Debuting author explores the in-between worlds of newcomers

Djamila Ibrahim, launches things are good now, nine fiction short stories that explore the lives of people affected by immigration.

Ibrahim emigrated from Ethiopia with her parents and five siblings when she was a teenager. Her experience taught her what it means to “fit into the in-between worlds,” where a person feels connected by place, language and culture.

Starting over

Djamila Ibrahim, author of
things are good now, a collection of short stories.| Photo by Antoine Labour.

“I don’t quite fit in Ethiopian society because in a sense I’m no longer from that place, but I’m also from that place,” she says. “I feel deeply Canadian, but I also have a connection to Ethiopia through my language, culture and food.”

Ibrahim has been writing for only five years. She is inspired by other authors of African descent who have written stories about their own lived experiences.

“There are a lot of writers of colour that I feel closer to in terms of the subjects they tackle and their lived experiences,” says Ibrahim.

In her book, things are good now, Ibrahim shares her struggles immigrating to Canada, as well as the lived experiences of others who have sought a better life. Her stories also remind us of the joy, love and kindness that weaves through each newcomer’s journey as they reclaim and establish roots in a new country.

“I tried to express what it must have been like for my parents, or people like my parents of similar background and age, who immigrated to a new country, says Ibrahim. “The challenge of starting over is complicated because there are often language and cultural barriers, as well as religious differences.”

As in the real world, Ibrahim’s protagonists are often deeply flawed. She creates characters who view the world through their own reality. For example in the story ‘You Made Me Do This,’ a grieving mother struggles to come to terms with the violent death of her teenage son. The family immigrated to Canada looking for a better life only to have their dreams shattered with the pain and loss of their son’s death.

“The notion of losing a child is universal, but it’s also specific to a group of people and a real-life occurrence,” says Ibrahim.

A writer’s gameplay

Ibrahim loves video games. She basically wrote her book while playing Starcraft2, breaking fatigue and writer’s block by raging war with other galaxies.

“Playing video games is like having a cup of coffee,” said Ibrahim. “When I feel sluggish or I’m losing focus, I go kill some aliens until I feel revived.”

She also enjoys reading science fiction between writing sessions. For Ibrahim, sci-fi allows her to escape her tendency as a writer to evaluate the technical structure of a story.

“Science fiction is great because it’s so different from what I’m writing,” says Ibrahim.

Exploring a changing world

Cover of things are good now.

Ibrahim is now working on a novel. The characters are based on one of her short stories ‘Heading Somewhere,’ a love story between Sarah and Omar who are pushed into the tides of global migration.

“Our understanding of the world has changed because of immigration,” says Ibrahim. “I want to explore what it means to be part of this changing world in my next book.”

Finding balance in her stories is always important to Ibrahim. She wants to express the multidimensional elements of character, not just that they are immigrants.

“Identity is an important part of my characters’ development,” says Ibrahim. “Before they were immigrants, they were also mothers, wives, brothers, sisters and friends. All of these pieces come together to form who they are and their relationships with each other.”

Ibrahim will be visiting Vancouver Feb. 28 as part of Incite, an event presented in partnership with the Vancouver Library and Vancouver’s Writers Festival.