Blind Sudanese man’s knack for Japanese pulls no puns

by Masakuni Tsuji

Kyodo

Mohamed Omer Abdin, 35, may be blind but in Japan he has seen many things.

The Sudanese national, who is fluent in Japanese, recently published a book about his 15-year life in Japan titled “Waga Moso,” which would ordinarily be translated as “My Delusion” due to the first character in “moso.” Abdin, however, employed a different character with the same sound that means “blind.”

When asked about his home country, Abdin demonstrated his Japanese prowess. “Sudan wa Nihon yori sudan hirokute sudan atsui” (Sudan is a far bigger and far hotter country than Japan), he said, making a pun with the Japanese word “sudan” (far).

Abdin was born with weak eyesight in the Sudanese capital of Khartoum in May 1978. He completely lost his sight at the age of 12, but studied hard and eventually entered the University of Khartoum, majoring in law.

When the university was shuttered because of political turmoil, Abdin heard of the possibility of studying in Japan under the sponsorship of the Tokyo-based International Association for the Visually Impaired.

But a stern father opposed any plan to leave the country.

Abdin himself knew little about Japan. Electrical appliances and cars were the only things that came to mind when he thought of the country.

Despite this, he managed to persuade his father to let him go and flew to Japan in January 1998 at the age of 19.

In Japan, Abdin encountered many challenges — both as a blind person and as a foreigner unacquainted with Chinese characters.

He first studied acupuncture at the Fukui Prefectural School for the Blind and passed a national examination for a license to practice after three years.

He also studied Japanese while learning Braille.

Abdin said he worked hard to become fluent in Japanese because language is “the only means to convey” his feelings.

Good at homophones, which usually baffle foreigners, Abdin memorized them by making “oyaji gyagu” (an old man’s pun).

“I try not to feel that Chinese characters are a wall and make them into jokes instead,” he said, using a homophonic pun for “kanji” — one meaning “Chinese characters” and the other “feeling.”

His extensive Japanese vocabulary and way with words amazed editors at his publisher, Tokyo-based Poplar Publishing Co.

Abdin learned to write kanji by practicing on clay with a chopstick. He said his favorite is “dai,” which means “big.”

“The character looks like a person relaxing while stretching out his or her hands and legs,” he said.

Abdin, who currently lives in Tokyo with his Sudanese wife and two daughters, is enrolled in the graduate program for peace and conflict studies at Tokyo University of Foreign Studies.

He launched the Committee for Assisting and Promoting Education for the Disabled in Sudan in 2007 and obtained NPO status in 2008, sending items such as Braille boards and soccer balls for the blind to Sudan.

The nonprofit organization believes soccer, a sport Abdin enjoyed in his childhood before he lost his sight, can promote friendship among the visually impaired.

  • Saleh Eissa

    As a member of the millions strong Sudanese diaspora, this article, and Mohamed Omer Abdin make me feel so proud.
    Thanks to Japan for offering him the opportunity to undertake further studies and ultimately to help the visually impaired in Sudan.
    I took a Japanese course in high school and can read Hiragana and Katana – Mohamed Omer Abdin has inspired me to continue learning.