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General David H. Petraeus (U.S. Army, Ret.)

On the Afghan Proverbs Books   


     "Proverbs show our common humanity.  Every culture and language has them.  The fact that different cultures’ unique Proverbs reflect similar human thoughts and feelings shows that people are not that different regardless of their religion, ethnicity, gender, culture or language.  The fact that Ed’s Afghan Proverbs books have achieved global interest and have been published in 12 languages (with more on the way) attests to this.  I think this is a very important concept."  




     "I learned of the first book (Zarbul Masalha) a couple of months before I departed Afghanistan, and I was very impressed by it.  In fact, I started using it when I would prepare for speeches and key meetings, finding an appropriate proverb for use in the upcoming event."




     "I am delighted to see how the books have taken off – and not entirely surprised.  The Proverbs are, as you have no doubt found, captivating.  And they help those who read them understand the culture of the Afghan people, which, in turn, has helped us as we have sought to deal with various Afghan partners."




    "Ed Zellem is the first to deliver Afghan Proverbs to the world outside Afghanistan in other languages.  In doing so he has contributed something unique and valuable to the world, and he has done so with his own personal hobby.  I think these books help serve the cause of peace through better cultural understanding and communication."




    "Ed’s Afghan Proverb books are a personal project, and some people say that they help 'win hearts and minds.'  I have always thought that 'winning hearts and minds' is an inaccurate way to say it,  because 'winning' implies that somebody also loses.  Nobody loses here.  I think Ed’s Afghan Proverbs books connect hearts and minds, which is a truly critical task, needless to say."




     "I saw what Ed was doing with his personal hobby of collecting Proverbs in Afghanistan, and became interested myself in Proverbs and their use.  Afghans really do respond well to them. 

     I experienced the power of Afghan Proverbs personally when I asked Ed for an Afghan Proverb to use in my farewell speech at ISAF.  When I said  'Afghan-haa saar medehand, sangar na-medehand'   (Afghans will give up their lives before they give up their positions)  I could see and feel the very positive reaction from Afghan dignitaries in the audience. 

     People told me that Afghan TV stations nationwide played that particular clip for three days after I left Afghanistan." 




     "Everybody uses Proverbs, whether they know it or not. This is especially true for leaders and executives who need to present big strategic ideas in short statements or sound bites.

      Teddy Roosevelt’s 'Speak softly and carry a big stick' has become an American Proverb, and in 7 words he expressed his foreign policy.

     GE’s Jack Welch revealed his overall corporate leadership philosophy when he said 'Change before you have to.'  That has become a Proverb in certain business circles.

     And what is an advertising jingle or slogan but a type of Proverb in many cases?  'Where’s the Beefhas become a sort of Proverb used in both advertising and politics.  These are all types of Proverbs."

General David Petraeus and Captain Edward Zellem(Kabul, 2011)

General David Petraeus


Afghan Proverbs


 From the film Dates for Coffee

directed by Kiera Lewis

photography by Mike LoBello  


Coming Soon

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