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Ignorance is the Enemy of Love: A Book Review

ignorance_enemy_bookFaarax Maxamed Jaamac Cawl was the most improbable writer before he authored “Aqoondarro waa u nacab jacayl” and, subsequently, two other books. He was a technical man, having been educated at what used to be the Trade School in Hargeisa, and later at the Chelsea College of Aeronautical and Automobile Engineering in London from 1959 to 1962- the latter on a government scholarship which had been delayed for a year as punitive measure for his involvement in an anticolonial play. He remained a technical man throughout his work experience, though for many years wearing the uniform of a police colonel (not a lieutenant colonel as mentioned in the book) before he and his family were slaughtered in 1991 when the USC irretrievably lost its head. His books made him so well-known overseas that his life and death were, to no one’s surprise, covered in the obituaries columns of leading British papers.

As a police officer he had nothing to do with any of the normal police work, such as combatting crime, immigration (a police responsibility in Somalia), criminal investigations, and the prosecution of offenders. But, he had everything to do with the agile mobility of that force of law and order. He was at the helm of the transport department, which ensured that all police vehicles were in shipshape form and in good running condition at all times. There, at the gigantic ‘Police Garage’ Faarax was not only a manager but also a technical instructor, a motivator and planner. He was seconded in 1979 to the National Transport Agency as its General Manager.

The benefits of foreign education and culture do not come without a corresponding loss of something of your own language, culture and tradition. But, when in England for his training, Faarax was tenacious of his old ways, for he remained a non-smoker, a teetotaler, and he abstained from certain ‘untraditional’ foods. On arrival in London, he was accommodated in a room-and-board facility where breakfast and dinner were served. On the first day, breakfast consisted of eggs, bacon, etc. and he refused to eat it. Next morning, he was offered a cheese omelet for breakfast and he turned it down because he ate neither eggs, nor cheese. Dinner for that day happened to be roast chicken and again he refused it. Breakfast for next day included ham and he abstained, and he also abstained from dinner because it had pork in it. The following day he was offered a mixed grill for breakfast, which included kidneys (kidneys and heart are for women in pastoral Somali tradition), and he refused to take it. The lady in charge of the kitchen was by then annoyed, but still tried to accommodate his dietary preferences. She made a ‘special dinner’ the next evening, for him alone. It was a meal of fish, potatoes and some vegetables; and when he said he was appreciative but ‘so sorry’ that he could not eat it, she threw up her arms in frustration, gave him a hard look and said: “Well, if you don’t eat anything at all how do you manage to survive?” In orthodox Somali tradition fish and seafood in general are not things of a table delicacy.

Yet, that same Faarax was very open in his dealings with people, his treatment of social and political issues and his thinking about the rising generation. On this last point, the last of his trilogy of books,”Dhibbanaha aan dhalan” (Translated as “The Unborn Victim”) is relevant to a topical issue: namely, the discussion on the heaps of debts being placed on the shoulders of the unborn. Indeed, Faarax was a man who was traditional and modern all at once.

So much for the introduction of the author. The book “Ignorance is the Enemy of Love” is an English translation of the original book, “Aqoondarro waa u nacab jacayl” that was published in the Somali language in 1974. Its language is not therefore the author’s. But, Prof. Andrzejewski has made special effort, being an authority in Somali, to provide an excellent translation and his own Introduction in which he gives the reader an historical and social background together with his analysis of the novel’s reformist message.

The story in the book is conveniently short for those who do not have time for heavy novels. But it is a compelling story of love – a positive human emotion – with a powerful message for reformers, educators as well those who can neither read nor write but can listen to the story of Climax and Cawrala. Nowadays, people can listen to books for convenience, instead of reading them – thanks to modern technology. The story is so seemingly unreal that it provides a true instance in which real life plagiarizes fiction.

This short novel has the singular distinction of being the first ever to be published in the Somali language. It appeared on the shelves in 1974 – about a year after Somali became the official language of the country. The choice of the Latin script was declared in October 1972, and all public servants were told that they should, if they wanted to keep their jobs, pass a written examination in Somali by 1st January 1973 (the date it would go into effect as the official language of the country). Immediately, when ‘Aqoondarro waa u nacab jacayl’ hit the shelves in Mogadishu all the copies – ten thousand of them – were bought like hot cakes, and the shelves were empty so soon after they had been filled. Young Somalis were so hungry (or ‘thirsty’, if you like) to read a story for the first time in their own language. However, popular demand continued unabated, even rose, after the true nature of the story was well spread among the general public.

The significance of the story was also underscored by two factors. First, the Ministry of Culture and Higher Education was so impressed and cognizant of its relevance to the Government’s literacy campaign that it took over its publication. Secondly, UNESCO saw it fit to have it translated and published it at its own expense in1982, and the current edition was published in 2012. The translation was ably done by the late B.W. Andrzejewski who was a professor of Somali language and culture. ‘Aqoondarro waa u nacab jacayl’ has thus secured its place in history being the first to be published in Somali and the first to be translated into a foreign language. The English version was not evidently conceived to benefit Somali-speaking children or young adults. But, there are now so many of these young adults and children to whom Somali is foreign or almost so. These will now be able to enjoy reading a Somali story; and reading it in conjunction with the Somali version will no doubt help them understand and thus improve on the language of their parents or grand parents. Conversely, native Somali speakers can also benefit from the English translation, if they wish to improve their English.

Recommendation

The book is small (only 166 pp.), the text is lucid, beautifully composed and easily readable; the price is affordable; and the benefit to be had is great indeed. I recommend it highly.

“Ignorance is the Enemy of Love” (Second English Edition, 2012, paperback with illustrations) Author: Faarax M.J.Cawl

The book is available at amazon and most of the online book stores.

Ismail Ali ismail ( Geeldoon)
Email: [email protected]

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Ismail Ali Ismail “Geeldoon” is the author of, governance, The Scourge and Hope of Somalia. Mr. Ismail, is a former Somali civil servant, UN staff and a regualar contributor of WardheerNews.


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