The Diary of Natty Samuels – 20 December 2015

by Natty Mark Samuels


Amongst other words in my head as I awoke this morning, was the name Eric Clapton! Every morning when I awake, I give myself a review, of the previous day’s learning. Yesterday, one of the words I learnt, was the one for night: Layla.

Just found out that Dr Imran Alawiye – not quite sure in which country his roots lie, but of African descent – got his first degree in Arabic Language and Literature, from the Islamic University of Madinah.  He received his doctorate in the same subject matter, from the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London. I shall be using his Arabic From The Beginning series, when I commence the learning of the writing of the script. Watching a short clip, I was immediately drawn to his teaching style.

One reason why I want to learn Arabic, is that after years of reading West African Arabic texts in translation, it is time I learnt to read them in the original! Can’t wait till the day, when I can read the poetry of the Nigerian Nana Asma’u – and of the Senegalese, Amadu Bamba, as they were first written. Looking forward to being entranced by the verse, of the great teachers of  Somalia – especially those who shone, during the 19th century.

Seeing as this is Christmas – eid al-milad – there are lots of food programmes. Normally, I don’t watch such broadcasts, but as an aid to language learning, they’re perfect! Missed Nigella, but caught the second half of Jamie’s Cracking Christmas. The famous chef was demonstrating ideas of what to do with leftover turkey. I was able to name four – incl. turkey – of the six main ingredients, for his Boxing Day turkey curry. So alongside the turkey – deek roomi – there was roasted squash (one of my favourites), peanuts, assorted spices, potaoes – batates; onion – basal: olive oil – zayt zaytoun. Wish he’d done a curry of vegetables – khadrawat! Anyway, four out of six wasn’t bad!

Wherever I am, I name what I can – even it’s only in the singular! Sitting on the balcony, I  say the generic word for bird – ta’er – as two make their way across the 4.30 sky. Always, as I sit in my favourite spot on this elevated place, I see the tops of the trees. I repeat the word for tree several times; not just for practice, but for the beauty of sound –shajara – with the r that rolls. Shajara, shajara. Fitting that something so essential, should be named so sweetly – beauty expressing beauty. As time turns into a 5pm sky, the first stars – anujoom – faintly appear; and the aeroplane – zayara – flashes white light, as like the bird, it makes its way to destination.

I think again, of being able to read Lamentation for Aisha, by the aforementioned Nana Asma’u, the outstanding female scholar, of 19th century Nigeria. To me, it ranks as one of the great elegies. This thinking enthralls me, spurring me on.

The language challenges me, in such words as melh (salt) – those words ending in h. Then again it entrances me, with words like shalil, meaning waterfall.


Natty Mark Samuels is a poet and the founder of African School, a Cultural Education project based in Oxford. This initiative provides teaching in African Studies with a focus on pre-colonial sub-Saharan and Islamic cultures and early Black journalism.  Formerly a Visiting Tutor at Ruskin College and other academies, Natty Mark also tutors on the Oxford Study Abroad Programme.


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