Sali is a Sudanese American who at a young age had to leave the only place she knew for a new one that constantly questioned her identity, but through her hardships, she perceived and understood that she only needed to please herself first.
I was born and raised in Sudan, in Khartoum, Sudan and I moved to the United States when I was twelve. My childhood was just incredible, I’m so grateful for the time that I was there, and just being surrounded by my family and friends its just probably one of my best memories. Lived a very normal childhood, did everything that every little kid wanted to do, was only worried about going outside playing, but lots of wonderful and beautiful memories of living in Sudan. The country itself has changed a lot from when the time I was there to now, and I’m sure in the future it will too. Where I’m from, Khartoum, the capital, it’s very urban, it is just a very interesting mix of North Africa, East Africa, the Middle East, the culture there is really incredible and very unique. Sudanese people are known for their hospitality, they’re known for their kindness, that’s what we are known for and that’s what we pride ourselves on. So, if you see somebody walking down the street, even if you don’t know them, you would stop them and see if they need a ride somewhere because it’s always really hot there. So, it’s just a very very open culture, everybody is welcoming. To this day, Sudanese people love to get together, you don’t ever just eat a meal by yourself, you’re supposed to have people around you, a meal is something important, lunch and dinner is always with people, you can expect anybody to come at anybody time, and you would always welcome them. So every time that we go back, we get that part of the culture that has never really gone away.
So, when we moved here, we didn’t have the life that I was used to, we didn’t have the life that I knew. Being twelve, you’re very self-focused, and you don’t get to see the bigger picture, I was really self-absorbed in my little world, and I didn’t understand why my parents moved us here. At the time, there was a Civil War going on, but I didn’t even know about it, my parents saw that it was getting worse and realized that they needed to get us out of there. They did, and they did everything they can, which meant, my dad who had a wonderful job, was a college professor and my mom was an attorney. They didn’t have that lifestyle or that status or even those jobs when they came here, they came here for us. So when we came here, we struggled, we didn’t have a lot of money, we didn’t know anybody, and it was very challenging. I remember thinking to myself, “what are we doing here, I don’t understand”, and out of all places, we moved to Iowa.
I don’t think my experience is really unique because I feel like all teenagers, all kids go through that. Whether you’re a minority or whether you’re just an average person from that school or in that city, so we just go through that experience in different ways, but we all have to go through that self-discovery process. Sometimes it’s filled with drama and sometimes it’s filled with comedy, and you just have to take whatever you get and not dwell on it, and that was my mentality in high school, and then of course in college, it just gets so much better. When I was in high school, I would have some Sudanese friends or relatives and they would be like, “you’re not Sudanese enough”, and then in school, “you’re not American enough” and I was never enough of anything, and then I would be like, “why am I trying to be enough for you” like I am enough for me, I’m very very different, it doesn’t matter, I’m Muslim. “Well, you’re not Muslim enough, you’re not a good Muslim” and then I would be like, “oh, okay, thanks”, and then other people would be like, “you’re too conservative or too strict”, and I’m just like, “oh, okay”. So getting all of that in high school gave me the self-realization that I will never be enough for everyone, and that’s absolutely fine.
My full-time job and what I do for a living is I am a deputy director of development for The Obama Foundation. I have been working for The Obama Foundation for about almost two years, I do business development and fundraising. I was in higher ed before working for The Obama Foundation, so I was at the University of Chicago and I really enjoyed it. I really love doing fundraising, it’s weird because I never asked my parents for money, they don’t ask anyone for money, but I have no problem asking for millions for something that I believe in. A lot of us want to help other people and take care of other people, and even nowadays, there are “bigger” and more important things that we should all be thinking about, worrying about, and taking actions, but unless you, yourself are well and healthy, then you are not going to be able to take care of other people, you’re not going to be able to reach any of the goals you have, because, at any given point, something can happen. So, putting yourself first doesn’t mean that you’re selfish, it just means that you’re intentional about what you want to do with your life and that it also gives you the opportunity to just help other people.