An Introduction and an Afghan Proverb

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As a famous Afghan Proverb says, “Maahee-ra har waqt az aab biggeree, taaza ast.”  In English this translates as “When you take a fish from water, it is always fresh.”

ماهی را هروقت از آب بگیری ، تازه است

More what this means later.  

This is my first post on The Annex Press, so please allow me to introduce myself.  My name is Edward Zellem, and I’m an active duty U.S. Navy Captain.  I’m also a published author and an expert on Afghan Proverbs.  I lived in Afghanistan for a year and a half, where I worked inside the Afghan Presidential Palace on President Hamid Karzai's staff. In this capacity I served President Karzai, General David Petraeus, and later General John Allen as ISAF's senior representative to the Government of Afghanistan's National Security Council staff.  

Inside the Presidential Palace of Afghanistan

I speak Dari (aka Afghan Farsi or Dari-Persian) but have no Afghan ancestry. As I began to know and understand Afghans, I became fascinated by the way they use Proverbs and sayings when they speak among themselves.  So I started collecting Afghan Proverbs as a hobby.

The hobby took on a life of its own, and led to the publication of two bilingual books of illustrated Afghan Proverbs as a personal project apart from my military duties. The books are titled “Zarbul Masalha: 151 Afghan Dari Proverbs” and “Afghan Proverbs Illustrated,” and were illustrated by some extremely talented high school kids in Kabul.  (“Zarbul Masalha” means  “Proverbs” in Dari,  and is pronounced zar-bull mah-sal-HAA.) 

Much more to this story in a recent Film Annex interview or at

My books quickly gained a lot of attention, both in the U.S. and internationally.  As it turns out, the books appear to be the first of their kind in the world.  All you have to do is Google “afghan proverbs” and you’ll see what I mean.   Call it accident - fate - or a little bit of both - but in the process I seem to have become one of the world’s leading experts on Afghan Proverbs, and one of even fewer published authors on the subject. 


In my experience, that’s the way these types of things usually happen.  The best things in life are usually a combination of accident, fate, and maybe a little work, while you're doing something you think is meaningful and making other plans.  Some Afghans would call that “taqdir” (loosely translated as "destiny") which also happens to be a key concept in the Islamic faith.  I’m not a Muslim (although I’ve been mistaken for one) but the concept of taqdir resonates with me.    

An example of taqdir was when Film Annex founder and president Francesco Rulli contacted me a few months ago.  A friend had given him a copy of “Zarbul Masalha”  and he’d read it all in one sitting.  Just as I had, Francesco had become increasingly excited about Afghan Proverbs.  His mind was literally racing with ideas that he didn’t hesitate to blog.   I recognized immediately that Francesco was one of those brilliant, unique people who combine vision, creativity, action and results

I also saw that Francesco had a proven passion for helping Afghanistan, but it was much more than just “glamorous conversation.”  There were tangible results behind the big ideas.  Francesco Rulli’s Film Annex had already created and sponsored a new and vital initiative, the Afghan Development Project. Francesco and I began corresponding.  As I learned more, I became a supporter of the Project very quickly.

Our conversation led to a landmark meeting in Miami’s South Beach in November 2012.  There I met Francesco and his colleague Roya Mahboob in person for the first time. Over the course of two days we developed many new ideas, and most importantly agreed on a strategic action plan for joining forces toward a common set of goals. That’s what led to my participation here on The Annex Press, and what will lead to more.

With Roya Mahboob in South Beach

Maahee-ra har waqt az aab biggeree, taaza ast” is the Afghan Proverb we began with today.  It’s Proverb #127 of “Zarbul Masalha.”  The Proverb means that when you begin something new, it is always fresh and exciting.  Here’s how a young female Afghan high school student beautifully illustrated this concept in my books:     

"Maahee-ra har waqt az aab biggeree, taaza ast" - A New Start

ماهی را هروقت از آب بگیری ، تازه است

As the Proverb suggests, I’m excited about working with Film Annex and Film Annex Capital Partners for the greater good of Afghanistan and beyond.   Francesco Rulli’s Film Annex has created what we in the military call a “High Performance Team” (HPT). I know an HPT when I see it, and I'm very pleased to join this one.  

More about Film Annex as a High Performance Team in a future post on The Annex Press

Zenda bosheyn (long life to you!)


The views expressed in this post are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Navy, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.


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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