Aaron in Azerbaijan

Just another blog about Azerbaijan.

A Healthy Obsession?

with 5 comments

If you’ve been ill in Azerbaijan, you’ve been given the Azerbaijani treatment, including all the worry and concern that comes with being sick.  One of the more striking features of spending time with Azerbaijanis is that if you have anything that hurts or you’re feeling sick, the whole world might, in fact, be stopping because of it.  Telling someone that you are xəstə will elicit a strong reaction, blaming it on the weather or the fact that you showered and left the house on the same day or that you haven’t drunk enough tea.  Luckily, cold season is basically over, with the end of winter; yet, the obsessive concern for health continues.

If you’ve been lucky enough not to become sick, life is still permeated with concern about health.  When we celebrated Hiba’s birthday more than a month ago everyone at the AZETA celebration expressed their wishes for Hiba, and by far the most important wish was that she live a healthy life.  Other wishes fell in, like a long life, many kids, a good husband, many riches, but everyone was stressing the good health.  It was strange how much emphasis came through that one wish.  Beyond that, concern for health weaves into everyday conversation, such as the words for thank you being sağ olun, and that pairs with salamat qalın (stay healthy), to be among the most prominent farewells.

When we’re in America, certainly we toast to your health and we always want people to be well, but the emphasis here is almost over-the-top, which makes me think there is more to this than just caring about being healthy.  I can only think that in the past, health has been something more elusive.  Perhaps at a time when the gas stove wasn’t heating the house and it was hard to come by hot water for bathing, staying healthy may have been a lot harder.  And maybe during the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the continued collapse of basic infrastructure since, it may have been even harder to maintain good health because of the difficulties of getting clean water and staying warm.  What else could it be?  I can only imagine that these notable lacks couple with the dearth of basic medical knowledge to create a strong insecurity about everyone’s health.

Interestingly, however, without the basic modern medical knowledge we profess in America, they’ve come up with their own folk remedies and practices that use a great deal of the local resources like garlic and raspberries and honey.  And they might include an ultra-violet light, too.  AZERB.com has a rather sober look at what’s going on health-wise in Azerbaijan.  Azerbaijan International has a great article from back in 1995 about the various folk remedies you might find in area.  While I like the idea of using folks remedies, I still can’t quite accept the “wrap-it-up” method that is ubiquitous among the population.  Your stomachache?  Wrap a scarf around it.  Headache?  Ditto.  Same for any affliction.  Wrap it up.


Written by Aaron

March 25, 2010 at 2:54 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

5 Responses

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  1. Hey Aaron,

    Nice post. Two things two take into account. The word “sag” does not mean just health. In Azerbaijani, the word sag also means “right” (right as opposed to left and right as opposed to wrong). So when people say to you “sag ol” it also means be right or follow the right path. In Azerbaijan health is minimum and most important of good that people can wish to you. Of course, they can wish to you lots of wealth and be obese as you can see in America but you would not enjoy life with overweight body and lots of wealth, right? If nothing, it is better to be healthy bodily and whatever-ly. Then with your health you can dive in gaining wealth.

    The word salamat has two connotation: 1) well-being, 2) peace. When people say to you salamat they wish to you – by implication – peace, well-being, and health.
    On another note, it is true that Azerbaijanis keep traditional folk knowledge of medicine and use it a lot. Perhaps for many reasons, including those you write. Doctors have professional knowledge. Others have traditional folk knowledge as in many societies. Of course, you cannot compare level of medical knowledge and infrastructure in America and in Azerbaijan but I don’t think lack of knowledge is basic reason for using traditional medical knowledge. Perhaps, it is more complicated than that.

    Also, I would not agree with statement that frequent use of words related to health as farewell words or whatever means people are obsessively concerned with their health. How can an obsessed person smoke a lot? Literal meaning of sag ol, or salamat qal do not indicate primary concerns of people. It is like English. In America, when people greet me, they say “how are you”. But that does not mean that they really ask me how I am, right? Same thing for sag ol or salamat qal. Don’t take words for their face values and don’t generalize too much from them.

    pursue right path, have peace, well-being, and health. In short, sag ol.

    Movie-ing Maniac

    March 27, 2010 at 1:58 am

  2. […] Maniac” in response to my post about health in Azerbaijan a few days ago.  Read it in full here.  There are a few things MM brings up, particularly with my reading too much into the words used […]

  3. In relation to MM’s comment “how can an obsessed person smoke a lot?” I think the answer is simple–they don’t think about smoking as something that adversely affects health. Americans used to feel the same way (and in fact, were encouraged to smoke as a means of stress relief). As Aaron has pointed out there are no surgeon general’s warnings and I’ve never seen and anti-smoking poster anywhere. The same goes with alcohol use by men (and very, very young boys) and seatbelts.
    Also, living in Azerbaijan myself, I’d like to 100% back up Aaron’s views on the importance of health to people here. I could add several dozen stories and examples of health obsession to his.
    I hope MM is not arguing that Azeris aren’t that big on health because he or she sees it as a failing. Americans could learn a lot about acting preventitively and not relying on doctors or medicine so much.


    March 28, 2010 at 5:41 pm

  4. […] a comment » I think after this post, these comments, and this subsequent post, it’ll probably serve us well to talk at least one […]

  5. Aaron,

    Nice blog entry, I could tell you have lived in Azerbaijan long enough to realize how things work over there. Obviously, you don’t see everything the way you are used to and in some cases they way you want to. However, that’s all about difference in cultures. I’m from Azerbaijan myself, but I also have lived in America for a good period of time, a period of time that was enough for me to apprehend the diferences in the cultures. Talking about yout entry, I’d first like to start off by saying that yes people in Azerbaijan put a high attention towards the health as we believe health is the most important thing. And yes, SOME people believe in the power of shower to make you catch cold have you showered and left the house right after it, I used upper case typing some, because it would be unfair to those who dont do so to be generalized in this categor
    One sentence that really caught my attention, however, was the very first one in your 2nd paragraph.It is true that Azerbaijani Medical System isn’t as much suplied with modern techniques as America’s, and that America might be a step forward in that regard. Yet, it doesn’t necessarily mean that one can say this ” without the basic modern medical knowledge we profess in America, they’ve come up with their own folk remedies and practices that use a great deal of the local resources like garlic and raspberries and honey.” Of course, families use garlic and honey and raspberries, but here is the thing that you might have been mislead: People use those not instead of the modern medicine, but just for the taste as a supplementary help 🙂
    I am sure the longer you are in the country, the more you will learn about the whole health thing.
    Good luck in your service


    April 17, 2010 at 5:29 am

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