LEWISTON — Abdi Musa stood before a small class Wednesday night at Lewiston High School.
Words in English and Somali were written on the board. Musa was teaching how to say useful words and phrases in Somali, including “no problem” and “Is everything OK?”
“Another good one is ‘I am hot. Waan kululahay.’”
“What is cold?” asked student Jerry Ritcheson, a Lewiston police officer.
“’Cold means dhaxan,” Musa answered as he wrote the word on the board.
Welcome to “Conversational Somali” class at Lewiston Adult Education. Actually the class was an extension of a session that was to end in April.
One Somali language class was offered last winter. “We had so much demand we ran two,” Lewiston Adult Education Director Eva Giles said. As those classes were to end, students asked for more, “so we added more weeks.”
In addition to teaching adult education, Musa works for the Lewiston School Department as a community relations person in the English Language Learning Office.
Students in the classes often work with Lewiston’s Somali immigrant population and want to better understand their culture and language. Others just want to know more about their neighbors. Lewiston’s Somali population numbers about 5,000, and make up nearly 20 percent of Lewiston public school students.
Wednesday night students drilled how to say the days of the week, the months and numbers in Somali.
“What’s the Somali word for week?” Musa asked.
“Maalinta,” one student answered. “That’s the day,” he corrected. One word for week (there are several) is “usbuuc,” he said.
Musa talked about some differences in the two cultures, like writing dates. In the United States, May 12 would be written as 5/12/10. “Back home it is 12/5/10,” he said. That’s resulted in confusion with dates of births incorrectly recorded in records.
Other Somali words taught: “xanuun” (pronounced han-nune) means pain, ache or sick. “Bisha” means month, “shah” means tea. “Gari” means car or vehicle. “Gariga means “the car.” Other ways to say the word “the” in Somali are ha or ka, “but we would never say ‘garika’” to mean the car, it is always ‘gariga,’” he coached.
Knowing just a few words in Somali will go far, he said. Most Somalis would be pleased to see a non-Somali person trying to speak their language, even if it was badly pronounced, he said.
Musa asked students if they had questions.
Carlina Ream, a speech therapist at Sandcastles in Lewiston, asked the best way to ask Somali parents about their preschooler’s development.
Paying close attention to childhood development is more of a western practice, Musa explained. Most Somali parents assume their preschoolers will learn what they need. The best way to find out, Musa and Ream concluded, is to ask the parent if their child is learning at the same rate as their other children.
At their last class May 26, Musa said he hopes to bring in some native Somali volunteers to help students practice.
During a break, Ritcheson said he’s a new police officer in Lewiston. He enrolled in the class to help him communicate with the Somali population.
What he’s learned has helped him make casual conversation. Ritcheson said, “Often they’re a little reserved around police officers. Sometimes it helps to say a word or two.”
Wendy Darling of Auburn said she took the class because she’s interested in different cultures. She’s heard negative comments about the Somalis. “I wanted to gain my own opinion.”
Musa said his goal is to teach about the culture to promote understanding, and to introduce enough Somali words for basic conversation. Learning any new language takes time, he said. At first a new language sounds confusing. Eventually it makes more sense, he said.
He said “it’s exciting” to know local people want to learn some Somali. “It shows that people are interested to interact with new Mainers,” Musa said. “It shows that people really care.”
More Somali language classes are planned for the fall, Giles said.
yes – ha (pronounced: ha, short vowel)
no – maya (pronounced mi-ya, i is a long vowel)
thank you – mahadsanid (pronounced: ma-had-sen-id, all short vowels)
hello – haloow (pronounced hah-lo, o is long)
the car or vehicle — gariga (pronouned ga-re-ga, e long vowel)
pain or sick or ache – xanuun (pronounced: ha-nune, x pronounced like an h)
How are you? – iska warran (pronounced: is-ka-war-an, all short vowels. Abdi Musa recommends this as the best, most common, greeting to use)
tea – shah (pronounced sha, a short vowel)
month — bisha (pronounced be-sha, e is long vowel)
I understand – waan fahmaa. (wa-fah-ma, all short vowels)