Friday, 15 January 2010

Cheap potatoes

One day, not so long ago, my mother was going to a little girlie get-together with her friends. Everyone was to bring something along, so mother made a cabbage pie. Her friend, whose flat they were gathering at, highly respected my mother’s cabbage pie making skills.

The friend lived out of town, and my mother took a bus.

Right next to her sat a very old, Russian babushka. Babushka’s husband- also very old-was standing nearby.

My mother is an incurably sociable type. She apologized to babushka. The pie was freshly made, and still hot. It was a long journey across Baku, and the babushka had to put up with the smell of cabbage.

Babushka smiled a toothless smile. She said, casually, that they have long forgotten the taste of a cabbage pie. Slowly, as the bus kept making its way through the busy streets, babushka told my mother about her life.

She told her how lucky they were, her husband and her. They had each other. They did have three children, she added, but one of them had passed away; and the other two left the country. Their old neighbours died or immigrated, and the new ones were doing their best to pressure them to move out of their little flat. Things that mean neighbours can do to elderly people. Shout abuse, threaten them, drive fast and too close past them, trying to intimidate..that kind of stuff. Bullies like to bully those who can’t fight back. Those who can not bribe police to protect them.

Their pension is very small. But, she added, they were coping.

For instance- look!- this potato is not bad, is it? And it only cost 10 qəpik per kilo.

They travel across Baku to the big central market, where potato is cheaper. In their local one, it is 60 qəpik.

She was not asking for anything, she was not moaning. She was just grateful she had a listener. My mother, embarrassed for her cabbage pie, awkwardly pushed a 5 manat note into the little wrinkly hand. Babushka tried to refuse the money.

That is just too much! If you gave me one manat, it would be plenty- she said.

My mother told her she had no other cash but wanted to help. Babushka took the money.

‘God bless you’- she said, walking out at her stop. My mother watched the old couple slowly shuffling away, holding hands and carrying the old fabric carrier bag with cheap potatoes. And of course, my mother cried.


  1. What your mother did is so important in that society. the only thing is, that every time I try to help, I feel embarrassed, I am afraid to hurt, to humiliate. My mother usually says: help those who need your help, not those who beg. Russian babushkas and dedushkas are the most vulnerable old people in Azerbaijan, because Azeris traditionally support their old ones (you once had a wonderful post about those who marry Azeri girls).

  2. Azerbaijan doesn't have much of a safety net for old folks... I know for a fact that people that are eligible for pensions are routinely denied them - until they agree to pay officials at least 6 months of their pay as a bribe. These are government officials we are talking about, not some neighborhood thugs. What kind of people steal from their elders? Can you even call them "people"?

  3. A touching anecdote, Scary. I agree with Riyad - what sort of people can treat their fellow humans with such disrespect and disregard, especially when they're as powerless as the old couple you describe? Your mother's action must have helped restore some of their faith in people, though.

  4. @Riad
    You are absolutly right,we can't call scum people.Do you know,to get the place in "Home for erderly",homeless,sick,poor old people need to pay bribe?

  5. Wow! This story got me right in the heart.
    Some terrible thought crossed my mind when I finished reading it: what will happen when one of them passes away? How will the other cope all by himself/herself? I guess there are lots of couples like that one.
    Moving post this one, SA.

  6. Oh boy... what a sad, honourable, beautiful and important story all at the same time... I have tears in my eyes, and my heart is bleeding as I write this and realize there is so many people that have so much less than I do, and still manage to find the strength within to be grateful for the very little that they do have and to carry on holding their head up high...

    Beautiful & inspirational story... Thank you for sharing!

  7. Your Mother is a generous and caring person, and I am sure she will be rewarded may times for her kindness.

  8. Thank you all for interesting comments...there is so much I wanted to say about this, and discuss...But feel poorly today....temp 38+... Of course,it just had to happen while husband is away, didn't it. So I am not in a blogging mood right now....
    back soon!

  9. @Rana...I have missed which posting you left your comment on, so I hope you get to see this. Thank you, and your comment worked just fine. Google gives you I think a chance to create a google account if you want to be able to leave comments under your name. Or just do it as you did before.
    speak soon and thanks for forwarding it to your friends!

  10. skhickey@cableracer.com25 January 2010 at 16:30

    Charity and respect begin at home; that home being wherever one happens to find themselves. On the bus, in a restroom, a queue at the grocery I find myself randomly giving and giving away more than at any time in my life. Is it because I'm approaching elderliness, is there more need all around me or do I notice it more? There, but for the grace of God.....