Aaron in Azerbaijan

Just another blog about Azerbaijan.

Archive for the ‘Language’ Category

A Sunday Poem

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It’s been a rough week, so the posts this week have been few. We’ll start the new week with a poem from Bakhtiyar Vahabzade (Bəxtiyər Vahabzadə), called Speed (Sürət):

Speed

Time was, we would sit
in the compartment of a train
Three days and three nights
Counting the miles
Baku-Moscow
For lack of anything else to do.

Then, eight hours by plane,
Baku-Moscow,
And now just three hours,
Still sorry,
Bored stiff.

We want to fly
With the speed of light,
But even the speed of light
Is too slow to catch
The flight of our thoughts.

I am the son of modern times.
Give me now
The speed of my mind
The speed of my thoughts,
Not to worry me,
Not to bore me to death.
Just now,
Match the swiftness of my mind,
Move now!

Sorry that there’s no translation this week. If you’d like to check out more poems by Bəxtiyər, head over to Azeri.org.

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Written by Aaron

October 30, 2011 at 2:44 pm

A Sunday Poem

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This week’s poem is by Vagif Samadoghlu (Vaqif Səmədoğlu), called That Strange and Soft Tune (Sənin səhərdən axşama kimi oxuduğun). Enjoy:

That Strange and Soft Tune

That strange and soft tune
that once you were murmuring all day long
in the language that I didn’t understand,
is still ringing in my ears.
I have learned by heart
the strange words of that nice and inconsolable,
of that distant and desperate song,
and they are still ringing in my ears…
That strange song that once
you were singing all day long
is as far, unhappy and somehow cautious
as my native land.

For the Azeri, read below… Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Aaron

October 23, 2011 at 5:48 am

A Sunday Poem, On Monday

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Travel logistics made Sunday’s poem get pushed back to today. This week, we read a poem by Füzuli, Azerbaijan’s epic poet writing in the 16th century. This is an excerpt from his rendition of Leyla and Majnun (Leyli və Məcnun), describing Leyla:

Among all the girls was one bright as a fairy,
Who aimed all her glances directly at Qays.
So beautiful she, with her ways and her graces,
That many an elder, forgetful of vows,
Might find all his virtue caught up in her curls.
Calamitous chain for the neck was the garland
Of ringleted locks that fell down in a cloud:
Affliction for lovers was spelled by her eyebrows,
As lovely as twins, and, as twins, forming one.
Each eyelash that curved from her lids was an arrow
That pierced to heart and that stirred all the blood:
Her eyes from their shelter poured forth fiery glances
That, piercing the soul, spread the fever of love.
Her brow, like an ocean, far spread and smooth rolling
Like the ocean had many a peril in check.
The black of her eyes shamed collyrium’s darkness
And made it a captive in chains to her mole.
Her cheeks flushing red, paled her rouge to a whiteness,
No rouge ever sullied their delicate blush.
Should her eyes lose their pupils, no blindness would follow,
Her mole would become a black pupil of sight.
Her teeth, pearly white, from between her lips’redness
Gleamed forth as bright pearls in the heart of a rose:
When the doors of her speech were full opened, one fancied
The dead must spring forth from their mouldering tombs.
From her round dimpled chin her neck curved to her bosom;
Her stature and form were creation divine.
The falcon itself, a bird sacred to kingship,
Unhooded, can gaze in the eye of the sun,
But the eyes of this child, with their antelope softness,
Could flash forth a look that the falcon outshone.
Her motion was graceful, her words sugared honey,
No act but had grace, every movement a joy-
But why count her beauties? Put all in a sentence:
The whole world itself, in a passion of terror
Clung fast to her hair, as she went on her way.
Beloved of all the world was this maiden.
Qays looked and he perished, for Leyla her name.
As he with a sorrowful passion of yearning
With sighs fed the fire that her beauty awoke,
So she in a thousand sweet joys lost her reason
For him without whom she knew living was death.
She saw how the world gave its ultimate wonder,
She saw how he held all her world in his hands.

You can find more from Füzuli’s Leyli və Məcnun here at this site about Turkish culture. For even more Azeri poetry, go to Azeri.org’s Poetry page.

Written by Aaron

October 17, 2011 at 12:27 pm

How Being Polite Can Be Frustrating

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I’m currently reading a short book called The Ayatollah Begs to Differ, by an Iranian who was raised in the West by his parents, members of Iran’s diplomatic class in the 1960s and 70s. Hooman Majd tells his story in short vignettes. He deconstructs the minutiae of his return trips to his homeland, visiting government officials and ayatollahs and old friends. His insights into Iranian culture are particularly vivid, as he is at the same time an Iranian at heart and steeped in Western culture. Being bilingual is certainly an asset in bridging that gulf. As Majd recollects his stories, he notes the persistence of ta’arouf, a form of politesse permeating nearly every interaction in Iranian culture. I can tell you, this idea of ta’arouf is thick in Azeri culture, as well.

Throughout the book, Majd explains the ta’arouf in almost every possible situation, whether it is in his meetings with the Iranian Foreign Minister, displayed in the minister’s offering his service while not really meaning it, or talking with taxi drivers about how much to pay, in which the taxi driver insists that paying for the taxi ride is an act unworthy but really just refuses the payment until you overwhelm with your own insistence that you must pay the fare. Of ta’arouf, Majd writes:

Western observers often define ta’arouf as extreme Iranian hospitality, or as a Persian form of elaborate etiquette, but since Westerners naturally engage in ta’arouf too (as everyone who has ever complimented a host or hostess on what was actually a bad meal knows), it’s easy to miss its true significance and its implications in Persian culture. The white lies that good manners dictate we tell in the West and general polite banter or gracious hospitality cannot begin to describe what for Iranians is a cultural imperative that is about manners, yes, but is also about gaining advantage, politically, socially, or economically, as much as anything else. One might be tempted to think of ta’arouf as passive-aggressive behavior with a peculiarly Persian hue, but although it can be, it cannot be defined solely so.

I can tell you: the Azeri culture that I experience is thick with ta’arouf. I cannot purchase something without hearing the phrase, “qonaq ol”, or “be a guest”, meaning that I shouldn’t pay. This goes for big meals to short taxi rides. Last time I was in Baku, I was told to be a guest for a cup of coffee I bought. And every greeting and goodbye is often a long trail of phrases that almost knock you over. This could involve asking “how are you?” in every permutation possible. This sounds great, a place of extreme courtesy, right? Well, for any foreigner who’s in Azerbaijan this can be a strong change of pace. And when the seller tells you to be a guest, the correct response is to insist on paying. This next part from Majd is right on, as well, describing the same tactic I use when walking in the street here:

Any visitor to Iran will also describe Tehran traffic as perhaps the worst in the world with, paradoxically for people known for their extreme hospitality and good manners, the rudest drivers of any country. True, for someone behind the wheel of an automobile, man or woman, is anonymous. There is good reason why Iranian drivers avoid eye contact with other drivers and pedestrians, for if they make eye contact, their veil of anonymity has been lifted, the gates to the walls of their homes have been unlocked and they must become social Iranians, which means they must practice ta’arouf. Many a time as a pedestrian I have made every effort to make eye contact with a driver bearing down on me at full speed as I step off a curb, and when I manage to, the car inevitably stops and the driver, usually with a smile, gestures “you first” with his hands.

It’s true. I can’t tell you how well this works in Azerbaijan. We PCVs have discussed that, often, the famous hospitality in Azerbaijan comes most commonly after you have engaged in a bit of the ta’arouf which makes your greetings long-winded marathons of niceties. Once an Azeri is no longer anonymous, the hospitality shines through. With the anonymity, you’ve got a much different situation on your hands.

For someone who’s not used to this state of affairs, it can be exhausting. It turns buying knick-knacks into a chore, when everyone knows what the end result is from the get-go. The other unintended consequence, as far as westerners are concerned, is that it leads to a frustratingly contradictory view of the people we are dealing with. While some of these folks can be some of the most generous people we’ve come across, offering their best, it can also lead to these same people saying things they don’t really intend to follow through on. Our Azeri hosts may say that they’ll provide something because it is the proper and polite thing to say, yet with no intention of delivering. You can imagine the frustration as we exclaim, “They just lie to us!” Yet, at the same time, we need to understand that this is less about lying than it is about trying to be a polite and appropriate host.

In a work setting, these frustrations can be even more pronounced, as my colleagues will want to make sure that they are exercising the right amount of politeness with me, the foreigner. And yet, they just can’t say no when that is what they are thinking. Efforts to appease someone like me as an advisor or someone who is in a higher position means putting forth an effort many western businesspeople would find inefficient and ineffective. However, ta’arouf has its role in business, as well:

American businesses and businessmen are known to succeed with brashness, determination, and sometimes even a certain amount of ruthlessness; Iranian businessmen succeed rather more quietly with a good dose of ta’arouf and in such a way that doors are opened before the ones opening the doors realize they have done so.

Reading The Ayatollah Begs to Differ has provided me a great voice to describe some of my experiences here in Azerbaijan. You can find a fantastic essay adapted from the book here. That essay, in particular, gives a great summary of why Americans have a very difficult time understanding Iran and Iran’s politics. While it might be too easy to say that everything Majd offers fits neatly with Azeris as much as Iranians, his writing is clearly appropriate for understanding my time in Azerbaijan, and very clearly shows a few ways in which Azerbaijan relates to the neighbors to the south.

Written by Aaron

October 10, 2011 at 3:18 pm

A Sunday Poem

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This week, a poem by Fikrat Goja (Fikrət Qoca) called An Unfinished Work (Yarımçıq İş):

An Unfinished Work

An unfinished work is
An engaged son or daughter
Without a wedding.
An unfinished work is
An autumn without harvest.
An unfinished work is
A road without a bridge,
A land without a road,
A tongue without a word.
An unfinished work is
A work done without a goal,
A curse without meaning,
A kiss without love.
An unfinished work is
A roof with a ceiling
That leaks,
Brother, in short,
An unfinished work is
A person who is good for nothing.

For the Azerbaijani version, read below… Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Aaron

October 9, 2011 at 5:47 pm

A Sunday Poem

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This week’s poem is by Ali Karim (Əli Kərim) called Stone (Daş):

Stone

Half-naked,
Primitive man
Cast a stone at his foe,
Shed blood.
But the stone
Didn’t fall to the ground,
It kept flying,
From horizon to horizon.
Don’t say that the stone disappeared.
That stone transformed into an arrow,
And then a sword,
A bullet,
A missile.
It did not stop as we thought.
It transformed into an atom.
Piercing the summit
And wishes
And the ocean,
It sped away…
Nor has that very stone
Stopped even now,
It still shoots through the air, but where?
It becomes neutron,
Electron-
A lot of this, a lot of that.
Transforming into fire.
Death.
Poison.
You, my contemporary,
You, brother of Truth,
Tell me, can’t that stone be stopped,
That the half-naked,
Half-savage,
Primitive man
Cast so long ago?

For the Azeri, read below… Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Aaron

October 2, 2011 at 5:15 pm

A Sunday Poem

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This week, read a poem by Mammad Araz (Məmməd Araz) called If There Were No War (Müharibə Olmasa):

If There Were No War

If there were no war,
We could construct a bridge between Earth and Mars
Melting weapons in an open-hearth furnace.

If there were no war,
The harvest of a thousand years could grow in one day.
Scientists could bring the moon and stars to Earth.

The eyes of the general also says:
“I would be chairman in a small village
If there were no war!”

If there were no war,
We could avoid untimely deaths
Our hair would gray very late.

If there were no war,
We would face
Neither grief, nor parting.

If there were no war,
The bullet of mankind would be his word,
And the word of mankind would be love.

Below, the Azeri version… Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Aaron

September 25, 2011 at 8:19 am