Wednesday, 25 June 2014

The smart youth and the smarter girl

To reduce the bitter taste of that last terribly sexist folktale (I think it's right to translate all of them, pleasant or not), here's a short, sweet Omani one that's not sexist at all.  Arabic dialogue is signalled by a dash instead of quotation marks and I've left it as is. 

The smart youth and the smarter girl

A man travelled to a far country because of a job that he had to do, and when he was finished with his job he decided to return to his country, where his wife and his daughter were.  On the return trip he met a youth walking along the same road, and they met and became friends.  

After a little while they met a peasant winnowing wheat (separating the grain from the husk), and the youth asked the man:

-          Are these grains good or bad?
[And the man replied:]
-          How can I know?

On the second day they passed by a flock of sheep, and the boy asked the man:

-          Are there blessings in this flock or no?

And again the man did not know what to answer.

Another day, they saw a dead person whose family was washing him, and the youth asked the man:

-          Is he alive or dead?

The question astonished the man, and he believed the youth must be crazy.  And they continued in their journey until finally they arrived at their country.

The youth asked the man:

-          Where will you sleep?

[And the man replied:]
-          In my house of course, for I have a wife and a daughter. 

[The youth said:]
-          As for me, I will sleep in a house larger than yours; indeed it is the largest house in the country.

They split up, and when the man arrived at his house, his wife and his daughter welcomed him, and then his daughter asked him:

-          Did you come alone?

[And the man replied:]

-          There was a youth with me, I think he was crazy.

-          Why do you think that? [She asked.]

-          Because he was asking strange questions, [he replied.]

-          What questions?

-          We passed by a man winnowing wheat and he asked me whether the grains were good or bad.

-          Grains are good when their owners are not in debt, and bad if their owners accept their price before they grow [she said].

-          Then what do you say, daughter, to this:  we passed by a dead man whom they were washing and the youth asked me: is he alive or dead?

-          He meant that if the dead man had sons, then he is alive, and if he was barren, then he is dead.

-          Good, what do you say to this: we passed by a flock of sheep and the youth asked me: Are there blessings in this flock or not?

-          If there was a ram in the flock then it is blessed, for it will increase, and if not then there is no blessing in it.

The girl prepared thirty loaves of bread and a bowl of fat, and her father asked her:

-          Who is this for?!

-          For the youth who was with you.

-          Do you know where he is right now?

-          In the masjid.

-          How did you know?

-          Didn’t you tell me that he was going to stay in the largest house in the country, and is there a larger house than the house of Allah the Almighty?

Then she turned to her servant and said:

-          Say to the youth that there are thirty days in the month and the ocean is full.

In the road, the servant met a poor man and gave him a loaf and some fat, then she continued until she arrived to the youth in the masjid and gave him bread and fat and a message from her lady:

-          My lady says to you: there are thirty days in the month and the ocean is full. 

-          Say to your lady that there are twenty-nine days in the month, and the ocean is less by a wave, and do not hold the daughter of the people to account.  [Which means, do not punish your servant, for what she did was good].

From ‘Stories from the Omani Tradition’ by Yusuf ash-Sharouni (1987)


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