Saliha Haddad is an Algerian assistant editor at the South African-based publishers Botsotso and a fiction editor at Hotazel Review, literary journal.
As an interviewer at Africa in Dialogue, Saliha’s book reviews have appeared in The Other Side of Hope, The New Arab, and The Transnational Literary Journal.
Her creative work “Hamoud Boualem”, made it as one of the winning short stories in Antoa Writing Contest in 2021. Saliha Haddad’s most recent work is said to be publish in Isele Magazine, Newlines Magazine, and Agbowo.
Exclusive Interview With Saliha Haddad: Author Of Award-Winning Short Story “Hamoud Boualem”
Tell us, what inspired your short story “Hamoud Boualem”?
First, I want to thank A New Touch Of Africa not only for the prizes they offer storytellers and poets from Africa, but also the promotion of African creative works.
The story (Hamoud Boualem) actually holds so much truth in it. It was inspired by my father’s real account of how he and his cousin used to steal bottles of Hamoud Boualem soda, which is still a very popular local soda here in Algeria, when he was young and their encounter with a snake one day as they enjoyed them.
Of course some of the events in my story have been changed but the inspiration was something that really happened to my father long time ago.
Everyone has a story. How did you pick interest for writing?
I can’t say that my interest in writing was by reading first as I didn’t grow up in a home that favored reading, or having books in general.
Though I could never blame my parents who both can’t read and didn’t grow up with books either. It was rather through the oral stories my mother used to tell my siblings and I when we were children to help us fall asleep.
My first encounter with a written story was when I read a Bible for kids at the age of 14. It was not then until I attended university to pursue a degree in English Language that I really got into books and developed a desire to tell and retell stories as well in the form of writing.
Who are your favorite African writers and why?
There are many amazing African writers so it’s really hard to choose. I feel like each year I come across new writers from our continent who are enchanting readers with their writing styles, unique voices and different stories.
I would say Mouloud Feraoun, a renowned Algerian writer from my region of Kabylia. I have particular fondness for his books because they brought our region into life and preserved a part of its history during the French occupation and the years leading to the Algerian independence in the 60s, through his works.
I also love Irenosen Okojie, her style of writing is what makes me always want to read her work. It’s just too mesmerizing. And then there is Femi Kayode, whose crime fiction debut had me completely absorbed and waiting impatiently for its sequel.
Saliha, do you have favorite places where you write?
I do. And that’s actually at my small desk in my room. It’s calm and tidy so that’s the only place where I can really focus.
As a young writer, where do you see yourself in the future?
Well, this is a really difficult question. But I will answer about what I hope for. I see myself working with my publishing peers in Africa and helping bring as many talented writers to larger audiences as we can . I also see myself telling more stories from my region in particular, and bring them to new audiences, whether through fiction or nonfiction.
Thank you so much to ANTOA’s team and to the judges who have chosen my story among many other great ones.
Hamoud Boualem By Saliha Haddad
We hid under a dense olive tree on the side of the main road. We weren’t only waiting for the summer rain that always turned our village red with dust to stop. But also for the very old man Ammor to close his shed-sized grocery shop.
He locked it pretty early those days—fast exhausted from the damp heat—and that day wasn’t any different, so we were on the lookout. And indeed, as soon as the rain stopped, he came out of the shop—with his habitual French beret on his barren head —and closed it, then headed straight to the Hide.
This latter was a natural cave on the corner of an abandoned path in the village, where he kept dozens of Hamoud Boualem soda bottles to sell during the week. And though the cave was a bit far from the shop, it was naturally cold. My cousin Belkacem and I stumbled upon it three weeks ago, while we were chasing the stubborn one of our three goats that run away from us, and entered it. Euphoria shook our core as if it was Ali Baba’s cave we discovered, and decided to keep it secret form our friends. And so we enjoyed the soda alone by stealing two bottles each day. But because Belkacem was afraid to be caught by the old man, we followed him first to make sure that he already checked the bottles number, and went home.
As we cautiously trailed him like two mischievous fennecs that day too, we saw him check the Hide from its entrance and nod in satisfaction. Then he went in the direction of his home without delay. It made me giggle every time we saw him satisfied with the number of the bottles, and wondered if he could actually count or even see. I knew that he fought in the big War of Independence. The villagers kept talking about his exploits fighting French soldiers seven years ago.
They tried many times to honor him with a plaque but he kept refusing. I was suspicious of his refusal and had doubts that he was strong enough to fight because of his very old age. When we made sure that he was gone, we approached the cave hastily, entered it, and took two bottles of Hamoud Boualem as usual. But when we turned to leave, a big grey snake was blocking the entry. I dropped my bottle as soon as I saw it, while Belkacem cursed. I thought that was it. We were to be punished for stealing from Ammor.
I tried to cite the Shahada but forgot it at the moment from terror. Suddenly the old man showed up out of nowhere, instantly cut the reptile into two with a hoe, and pushed its two parts to the right side. Belkacem was about to put his bottle down, when the old man asked me to take another, and be more prudent next time we came around to take soda bottles.
By Elijah Christopher