “On Writing”. It’s full of great advice.

If work is writing and photography, what do you do for pleasure/leisure?

Photography and writing are also pleasure/leisure things but when I start feeling overstretched, I veg out in front of the tv. It is my goal to watch every episode in the Star Trek franchise. 

Any advice for other aspiring writers wanting to get into the profession and get published?

Read. Write. Edit. Send  your work out to journals, submission calls, writing competitions. Read. Edit. Write. Attend literary festivals and workshops. Join writing groups. Network with other writers. Don’t be so precious about rejection. Just keep at it.

When and where is your next photography workshop?

We are looking at June 22nd for a possible DSLR food photography workshop and July 6th for a Smartphone photography workshop.
(Hopefully I will make it to one of these).

Saaleha can be found at her 3 blog sites:

www.saaleha.com

www.shootcake.com

www.icecreameveryday.co.za

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