Tamahaq, sometimes refered to as Tamashek or Tamajak, depending on regional dialect is the ancient and, some would argue, dying language of Tuareg nomads. It is spoken throughout the Saharan regions, and to an outsider like myself, sounds a bit like a cross between Arabic and Polish, with just as many consonants.

With its nasals, funny vowels and throaty gutturals it seemed impossible that I would actually be able learn anything, but my companions seemed determined to to teach me the basics.

Lesson number one got off to a flying start. My vocabulary began with the weather, the land and trees & plants.

There are unsurprisingly hundreds of words to describe sand in Tamahaq. Moving sand is known as iluk. Flat, smooth sand where we could couch the camels is edeien, but if there are rocks, it is is termed aselres. And erg does not mean sea, as I always believed, but vein or belt.

We were surrounded by asrir, an empty plain, and amadal and hidban, gravel and rock. Sandy land is called rag, but if it contains gravel it is mham. Each type of dune has a different name. Those without vegetation are alakwas or uruq; but if one has the tiniest scrap of vegetation lying on or around it, it is tehedit. Azekrih, meaning forest, seems to refer to any land that has a bush on it.

Grasses are referred to as zayyat, herbs are tabaidot and anything resembling a tree is rinkidan. Seemingly identical plants are known by a thousand different names (listrif, sabay and atil).

Weather words include hundreds of wind names, such as the shirgi, which blows sand at 90 miles per hour at 120°F. A drought is shidda and a heat haze is aghmam.

I enjoyed learning all of them, but it was the swear words I remembered!