Top 10 Afghan Dari Proverbs: Military Edition

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     A U.S. Marine Corps officer contacted me last week about my books of Afghan Proverbs.  He is preparing to deploy to a very challenging and complicated place in Afghanistan.  When you're packing for a long trip to the combat zone, weight is always an important consideration and every bit counts.  So I was honored to learn that one of the things he's choosing to carry is his personal copy of “Zarbul Masalha: 151 Afghan Dari Proverbs.” 


The bilingual Zarbul Masalha ("Proverbs" in Dari Persian) now is available in over 35 countries 


     This Marine officer has taken the time to understand the importance of proverbs and poetry in Afghan culture.  He sees Afghan Proverbs as a type of “cultural body armor.”  But unlike the Kevlar body armor that tends to separate people from each other, the "cultural armor” of Afghan Proverbs helps bring people closer together.  The universal messages contained in a culture's proverbs and sayings help people to communicate and understand each other better as fellow human beings with the same basic human thoughts and emotions.

     Because his time is limited before deployment, the Marine officer asked if I would recommend a “Top 10” list of Afghan Proverbs that he and his colleagues could learn fast and use immediately after arriving in Afghanistan.  

     For me this was not an easy task.  It was like asking a parent to pick his favorite child.  I’ve used every Proverb in Zarbul Masalha myself many times and in many different situations in Afghanistan.  I carefully selected the 151 Proverbs for the book because they all are useful.  And one of the many charms of Afghan Proverbs is that anyone trying to create a "Top 10" is likely to come up with very different lists depending on the purpose, situation and personalities involved. 


Afghan children use Proverbs too


     But I finally arrived at a recommended “Top 10 Afghan Proverbs” list as a starting point for him.  Once he begins using Afghan Proverbs in the field, I guarantee he will find them so effective and even fun that he will want to learn and use many more.  One of the interesting things about Proverbs in any language is that they are "long-tail keywords" in the modern sense, but they also are an ancient shorthand for expressing very profound and complex thoughts.  At the same time they are colorful, common, and easy-to-learn phrases that everybody knows and enjoys hearing.  It's a demonstrated fact that Proverbs can bring different cultures and people closer together in many ways, even in a combat zone.  And there is a lot of still-untapped wisdom in Afghan Proverbs that can benefit everyone, no matter where or what the circumstances.  

     As a good host in Afghanistan might do, I am happy to share this Top 10 list with neighbors and friends.  So here are the recommended “Top 10 Afghan Proverbs: Military Edition" courtesy of "Zarbul Masalha: 151 Afghan Dari Proverbs."  Nosh-e jaan!  (Enjoy!)    



 A luncheon in Pul-e Sayad, Kapisa Province



 Top 10 Afghan Dari Proverbs:  Military Edition  

1.  Dil ba dil raah daarad.  دل به دل راه دارد

  • There is a way from heart to heart.
  • Meaning: We can succeed together if we work together.


2.  Mehmaan dost-e Khodaa ast.  مهمان دوست خدا است

  • Guests are friends of God.
  • Meaning: Always treat your guests well, and you will be blessed.


3.  Tu ba ma, ma ba tu.  تو به مه، مه به تو

  • You to me, and me to you.
  • Meaning: If you protect and help me, I'll do the same for you.


"You to me, and me to you"  (Afghan high school student illustration from Zarbul Masalha)  


4.  Cheez-e gandom tar, cheez-e aas-yaab kund. چیزی گندم تر، چیزی آسیاب کند

  • The wheat is a little wet, the millstone is a little dull.
  • Meaning: Both sides are to blame for this problem.


5.  Koh har qadar beland baashad, sar-e khod raah daarad.  کوه هر قدر بلند باشد، سر خود راه دارد

  • Even if a mountain is very high, it has a path to the top.
  • Meaning: Nothing is impossible - there is always a way.


6.  Barg-e sabz, tohfa-ye darwesh.  برگ سبز تحفه‏ی درویش

  • A green leaf is the gift from a poor person.
  • Meaning:  Shows humility when giving a small gift to someone because you care for them, even though the gift itself has little monetary value.


7.  Isa ba deen-e khod, Mousa ba deen-e khod.  عیسی به دین خود، موسی به دین خود

  • Jesus to his religion, and Moses to his.
  • Meaning: All people have the right to choose what they do, think or feel.  People should respect and be tolerant of other religions.

"Jesus to his religion, and Moses to his."  (Original art from Zarbul Masalha: 151 Afghan Dari Proverbs and Afghan Proverbs Illustrated)


8.  Pusht-e har taareekee, roshanee ast.  پشت هر تاریکی، روشنی است

  • After every darkness is light.
  • Meaning: Bad times will always pass, and things will become better.


9.  Qattra qattra daryaa mey-sha.  قطره قطره دریا می‏شه

  • A river is made drop by drop.
  • Meaning:  The small contributions and teamwork of ordinary individuals can produce a big result.


10.  Yaar zenda sohbat baqee.  یار زنده صحبت باقی

  • As long as the friendship lives, there will be more conversations.
  • Meaning: Said when parting after a good talk with a friend, or the departure of someone you know well and respect.


Zenda bosheyn! زنده باشین (Long life to you!)

(Traditional Afghan Blessing)

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About the author


Captain Edward Zellem is the award-winning author of three bilingual English-Dari and English-Pashto books of Afghan Proverbs published in 15 languages. He is a U.S. Navy officer and trained Dari speaker, and spent a year and a half embedded on native Afghan teams in Afghanistan. This included a year inside…

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