Autumn 2004 (12.3)
My husband and I have a beautiful baby girl named Jasmine. The
moment she was born, we fell in love with her. Her gorgeous starry
eyes took my breath away; her toothless smile made us drunk with
joy. Like any new Mom, I could go on for hours on such fascinating
topics as messy diapers, scheduled feedings and upset stomachs.
With the eagerness of a college grad hired for her first job,
I embraced the weight of responsibilities and joyfully submerged
myself into the life of gooey baby cereals, first teeth, runny
noses and, oh yes, how can I forget-embarrassing gas problems.
But as the months past and Jasmine and I somewhat figured out
how her major bodily functions worked, I was faced with a dilemma.
Since we are living in the United States, what language should
I use to communicate with her? English? Azeri? Or both?
Left: Scene from one of the narrow alleyways of Ichari
Shahar (Old City) Baku. Nura with her mother Leyla, showing off
her school books for learning English.
I'll never forget how the son of one of my Azerbaijani friends
had come to the United States at age four. He didn't know a single
word of English but within six months at kindergarten, he started
to refuse to talk to his mother unless she spoke to him in English.
Irina, another friend, had to find and hire a tutor so that her
10-year-old daughter would not forget her native Russian. Yet,
my closest girlfriend Tata successfully managed to keep her son
interested in speaking English, Russian and even Polish-her husband's
Often on the playground, I observe Hispanic mothers talking to
their children in their mother tongue, only to hear the children
reply back in English. At the mall, Indian teens, dressed in
designer jeans and T-shirts converse in English about the most
recent Harry Potter movies. On our block, a family of seven Chinese
children often play outside, and guess what language we hear
the older children using around the little ones: English, no
Maybe Jasmine will never quite develop the taste for the beauty
of the written word, but, at least, I feel that I must show her
the path to the magical door of Azerbaijani literature. It will
be up to her to open it and enter that enchanted forest. I want
her to grow up to feel the lyricism of Samad Vurghun's verse,
to laugh and cry over the struggles and passion of the heroes
in Anar's novels and short stories, and to be challenged by many
of our other writers to think deeply about life and about our
culture and our realities.
And so, every night, before she goes to sleep, I read her Azerbaijani
stories such as the adventures of Jirtdan, that clever boy who
outwits big monsters. Then there are stories about Kechal, the
main character in Novruz celebrations (March 20-21) and Tiq-Tiq
Khanim, the little Lady Beetle.
Of course, during the day Jasmine sings along with Barney, the
Purple Dinosaur. She knows by heart the rhyme about Jack and
Jill's disastrous journey uphill to fetch a pail of water, and
the cartoons about Dora, the Explorer, intrigue her.
But in the evening, we set aside time to read folktales and sing
lullabies to her-all in Azeri, her mother tongue. As the saying
goes: "How can you get anywhere in life if you don't know
where you've come from?"
(12.3) Autumn 2004.
© Azerbaijan International 2004. All rights reserved.
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