An Afghan Speakeasy

These pages are taken from a book published in pre-war Kabul, Afghanistan by the American Women's Association and the American International School of Kabul (AISK). Pat Siddiq, the art teacher at the school, drew the pictures, while Alleen Nilsen, a classroom teacher, wrote the anecdotes and Don Nilsen provided the phrases. The purpose was not only to help English-speaking children learn Farsi (the Afghan form of Persian), but also to help them relate in a positive way to the culture around them and the unique experiences they were having.

The words and phrases are spelled as closely as possible to English pronunciation patterns so they can be pronounced just as they look.

You are walking out to the bus stop. Because you are a very good student, you are practicing your spelling words. Suddenly you feel something under your foot and you hear a terrible sound. You have stepped on a camel's toe. What do you say?

Bobakhsheyd. (Excuse me.)

You are climbing Cannon Mountain. A handsome man with a turban steps out from behind a big rock. He begins to whisper to you about a hidden treasure. Just then the cannon goes off. What do you say?

Lotfan teykraar koneyd. (Please repeat.)

(NOTE: This cannon was shot off every day at noon. Kabul was probably the only city in the world where people refered to "Cannon o'clock." Also, during the month of Ramadan, the cannon was shot off at sunset and sunrise, so people would know when it was acceptable to eat. During Ramadan, Muslims fast during the daylight hours. Undoubtedly the custom of firing off the cannon at noon was stopped when the country got involved in real wars and cannon fire.)

There's been a heavy snow. You get your camera and go outside of your compound to take pictures. Because you are looking through your camera, you do not notice that you are standing very close to a house where three men are shoveling snow off the roof.

As you focus your camera, the men pile all the snow on the very edge of the roof. Just as you click the shutter, they give a mighty push and all the snow falls on top of you. What do you say?

Chiy gap ast? (What's going on?)

(Note: People who have mud roofs have to push the snow off before the heat of the house melts it. If it melts into the mud, the roof becomes so heavy that chunks of the ceiling start falling down.)

You and your family are camping at Bamian. A man comes into your camp and says that he would like to sell you a wonderful antique. He says it is very old and that all your friends will be amazed when you take it home. You are excited and you begin to figure out how much money you have with you, but when he tells you that what he is selling is the big Buddha, what do you say?

Ney. Tashakor. (No. Thank you.)

(Note: This big statue, which was built by Buddhist priests approximately 600 years ago was destroyed in the summer of 2001 by the Taliban. It had already been partially destroyed, but when we were there it was possible to climb up through the caves and tunnels behind it. See our photo album for a picture of Don and some American children standing on top of it.)

It is your birthday and your cook has promised to make a delicious birthday stew. You have gone to the vegetable bazaar to buy the ingredients. You pick out a simply lovely carrot. Just then a donkey with a huge load of potatoes walks by. He turns around to take a bite of your carrot. His load becomes unbalanced and falls all over you practically covering you up. What do you say?

Parwaa neyst. (It doesn't matter.)

You step out of your compound. Three women who are obviously very excited come running up to talk to you. They all begin telling you something. It must be very important, or the women wouldn't be so excited. You are in a hurry and would like to leave, but they are all talking so fast that you cannot say anything. After this has gone of for seventeen minutes, they all happen to take a breath at exactly the same time. There is a slight pause and at last you can say something. What do you say?

Farsi nameyfaamom. (I don't understand Persian.)

You have gone to the rug bazaar to buy a flying carpet. There is a special sale and so it's very crowded. But when the people who have come to buy rugs see how polite you are, they all step back so that you won't have to wait. What do you say?

Bofarmaayeyd. (You go ahead.)

You pick out the most beautiful rug in the whole bazaar. The shopkeeper takes you on a trial flight. The rug has long white fringe which looks very elegant as you fly over houses and around minarets. You ask the shopkeeper if he is sure it will stay in the air. What does he say?

En shaalaa! (God willing!)

Here are some other phrases that you might learn to say. Perhaps you can make up stories to go with them.

Salaam aleykum: Hello, how do you do?
Baamaaney khodaa: Goodbye.
Namey shoma chiyst: What is your name?
Bas! Stop, enough.
Dastey raast: To the right.
Dastey chap: To the left.
Rubaru: Straight ahead.
Chand Afghaniy? How much money?
Qimat Ast: It's expensive.
Khub ast: It's good.


Click here for pictures that you can cut apart to make your own Afghan speakeasy.