Autumn 1996 (4.3)

Me and Granny and Granny's Granny
Rearing Children with Azerbaijani Proverbial Expressions

by Ayten Gurzaliyeva, sketches by Iraj Esfandiary

Ayten, 7, who wrote this article with the help of her mom, Jala Garibova.

My Granny says the craziest things-especially when she's a little put off at me. Me-I'm almost eight. Granny is really my best friend; she's like a Mama to me. Every day when I come from school around noon, she takes care of me until Mom comes home from teaching at the university. She always says that she's 170-years-old, but I don't think that's true. To me, she's tall and thin, and when she hugs me, her cheeks feel so warm and soft. I love her very much. After all, she's my Granny.

When nobody has time to spend with me, which happens a lot, she's the one who takes me out for walks and she's the one who tells me stories and fairy tales about beautiful girls, princes, and "divs"-those ugly, scary creatures that eat people.

Everybody pays attention to Granny. They have to; otherwise, they'd be in deep trouble. That goes for me, too. Granny is rather strict with me, especially since I'm the only kid in the house. She rarely punishes me physically except for an occasional little whack on my bottom. But mostly, she just uses words-these crazy sayings-to make me behave. Mom says Granny's own Granny must have said those same things to her, too, when she was growing up. And maybe even Great-Granny's Granny did the same thing, too. Who knows?

One day, I got a "4" at school. Well now, "5" is the very best school mark you can make in Azerbaijan, but if you're very, very good, you can get a "5+." Granny always insists on "5s" from me. She tells me, "There is no mark other than '5.' Don't dare bring me a '4.'" It's true. When I bring home a "3" or a "2," I'm in big trouble. She won't even let me watch TV.

"Have you come with a rooster in your mouth?"

But the day that I brought home a "4," I had made a stupid mistake in mathematics. Instead of subtracting one little problem, I had added. And for this tiny mistake, I got a "4." When Granny found out about my silly mistake, she asked, "Why weren't you paying attention? 'Where were your thoughts? Were they playing gaval in paradise?'"
(A "gaval" looks like a big tambourine which marks the rhythm in Azerbaijani traditional musical ensembles.)

When I get marks lower than "5," I usually lose my chance to go to the amusement park. Another time when I came home with a "4" in music literature, I had confused the titles of two music pieces from Tchaikovsky. Later that day, I came up and begged Granny to take me to the amusement park. I had forgotten all about my low grade, but you can be sure Granny hadn't. "What do you mean 'amusement park?'" she scolded. "Did you come home 'with a rooster in your mouth' today?"

I didn't quite understand the part about "a rooster in my mouth." How could I have a big rooster in my tiny little mouth? Mom later explained that when a fox catches a rooster, he's so proud of himself and tries to show off. Coming home with "5s," she said, was just like a fox prancing around with a rooster in his mouth. Ever since then, I always try "to come with a rooster in my mouth"-just for my Granny.

Hoping No One Knows
But there are times I don't quite succeed. I've even had a few "2s." Then I feel really bad. I especially don't want my uncle Elhan, who also lives with us, to find out. Everyday, he pays close attention to how I'm doing in school. When I bring home a bad grade, even though I've already had to tell Granny about it, I try to pretend that everything is fine in front of Uncle. But then Granny will say, "The pheasant has pushed his head into a bush but doesn't realize his tail is sticking out."
In other words, she's already told Uncle, and everybody already knows everything. I'm just fooling myself.

I help Granny a lot. I'm the one who cleans off the table after we eat. Sometimes, I'm a bit clumsy or in a hurry and drop a plate. "Oh, did you break it again?" Granny calls out from the kitchen. "It's just like you! You're always walking 'with one eye on the sky and the other on the ground!'"

When I accidentally spill something on my dress, Granny scolds: "Pay attention to your food. You're eating 'with half of your thoughts on Aladagh and the other half on Garadagh.'" (Garadagh is a hilly region not far from Baku. The word means "black mountain, rhyming with "Aladagh," which means "black and white" mountain.)

"Did the cat sneeze?"

Avoiding the Task
Sometimes I set my mind to do something like play the piano for Granny. But just as I settle in to do it, I get distracted by something else. "What happened?" Granny will ask, "Did the cat sneeze?" In other words, why didn't I finish what I set out to do?

Once on my way between the dining room and the kitchen, I suddenly remembered that I was supposed to draw a picture as a present for my friend who was celebrating her birthday the following day. In my excitement, I rushed to my bedroom, still carrying the dirty glasses. I figured I could take them to the kitchen later on. But, sure enough, it wasn't long before Granny came barging in. "Hey, what kind of cleaning up is this? 'You always pick something off of the mustache, and put it on the beard.'"
In other words, I had carried the glasses from one place to the other, but had not yet accomplished anything.

My Granny wants me to be perfect about everything. She pays attention that my clothes are always neat. She likes to brush my long dark hair which reaches down to my waist. But sometimes I don't like her to make such a fuss over me. I want to do things myself. But when I refuse her help, she gets offended: "'Pah, the goose wants to sleep with the other goose and that goose is pulling off the blanket.' Look at her. I want to help, but she's refusing."

"Not until you can see the tip of your elbow!"

Needing Help
But often I can't quite manage by myself and have to go running back to Granny, who stands there grinning. "What? 'Got your tail stuck between two doors?'

So you've come back to me. You always seem to remember me when you get yourself into a mess, huh?"

Granny has phrases for things she absolutely forbids, too. I have a girl friend, Shafa, who I'd play with every day if I could, but Granny says once or twice a week is enough. If I keep pestering her about it, Granny blurts out, "Go jump!" (In other words, "Forget it!") "You saw her two days ago. Now go play the piano or do your homework!"

"I'll cut off your tongue!"

Granny doesn't really mean "go jump" up and down. I've tried that before, too, only to have her yell, "Stop it. I get a headache when you jump inside the apartment. 'Do you have mercury inside of you' or something?"
(Mercury always jiggles and rolls around; it's so hard to catch).

Sometimes I just want to go out. So I say, "Let's go to Uncle Mahmud's house." But then she'll reply. "What will you do there? What's there for you? 'Did the wind blow and nuts fall from the tree?'"
Granny thinks there would be nothing for me to do since there are no children-that it's just my imagination that I would really enjoy the visit.

Sometimes, she's so determined not to let me do something that she says, "No, I'll never let you do that 'until you can see behind your ear,' or 'until you can see the tip of your elbow.'" Of course, that's impossible. It's like saying, "Forget it. Don't even think about doing such a thing. It's impossible."

Being Lazy
If I want something done for me around the house, Granny expects me to get up and do it myself. But sometimes, I'll ask her for a little favor like turning on the television or bringing me a glass of water. Sometimes, it works, but mostly she tells me, "Eat a little less and hire yourself a servant."
In other words, "Don't order me around. Do it yourself. I'm not your slave."

Sometimes on Sunday mornings when I get up, Granny complains that the beds aren't made. I proudly point out to her that I've made mine. "But what about the other beds?" she asks. "On school days, I make your bed when you don't have time. You should do the same for me now that it's Sunday. 'Did you drop from the sky in a golden basket?' Do you think you're so great that you can't lift a finger to help others?"

People say I'm a real talker. I can go on and on with lots of details. Since I don't have a brother or a sister, Granny gets stuck listening to me. Finally, in exasperation, she'll say, "I gave her five to get her to start talking, now I'm giving 15 and I can't get her to stop."("Five" refers to "kopecks"- the Russian currency that was used throughout the former Soviet Union. Azerbaijan now has its own currency, the manat.)

Resisting Change
Like lots of old people, Granny is skeptical about new inventions. I have some video games, but she can't see any use for them. When it's time for bed and too hard for me to break away from playing, she'll complain, "When there was no rooster, was there no morning?"
Like, why do you need all this new stuff? Didn't you get along fine before you had it?

It's not only after something goes wrong that Granny uses these crazy sayings. She uses them as threats to prevent things from going wrong. She'll say things like, "Don't do that or 'I'll make you remember your Father's Wedding Day!'"

I think she's trying to tell me how awful it would be to have memories of something even before your very own existence.

Getting Serious
Her worst threats are "'I'll cut off your tongue'

if you say something like that again," or "I'll poke your two eyes into one hole."
That's when I know she's really, really serious and I'd better pay attention right away. Still, deep down I know she'd never hurt me in a million years. But her threats are enough to stop me dead in my tracks.

Poor Granny! My sweet, funny ole Granny who has to put up with me. Despite all her scoldings and grumblings, I know she loves me very, very much. No one in the world could ever take the place of my Granny. And when I'm away from her, somehow all those crazy sayings keep playing over and over in my mind like a broken record, just as if she were there beside me with her watchful eye and her words which are sharper than any sword!


Ayten Gurzaliyeva is starting fourth grade at BulBul Music School in Baku this autumn. Her mom, Jala Garibova, helped her remember these expressions in their contextual settings. Ayten's grandmother is Gyulbara Sultanova who won't be celebrating her 170th birthday until 2102.

Azerbaijan International (4.3) Autumn 1996.
© Azerbaijan International 1999. All rights reserved.

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