Author Archives: Dunai Basrawi

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.

Uyghur Proverb

خېرىداردا كۆز بولسا، قاسساپ ئاچتىن ئۆلەر

Translation: If the customer had eyes, then the butchers would die from hunger. (i.e., if customers found out about how a business practices entirely, then the customers would stop buying and instead make the items themselves or demand the business to change, since not all businesses are honest or efficient).

Background information: “I heard this proverb while walking through Urumqi, the capital city of Xinjiang Autonomous Uyghur Province. It introduced me to the shrewd business and customer relationships that the Uyghurs treasure. I found a lot of treasures in Urumqi, a city that far too many people don’t know about. It is larger than Chicago.”

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

Thoughts:  To me, this is an interesting proverb, and one that holds a viewpoint that is definitely held by a large amount of people. In this capitalistic society, we have corporations mass-producing items in ways that are not ethical, or even in ways we do not know – this creates mistrust toward these producers in the consumers. These corporations also want you to think you are a part of the family, even though you will never be; they do not care about you like they suggest, and want your money, a dishonesty a lot of people realize.

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.

Syrian Proverb

اتدخل بجنازة و لا تدخل بجوازة

Transliteration: Atdkhal bejnazeh wa la tadakhal bejwazeh.

Translation: Better to be involved in arranging a funeral, than arranging a marriage.

Background information: Well-known Syrian proverb.

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

Thoughts: The idea here is that, when one arranges a marriage and it goes south, they are typically blamed for the couple’s woes, since it all started with the person arranging them to be together. The future of a marriage is not concrete – there is still room for it to go south and for the arranger to be blamed. The future of a funeral, however, is more concrete – there is no future. The person is dead, and you know they are dead, so there is no further business to be done and nothing to be blamed for. This is an interesting way to see both situations.

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.