logo Burngreave Messenger Issue 29 March 2003.





The Interview

Saleema Imam was born in 1941 in Graves Park, in the area which is now the Rare Breeds Centre! "It was Jessop's Hospital Annexe". She was baptized at Christ Church on Pitsmoor Road. Saleema's Mum was a Pitsmoor girl, the family moved across the city to Heeley with her Dad. She came back to live in Burngreave in 1984. "When I was 17 I left school and had five children - I had the youngest when I was 23". Of her children she says, "I can't get rid of them and they can't get rid of me". She has 13 grandchildren and 2 great-grandchildren. In 1970, she started work teaching English as a second language to people in the Burngreave area. Saleema now works at Sheffield Community Recycling Project (SCRAP). She says, "Sometimes I feel ancient but in my head I know I'm not".

What is your idea of happiness?

What is your greatest fear?
Personally, suffocation - I have asthma. But really at the moment it's this fear of Bush's war. If we do go to war it will affect everything.

What do you dislike about yourself?
That I can't get about. Frustration that I can't do all the things I've got in my head to do. Maybe I'm lazy.

What do you dislike about others?
Not a lot really.I suppose people who promise to do things and don't and leave other people to clear things up.

What makes you sad?
Waste. Not just things - but the waste of people. There are so many people with so many skills and so much to offer who just can't get on.

What is your earliest memory?
Well, I say it's being carried down into an air raid shelter but my Mum says it can't be that because it happened before I was born. Other than that I can remember being sat on my Grandma's knee in a rocking chair and warming her ears with my fingers. I'd be about two.

What or who is the greatest love of your life?
Family - all of them. I can't pick between any of them

Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
You tell me at the end of the interview.

[Do you know what I mean? - ed]

What is your greatest regret?
Not carrying on with my Arabic studies. I started doing Arabic and Urdu about thirty years ago. I really enjoyed it but didn't keep it on.

How do you relax?
Reading, I'll read anything. Science fiction, I'll read atlases, dictionaries, Yellow Pages, but it's science fiction and language really. I go to Chi Gong on a Saturday and try and do that every day.

If you could change one thing about Burngreave, what would it be?
Jobs - more jobs for people in Burngreave

What keeps you awake at night?

How would you like to die?
I wouldn't have minded being blown up in the space shuttle. Because it's over and done with. It's not the dying it's the bit before.

What's your favourite place?
Favorite place ever. I think when I was in Pakistan and coming on the train toward the Punjab it just seemed like coming home. But I don't know if that's valid. I'm from Sheffield, my Mum and my Dad are from Sheffield. I don't say I converted because I believe you are what you are. So I found a label for me. An old lady gave me the name Saleema and then one of the Imans at the mosque in Darnall started using it. With teaching English as a second language most of the women found it easier to say. It's on all my papers; I don't use my given name, which was Florence. I went to Pakistan to be with the families of people I was working with.

What is the most important lesson life has taught you?
Patience I think. Patience and persistence. It's not letting go - if you keep on going long enough one way or another something changes.

Which living person do you most admire?
I don't go for your Elvis Presley or your Nelson Mandela. There are so many grass roots people. Well, like Harry in the office. He's there 24 hours a day, just gets on with it and he's earning nothing.

What is you greatest extravagance?
I've just bought a quilting machine. It's come from America and cost a bomb.

What is your favourite journey?
I like coming back. Coming up the motorway at night when you get to see the lights of Sheffield.

What is your favourite smell?
Vanilla. I could go on sniffing it forever. All the taxi drivers think I'm funny when I get in their taxis and start smelling their air fresheners

What is your worst habit?
Making faces and chewing my lips.

Interview between Steve Pool and Saleema Imam, 18th February 2003
Photography by Richard Hanson


Saleema Imam.