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Words of Wisdom

by on September 14, 2013 10:50 AM

A culture at times can be measured by the creativity and color of its informal wisdom. The imagination in its expression of common ideas.

That would be the simple articulation of thoughtful nuggets we call proverbs, and a former Indiana man has embraced the most popular and expressive adages of the Dari, the tongue of Afghanistan.

Edward Zellem, a Navy captain formerly stationed in Afghanistan on an assignment to develop American military and civilian experts in the Dari language, embraced the litany of proverbs used by Afghans.

In a nation where seven of 10 people cannot read, colorful verbal communication has been key to the exchange of ideas and concepts for centuries.

Enamored by the vivid colloquialisms, Zellem has published a collection of his favorite Afghan proverbs, translated into English, and his project is under consideration for a military award.

Zellem, now stationed at U.S. Central Command in Florida, said word of his recognition by the Military Writers Society of America also has bolstered sales of the book.

Published through a grant from the State Department, the book, “Zarbul Masalha: 151 Afghan Dari Proverbs,” has now been translated and reprinted in French, German and Russian.

Zellem said new versions are in the works, in Polish, Dutch and Hebrew, and in Pashto, a second major language used in Afghanistan.

And that has prompted Zellem to start researching for his next book, likely to be an equally colorful compendium of 151 proverbs in Pashto.

“They are going strong and picking up steam,” Zellem said of the proverbs collection. “There are many Afghan proverbs fans all over the world now.”

From his collection, Zellem suggested an Afghan idiom that might be both timely and consoling for fans watching the Pittsburgh Steelers’ apparent decline from supremacy: “Ba chal-chal-e saag daryaa murdaar nameysha.” It means “The lapping of a dog cannot spoil a river,” Zellem said. “I’ve been a fan since a kid in the 1970s. They’ll be back!”

Online: http://www. afghanproverbs. com/



Chauncey Ross is the Gazette’s fixture at Indiana Area and Homer-Center school board meetings, has been seen with pen and notepad in area police stations and courts, and is something of an Open Records Act and Sunshine Law advocate. He also manages the Gazette’s websites and answers your questions about them.
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