The Diary of Natty Samuels – 21 December 2015

by Natty Mark Samuels

As yesterday, I focused on reflection – and the writing of the first installment of the diary – so today, I review the words of the previous day, including fire – nar; field – haql; forest – ghaba, plus the aforementioned night – layla. Got motivated to enter further into nature’s glossary, by watching another adventure, with the great Attenborough. The word for whale reminds me of laughter and the owl, because the word for whale is hoot.

Colette of Dubai says wajh, an Egyptian link says wish. Whose version do I follow, when learning the word for face? I look for other links, searching for general consensus, as I do with other words. In the end, like other multiple choices, I settle for personal preference: I decide on wajh.

My nine year old son Bingy, is a little fed up with me! A temporary loss of patience with his father’s learning, as I attempt to boomerang words back to him in Arabic, that he has said to me. But right now, he wants to hear yes, no and thank you – not na’am , la and shukran. He isn’t in the mood to play with words. But I know that later on, when sounding out the alphabet, he’ll voluntarily join in! Later on, his room will once again, become a den of excited deciphering.

Talking of the alphabet, I still feel unsure about the gh sound – the nineteenth letter of twenty-eight. Hearing words starting with this sound,  in different national and regional variations, doesn’t help! But as I said yesterday, great adventures must have challenges within them.

Through my association – poetry and articles published – with the Foundation for Science, Technology and Civilisation and its affiliate Muslim Heritage, I’ve taken more interest in the scientific and medical work, of the sub-Saharan scholars. Now, I’m looking forward to one day digging into the university and archival centres of Nigeria, to read the medical works written by the brother of Nana Asam’u,  Muhammed Bello. Said to have been the leading scholar on medical issues, in 19th century Central Sudan – Nigeria, Niger, Chad and Cameroon. Things he explained in the early 19th century, are what many nutritionists are speaking and writing of now. According to Mukhtar Umar Bunzu,  he once healed the Emir of Zaria of kidney trouble – through a mailed diagnosis and prescription.

I go from kitchen, to bathroom, to bedrooms and living room – feeling like Adam, naming the animals! Feels good to be able to name more and more each day. To begin to put a three or four word sentence together!

For an alphabet reminder- a pronunciation top-up – I return to my first learning aid, which I was able to recommend to a Teaching Assistant at Mable Prichard School, where I sometimes work: Madinah Arabic – Learn Arabic Online. This organization is based in Norwood, in south-east London.

I think of Ibrahim al-Kanemi – from Chad – the first known sub-Saharan scholar, to have written in Arabic: in the late 13th century. He was published in Morocco, as Malik Sy (Senegal), was published in Tunisa – and the mathematician Muhammed al-Fulani al-Kishnawi (Nigeria), published in Egypt.

Buzzing with the potential, of the knowledge  of Arabic. Next month, with a widened vocabulary, I intend to engage Arabic speakers that I know, who reside in Oxford. Following on from this, to help the refugees  and migrants, who have no knowledge of English. Be good to go back to work at Open Door – at East Oxford Community Centre – the refugee drop-in, where I worked when it was first set up about twenty years ago! Edyta, Bingy’s mother – an archeology student – tells me that my knowledge of Arabic, will prove useful to her in time to come.

I can almost imagine the future ecstasy, when conversing with the teachers in Mali – as well as the inhabitants of the Moroccan streets.


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.

Categories: Diaspora, Diversity & Difference, Rethinking The World

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