A literary scholar on a noble quest, Prof. Daizal Samad is a ‘Special Person’
By Leon Suseran
“How do we mould a country? Imagination, intelligence and integrity, sometimes simple decency, it works as well. Just stay away from gossip as if it were a mortal sin. We’re given to gossip. I see it in the papers. We can’t afford it.”
It is not every day you meet a scholarly Professor who is also a poet, an editor, a publisher, a writer, and a linguist. It is not every day you hear about an individual who has received the Best Professor Award from various universities on multiple occasions.
Having lived on almost all of the continents and played key roles in developing academic programmes at several prominent universities, Guyana is truly blessed with the continued service of this humble man – Professor Daizal Rafeek Liquat Samad, BA, MA, PhD, current Director of the University of Guyana Berbice Campus (UGBC).
Born at Albion, Corentyne and growing up at Portuguese Quarters, Port Mourant, Daizal Samad attended Rose Hall Scots School and Port Mourant Anglican. He later attended Corentyne High (now J.C. Chandisingh Secondary).
He started to teach at the age of 16 – the only ambition he had at the time – at Port Mourant Primary, and then left to attend the University of Guyana (UG) in 1973. He enrolled to read for a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Literature.
“One of my first classes at UG was Introduction to Literature, taught by Mrs. Joyce Jonas… and my life changed. Because, you know, there are some seminal moments in your life and Joyce, through the Introduction of Literature, showed me what love is. I fell in love with Literature and that love affair has lasted until now,”Prof. Samad reflected.
He said that at UG, he met several other key persons who impacted on his life, among them, Ian Robertson, Walter Edwards, and especially, John Rickford.
“If I am something of a scholar today, I have to confess, I think willingly, that the person who set me on the road, was John Rickford.”
He said that Rickford was his motivation for publishing papers as a second-year undergraduate at UG.
Having graduated at UG, Daizal taught for three years each at Cummings Lodge Secondary and the Port Mourant School. He was awarded a scholarship in 1980 at the University of New Brunswick in Canada. He finished his Master’s Degree in English Language and Literature Studies in seven months, nearly a year-and-a-half before the programme was scheduled to have been completed.
He emphasised that because he was from the Corentyne area, he felt that he needed to prove himself. “I was this very hungry, very ‘let me prove myself’ type of Guyanese. The fact that you’re from Corentyne, somehow you need to prove yourself at every point.”
After the Master’s Degree, he was offered a job to lecture at the St Thomas University in New Brunswick. He was reading for the PhD at the time as well. He was appointed Assistant Professor there. He also taught Shakespeare to the students. In 1993, he was awarded one of many to be had, Best Professor Award at the university.
Professor Samad has published several books, articles and Encyclopedias. His two major books were sold out in Malaysia and Singapore within three weeks of their release. “Rivers Whisper Stars”, a book of poems and ‘Characters in Crisis: The novels of John Horn’ in 2001. He also is the publisher of West Indian, Canadian, African, American, English, and Malaysian literature, Linguistics, lexicography, university and college teaching, university and college administration, 19th Century painting and music, creative writing, travel writing, language and culture and history, among other pursuits.
He left Canada for South East Malaysia in 1993 where he spent the next five years at the National University of Malaysia playing a key role to expand the country’s tertiary levels offerings. He was an Associate Professor, in his mid- thirties. He again won the Best Professor Award.
“Malaysia has some of the finest people I know. They have this grace and I fell in love with it. I think of them fondly and often.”
He left Malaysia in 1998 at the invitation of King Hassan of Morocco.
“The Moroccan idea was to bring together the best and brightest available scholars and writers and get them there at the university to bump up the university’s profile. I was lucky to be offered that opportunity. I learned Arabic and French.”
He continued to develop new programmes, including Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree Programmes in Human Resource Management and a new Liberal Arts Degree, until 2006. He was nominated for a Best Professor Award again.
Prof. Samad was then asked to be the Senior Advisor in tertiary education to the Sultanate of Oman, where he was in charge of over 15 universities and colleges and designed quality assurance systems. He spent a little less than three years in the Middle East.
“I can’t say I loved it. The job was fulfilling; it was terribly important, but also terribly stressful. I didn’t like the dryness of the heat. In the summer it was sometimes as hot as 45 degrees. You walk 10 yards in the sun and you feel your skin bubbling.”
Following the Middle Eastern experience, he returned to Canada, spent a few years, and finished a book. He got a job offer in Japan and an even more lucrative one in South Korea.
It was then when his cousin, Dawood Jahurally, called him and asked him to consider doing something for his homeland, since he had done so much for other countries.
“I didn’t at that point have an intellectual relationship with Guyana. I left Guyana in 1980 with one intention in mind; ‘I will never come back to this country, that’s it’. I grew up under some difficult times, politically. It was oppressive, crude. There were good people getting killed, my friends, getting beaten; people like Wordsworth Mc Andrew. It wasn’t a thing I wanted to be a part of,”he reminisced.
He added that as much as he longed to return to Guyana, there was no encouraging thought, particularly because of the tumultuous periods in the country.
He checked out a website and saw some familiar names like Robeson Benn, who lived right next to him in New Brunswick and (the late) Dr Desrey Fox. Dr Fox had taught him the Arawak language, and they worked on the Amerindian Languages Project.
Dr Fox telephoned him and insisted that he return to Guyana and that he was needed here. He answered the call and returned in 2008. He had come back to teach and research. Quite soon he had designed a Strategic Planning Engine as well for the University of Guyana.
“It took me 10-12 days of day and night work, but I got this engine. Strategic Plans are obsolete; we needed a Strategic Planning Engine. Let’s say we have a university and you input a new programme, you plug it into an engine and the engine automatically rolls out your output.”
Prof. Samad said only three persons (him included) in the world, have prepared such a planning mechanism.
He was then offered the position of Director of UGBC.
“My major temptation was to come back to Berbice, and they played that card. It was Prem Misir and Tota Mangar, and Prem read me fairly well, because he didn’t come to sort of tempt me. He sent Tota Mangar. Tota has this charming way about him, so I was offered the position; came here and thank God for it, because it has done me good and it has done, I think, Berbice good.”
Prof. Samad is married to Janet and has four children. He taught her at Cummings Lodge Secondary and they met again at a reunion in New York in 2005. He describes the latter encounter.
“So I went and saw this beautiful woman. I couldn’t remember her. I taught her in High School. I was her Form Master, English teacher, Literature teacher and I couldn’t remember her. I fell in love; the best thing that ever happened to me in my life, really gracious, gentle, good human being,” he said. They got married last February.
He revealed that his intellectual role model is Leonardo Da Vinci; a man who, he opined was very talented and brilliant, and his spiritual one is Jesus. He credits veteran educator in Berbice, Ramdat Nandkishore, for much of the knowledge he gained while being Director of UGBC.
When asked what he does in his spare time, he said that he has no spare time and is never bored.
“I have no spare time. Most of the time, I have a couple of friends that keep me sane, but almost every single time that we meet to relax it is about work. But you look at work now from a different perspective. I talk to my wife every single night. That’s what I do with my spare time.”
So what does he see in the future for Guyana?
The literary scholar stressed that Guyana’s greatest resource is its people.
“How do we mould a country? Imagination, intelligence and integrity, sometimes simple decency, it works as well. Just stay away from gossip as if it were a mortal sin. We’re given to gossip. I see it in the papers. We can’t afford it. America can afford it, it’s rich; France can afford it; China can afford it; Japan can afford it, and Malaysia can afford it.
We can’t afford it; we’re a little nation. We need to think and act outside of our skins. Every day must be about excellence without let-up, until we drop; where every person feels like a leader because every person is a leader.”
He said that even a man who has a family is a leader, but stops being a leader when he beats his wife. “Then he becomes a word; coward, a coward. You can’t build a nation from cowardice, you can’t do it; you destroy it like that. Our country can be a very, very special place, but we need to take practical steps to make it real.”
Education, he said, cannot be defined in any profound way, adding that to be educated is having the ability to measure one’s own ignorance.
“Ask more of yourself and ask less of other people. Stop being so critical of others; start being critical of you. That’s the future I see for this country; where we have a society in which men and women live together and people of different hues forget that there are hues. Where people ask the question, ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’ and the answer is ‘No’, I am not my brother’s keeper; I am my brother’. That is the nation I dream to have. And by the time I am done, that is the nation we shall have”, he asserted.
The professor, as director of UGBC, has been transforming the entity to better serve the needs of students seeking quality tertiary education in the Ancient County. He has involved the campus in almost every sphere of life and interaction with the entire community, from police officers to farmers. He handed two scholarships to students recently and said that he will be advocating for more in the future. He was instrumental in acquiring the John’s campus location for CPCE teacher-trainees and had them moved from J.C. Chandisingh Secondary, where conditions were less desirable.
Without a doubt, Prof. Daizal Samad is indeed a passionate citizen of this great land who certainly has the best interest of tertiary education in Berbice at heart. We also believe that he is a ‘Special Person’.