Seven Questions with Ali Saeed

1. What is your idea worth spreading?

I want people to learn the difference between “red revenge” and “green revenge.” Torturing people, denying the humanity of others, rape – all those are red revenge. In green revenge, people have to open their heart to others.

2. What famous historical person would you most like to meet?

Nelson Mandela. Mandela was trained in Addis [Ababa, Ethiopia], the place where I lived. This is the first African leader who never believed in staying in power. Mandela was a very good role model.

3. How would you like to be remembered?

As a barefoot man walking. My story is in the [Canadian Human Rights] Museum, in the “Breaking the Silence” room on the 4th floor. When you touch Ethiopia, you will see my story. I didn’t do anything to be remembered, only to make myself satisfied. I don’t know how I’ll be remembered… you’ll find out.

4. What’s the best gift anyone ever gave you?

My wife. She’s the best gift. She’s a mother, she’s a daughter, she’s a sister, she’s a friend, she’s a comrade. She is my second wife. My first marriage was broken when I was in prison [in Ethiopia].

My current wife, I met her in Somalia. She was a refugee like me. So we became friends. I asked her to get married. The Somalian government didn’t allow us to have a certificate. You have to bribe them. The UNHCR [United Nations Human Rights Commission] had to bribe them to get the certificate for 600 shillings. She was asked to not marry me because we were from different tribes. And she said “No, we are human beings, no matter what.” So finally, because of me she was arrested. She was abused. There was nothing that could be done. So she waited. Then she was taken by UNHCR and hidden somewhere else until I become free or died, because I was sentenced to death. When I came out from prison, I was crawling and she just gave me her back, and stood and walked slow. We have been together 35 years.

5. What would you most want to tell your 15-year-old self?

No matter what, as long as you know being oppressed is pain, i would say to myself, keep struggling. Say no. Especially now, after I came here, and see all the kids are privileged. If I knew this system, where women have protection, if I knew about the child protection, I could have been strong and said no.

I will never regret what happened to me. The breakup of my first marriage. Being separated from my family. Never getting a chance to see my mom. After I went to Somalia I never went back to Ethiopia. I will never regret that I paid that price. If I could go back, I would do it again, even in a better way.

6. What do you do with a free evening or weekend?

I like to watch soccer. When I have free time, I write my poems. Sometimes, when I get a chance I go to a cafe on Sargent and play pool.

7. What’s on your playlist?

There is a well known singer in Ethiopia, they call him Teddy Afro. “For the sake of money, I will never betray God. For the sake of money, I will never harm others. For the sake of money, I will never betray my conscience.”

Other than that, I like Kenny Rogers. Kenny makes me very happy.

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