Author Archive
general
Narrative

Tanbouri’s Shoes

Abu Al Kasem Al Tanbouri used to live in Baghdad, and he had very old shoes, which he used to patch up every time when it breaks. The shoe became a collection of patches, and it was known for everybody. One day, his friends insisted on him to get rid of these old shoes, so he threw it in the dumpster, and he went back home. On his way home, he passed by the market, and he saw these nice, colorful glass bottles. But he thought these are too expensive and he doesn’t need them. Then he passed by a place where they sell perfumes, and he thought this expensive perfume deserves to be in one of these beautiful, colorful glasses. So he went back, and he got one glass bottle, and then he got the perfume, and put the perfume in the glass, and put it on a shelf in the house.

Meanwhile, a man was passing next to the dumpster, and he saw the patched shoes, and he recognized them. So he thought, it’s impossible for Al Tanbouri to get rid of the shoes, and I need to take it back to him. When he knocked on the door, nobody answered (because Al Tanbouri was out), and he saw an open window in the house. So he threw the patched shoes through the window, and hit the glassed perfume, which broke, and the perfume spilled out of the glass.

When Al Tanbouri came back to the house, and he recognized what happened, he cursed the shoes, and he took them angrily, and he threw them in the river. After a while, a fisherman found the shoes in his net, and he recognized them. He thought that he needed to take them back to their owner, so he went to Al Tanbouri’s house, and he told him, “I found your shoes in my net.”

Tanbouri took the shoes and put it on the roof to dry. A cat thought the shoes were a piece of meat, and started to chew on it. So Al Tanbouri followed the cat, trying to get it to leave the shoes alone, but the cat put the shoes in his mouth, and started to jump over roofs. All of a sudden, the shoes fell from the cat’s mouth, and it hit a pregnant woman, and she fell down on her back, and miscarried the baby. So her husband went to the judge, accused Al Tanbouri with killing his unborn baby, after he recognized they were Al Tanbouri’s shoes. So the judge ordered him to pay blood money.

Al Tanbouri got very angry, and he started cursing the shoes, and thought, “I need to throw it in a place where no one will find it.” So he threw them in the sewers. In two days, the sewers flooded. When the workers came to check the reason of the flood, they found the patched shoes, and they recognized who the owner is. They took him to the judge again, and the judge ordered to send him to prison.

After he was done with his sentence, they gave back the shoes to him. Again, he cursed the shoes, and he thought, “I need to bury it in a deep place.” When he started to dig, the neighbors thought that thieves were digging through the fence, so they went to the police, and the police came and took him to the judge. Al Tanbouri asked the judge to write a document that he has nothing to do with the shoes anymore, and no matter what trouble they are causing, he has no connection to it.

Al Tanbouri’s shoes were famous for their bad luck.

Background information: The informant learned this from a friend of hers and thought it was entertaining and funny. It is a Middle Eastern story.

Context: The informant told me this in a conversation about folklore.

Thoughts: I thought this was a funny story – the fact that a pair of beaten-up shoes, nothing really important, can have serious ramifications on Al Tanbouri’s life is pure comedy, as well as the fact that the shoes inadvertently followed him everywhere. He tried so hard to get rid of them following well-meaning advice from his friends, and they caused so much trouble for him. I don’t recall any stories I’ve heard that are similar to this, so it was quite interesting and entertaining to listen to.

For another version of this story, see The Tanbouri Shoes (My Auntie’s Stories), published by Asalah (2008). ISBN-10: 9953488851.

Folk speech
Proverbs

Arabic Proverb

لما بيكبر ابنك ، خاويه

Transliteration: Lema beeyekbar ibnak, khaweeh.

Translation: When your son grows up, treat him as if he is your brother.

Background information: This is a well-known Arabic proverb.

Context: The informant told me this proverb in a Skype video call conversation about folklore.

Thoughts: The bond between brothers is a strong one, one reason being that they are typically close in age. Brotherhood is something that is revered in the Middle East, so it makes sense that when a father’s son grows up, the most respect the father can show his son, who is now a grown man, is treating him like a brother. It is interesting to see just how valued the concept of brotherhood, even if not blood-related, is in the Middle East.

general
Myths
Narrative

Satanai Flower

Lady Satanai saw a beautiful flower behind a forest in Kabardian. She wanted to plant this flower in front of her house, to let everyone see just how beautiful it was, so she brought it home. She planted the flower, but when tomorrow came, the flower had wilted, which made her very sad.

Later, she brought the same kind of flower, hoping it would not wilt like the other one, and planted it in her front garden. This flower also ended up wilting.

She again brought the same kind of flower, thinking that, this time, this flower wouldn’t die. But it also wilted! She began to regret taking these flowers from the forest, thinking she should have just left them alone. Suddenly, a storm came, and it began to rain heavily.
The next day, Lady Satani looked at the flower, and it had come back to life – the rainwater had revived the flower. She was overjoyed. From then on, humanity valued water’s benefits, calling water equal to the soul.
Background information: This is a Circassian story, told to her by her mom.
Context: The informant told me this story in a conversation about folklore
Thoughts: I thought this was a nice story, telling the importance of water to life. It also strikes me as a type of creation story – this is when the role of water on this planet is recognized. Perhaps this might even be the first instance of water.

 

folk metaphor
Folk speech
general

Arabic Expression

طلعله من الجمل اذنه

Transliteration: Telaalu min al jamal ednu.

Translation: “He got only the camel’s ear.”

When someone works hard to get big share of a deal but the outcome turns out to be very small because many other people shared it with him.

Background information: An expression known in Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon. This is a common figure of speech in the Arabic language.

Context: The informant told me about this expression in a conversation about folklore.

Thoughts: This is a very interesting way to describe this situation, one that appears to be quite common all throughout history to today. I find the use of metaphors in other languages to be fascinating and a colorful way to carry out the language. I don’t think I use nearly the amount of metaphors as other languages (such as Arabic) when I speak English.

Folk speech
Proverbs

Syrian Proverb

Humor

Garabed and Miss Makrouhi 

MM: You have six apples and you give half to your brother Hagop, how many apples will be left?

G: That’s obvious! Five and a half apples, Miss Makrouhi.

Background information: This is an Armenian joke. Hagop and Garabed are recurring characters in Armenian jokes.

Context: The informant told me about this in a conversation about Armenian folklore

Thoughts: This plays on the definition of the word “half.” It can either mean half of the entire set of apples, which means three apples, or mean half of an apple. Garabed uses this to his advantage, trying to keep as much apples as possible, and to give less apples to his brother. This is a common trope between siblings, kind of like a sibling rivalry. I think it’s quite a witty joke.

Humor

Garabed and Vartan

G: I have heard they have increased the price of vodka.

V: Nah, that’s imposible.

G: My friend Garabed, why do you think so?

V: It’s priceless…

Background information: This is a popular Armenian joke. Garabed and Vartan are recurring characters in Armenian jokes.

Context: The informant told me this joke in a conversation about folklore.

Thoughts: Vartan greatly values vodka, so much so that he can’t put a price on it; it’s too good to be priced accordingly, which is why it’s impossible for the cost to increase. It’s a funny and witty joke.

Folk speech
Proverbs

Arabic Proverb

اكبر منك بيوم ، اعرف منك بسنة

Transliteration: Akbar minak beyoum, a’araf minak bseneh.

Translation: Older than you by one day, more knowledgeable than you by a year.

Background information: This is a well-known Arabic proverb. The informant heard it from other Arabs, and he likes it because it gives a nod to experience and sums up how valuable it is.

Context: The informant told me about this proverb in a conversation about folklore.

Thoughts: This is the quintessential proverb; it gives a general truth/a piece of advice. Someone has lived a year longer than you, and that year is filled with new knowledge, so it is only natural that they would know a year’s worth of information more than you. It’s a succinctly stated proverb about life experience, and is very applicable.

Humor

Vartan

Jesus Christ decides to check if humans recognize him… So He goes to Yerevan and asks Hagop, the first guy he meets:

JC: Do you know who I am?

H: You are Vartan’s grandfather.

JC: No.

H: May be Vartan’s father?

JC: No.

H: Then you must be one of Vartan’s relatives.

JC: No, but why Vartan?

H: Well, I am sure I have seen your portrait at Vartan’s house.

Background information: This is an Armenian joke. Hagop and Vartan are recurring characters in Armenian jokes.

Context: The informant told me this joke in a conversation about folklore.

Thoughts: This may be my favorite out of the Armenian jokes I’ve collected. The fact that Jesus Christ comes to Earth to see how things are going, and the first person he asks doesn’t recognize him, is pretty funny. Hagop sees a picture of Jesus Christ at Vartan’s house, and automatically assumes he must be Vartan’s family member, because why else would he have a picture of a man hanging in his house?

general
Humor

The Coffin

A man asked Juha: “What do you think is better, to walk behind a coffin, or in front of a coffin during a funeral?”

Juha replied: “Be wherever you want, except inside that coffin.”

Background information: This is a popular joke heard throughout the Middle East, starring a recurring character, Juha.

Context: The informant told me this joke in a conversation about folklore.

Thoughts: This is quite humorous, a bit of dark humor. It deals with funerals, but makes a joke out of it, saying the worst place to be at during these events is inside a coffin (because that obviously means you’re dead!).

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