Azerbaijan International

Spring 1999 (7.1)
Pages 74-75


Garib Mehdi
(1936- )

Medicine After Meals

The pharmacist looked at the prescription once again. He was well aware that many people could not read the instructions that doctors wrote, so he gave oral instructions to the patients. There in his white jacket, sitting behind the glass window, he repeated the instructions: "This is a very effective drug.

Right: Illustration: Gunduz

Take it three times a day. After meals."
The instructions were given clearly enough. But for some reason, the patient did not seem willing to step aside from the window. Quite a few people were standing in line in the small room. All of them seemed perturbed. Dissatisfaction was on their pale faces. The patient in the front was grumbling as if he had not heard what he wanted to hear. He did not seem to be willing to move aside.

One of the patients who knew the pharmacist lost his patience: "Sakit, please be quick, We can't stand here forever!"
Another patient expressed his dissatisfaction: "It makes you think of Sabir
Footnote 1 in such situations."

The man at the front of the line stepped aside reluctantly. But suddenly he stopped and looked back. He looked in the direction of the pharmacist as if he wanted to say or ask something. But the instructions were clear and it was difficult for him to ask any further questions. So the hesitant man gave his place to the next patient, moved aside and stood alone by himself. He was a tall thin man. He limped. After thinking about it for awhile, he got in line again instead of leaving the room.

There is a wonderful saying by Hazrat Ali
2: "A child resembles his time more than his parents." 3 The people in the room were not as timid and fearful as they might have been several years earlier.

Wherever they happened to be, they started discussions and shared their problems. Then they would get angry when they discovered others had opinions contrary to their own. They were convinced that no matter what they discussed and who they discussed their problems with, they would still return safe and sound to their homes. The KGB and prisons of the Domestic Affairs Office and investigations seemed remote and distant. The masses were upset by Perestroika and all kinds of daily problems, but soon became less critical when they recalled the troubles of the past.

End of the Soviets in Azerbaijan, throwing away Communist Party cardsSometimes, the pharmacist Sakit was heard calmly speaking to himself. "This is a solution. Take one tablespoon three times a day. Remember, tablespoon."

Photo: Black January 1990 (when Soviet tanks killed civilians in Baku) caused people to rethink their allegiance to the Communist Party. Many threw down their Party IDs in protest. These events hastened the collapse of Soviet power in Azerbaijan.

The people who had gathered here looked old. It seemed that this pharmacy served mostly pensioners and veterans. The clients were arguing. They probably did not know each other at all. But you could understand their willingness to communicate. Either the pain of their bones or the pain of the world had made them old friends.

First voice: "How cruel Bush turned out to be. He is the worst enemy of Moslems. See how he devastated Iraq."

Second voice: "No wonder the country of the 'stupid Moslem' is devastated. Why should I poke my nose into the business of someone who is stronger than me?"

Third voice: "Our own leader turned out to be the best of all. He used all his best efforts to stop the war."

Fourth voice: "What are you talking about? First Gorbachev created an obstacle for Saddam Hussein through the United Nations and then he turned around and offered assistance."

The pharmacist raised his voice. At such times he would "beat the political wave."
4 "Three times a day. After food."

The man who had spoken first turned to the tall thin man and asked nervously: "Why have you taken water in your mouth?
5 Why aren't you saying anything about the conflict between Iraq and Kuwait?"

The tall thin man looked at him as if he had not understood what was being said. It seemed that he was pulling himself up to answer the question. He began murmuring. It was difficult to tell whether he was serious or somehow wanted to get rid of that person: "Sorry, I have been thinking of Karabakh
6 Besides, I have never eaten "haram". 7 When I was working I lived on my salary, now-on my pension."

The man's answer puzzled the others. What was he talking about? What did the answer have to do with the question?

People came and went. The pharmacist who was loved for his "sweet tongue" and caring attitude had never sent anyone away without hope. If he did not have the prescribed medicine, he would offer a substitute. It was only the tall thin man who was not satisfied. His turn had come again. His tongue was not moving. But his eyes were pleading. Sakit hurried him: "Give me the prescription, please."

The tall thin man became nervous. He tried to explain himself: "No, I have the medicine. But I think I have misunderstood the instructions. You said I need to take medicine 'before' food, didn't you?"

Sakit took the prescription, looked it over again and confirmed what he had said before: "Three times a day 'after' food."

The patient had to move aside from the glass window. He could not leave the room quickly not because he was limping, but because his heart was objecting. His inner weeping contradicted what Sakit had told him. Again, he asked who was the last person in line and took his place behind him.

The days were tense. People could not keep from arguing regardless of where they were.

Tenth voice: "See how great our trouble is. Our poverty has caught us by the throat so that water can't even pass.
8 Those who pretend to know everything have made a fool of us. They haven't been able to increase production, but still the prices continue to rise."

Eleventh voice: "It's OK on ordinary days. But what are we going to do on holidays? Market prices are soaring. Those who live on "haram" go to the market with empty bags and come back with their bags full of everything. But what should a person like me do? It's been so long since we put pots on the gas stove or even set the table. You can't fool a kid. I tell him about the difficulties of the transition period or about the economic reforms. He doesn't understand. He insists on having a red egg dyed for the holiday
9 because he wants to crack eggs against each other."

Twelfth voice: "Don't be so pessimistic. It seems to me that you never read newspapers or watch TV. We should thank the European humanitarian organizations. They are thinking about our difficulties more than we do. They are assisting the Soviet Republics. They want to provide a genuine economic support for the country. It is "savab"
10 to help beggars. The lamb's black day ends when its mouth reaches the green grass. 11 Inshallah." 12

Tenth voice: "Come on. There may be beggars in a country but the country itself does not have to go begging."
Both ideas were similar but different. Whatever they were talking about, whatever they were driving at, they found themselves face to face with poverty and hunger. Sakit's voice was heard in the midst of these intense discussions: "Three times after food."

The tall thin man's silence drew attention during this intense discussion. The tenth voice, which seemed the angriest, turned to him: "Why don't you say anything? How you can be so calm? Don't you see the world is burning?"

"I have never tasted 'haram'. When I worked, I lived on my salary. Now I live on my pension."

He thought the people in front of his eyes were shadows. The tall thin man could not get out of his own world, which was squeezing him in its paws. Maybe he was exhausted? Perhaps, he could not see or hear very well?

His turn was coming again. Again he would be face-to-face, eye-to-eye with Sakit. He had never been in such a perplexing situation. Why didn't Sakit understand him?

The pictures of famous people in medicine stared down at him from the walls, offering momentary assistance. He was shocked at the appropriateness of a quote by Avicenna
13 "First the word, then the medicine and then injection." He was thinking to himself: "Sakit, don't you see what Avicenna recommends? First the word. I'm begging you, give me 'a word'. Why don't you understand me?"

The tall thin man also liked Bekhterev's saying: "If the patient does not feel better after his conversation with the doctor, then that one is not a doctor."

"Sakit," he thought again, "why do you ignore the advice that is right above your head? After I talk with you, I feel worse than before. You are sensitive. Why don't you see that what I want to tell you is like a thorn in my heart and that I want to get rid of that thorn. I can neither live with this thorn, nor can I take it out."

His turn finally came. Again they were face-to-face.

The man: "I wanted to clarify your advice again. Do I take the medicine before food?"

Sakit remembered the man's face. Nor had he forgotten what he had told him before. Nevertheless, he still looked at the prescription again and returned it to the patient. Contrary to his usual composure, this time he raised his voice: "Three times a day. After food. I am speaking to you in sweet Azerbaijani. If something is not clear again, please ask me now. I don't want to waste my time with another encounter."

The expression on the face of the tall thin man did not change. Maybe he did not have the right to get angry. The problem was that he did not want to give in to the doctor, he wanted to make the doctor submit to him. There was both kindness and pity in his voice: "I know you very well. You are capable of finding substitutes for drugs. Can you substitute the drug with another one so that I take it 'before' food?"

Sakit raised his voice. It was curt: "Impossible. You must take it 'after' food."

There was irony on the pale face of the patient. His anger was eating him up inside. Who should he blame? Who should he call "stupid?" Doctors should be more sensitive than their patients. No, you couldn't blame them for their lack of sensitivity. If they had not been sensitive, they would not have gotten rid of those two signs that had been hanging on the walls until recently.

One, a saying by Marx, explained: "In Communism, food will flow like a flood." The second sign provided medical advice. It was a daily food regime showing how much meat, butter, milk and fruit should be eaten each day in order to stay healthy. And all this was described in measures and weights. No one had thought of taking these signs off the walls until recently. How was it that these mouth-watering, appetite-raising pieces of advice had disappeared? The answer was simple: "It's not the fault of the slogans. Simply, it's the patients who have weak nervous systems."

The tall thin man did not answer Sakit but merely stepped aside from the window. He did not have the energy to argue. He preferred to mutter to himself: "Why don't you understand me, Sakit? My tongue has not touched a hot meal for a week. Also you should know that I have never eaten any 'haram'. That I have always lived on what I earned honestly. Before, on my salary; now, on my pension. How long should those like me wait to take this medicine after food?"

The man shuffled out of the pharmacy. He heard the pharmacist's voice trailing behind him: "Three times a day, after food..."



1 Sabir (1862-1911), a satirist who wrote in the early 1900s. Up

2 Hazrat Ali - the 4th Caliph, founder of Shiism in Islam. Up

3 "A child resembles his time more than his parents" meaning a child's character has more to do with his era than it has to do with his parents. Up

4 "Beat the political wave" - During the Soviet period, when the BBC or Voice of America broadcast something that was politically sensitive, the government would disrupt the sound waves to make it difficult to hear the broadcast. This was called "beating the wave." Up

5 "Water in your mouth" - a saying that refers to keeping silent. Up

6 Nagorno-Karabakh, the region in western Azerbaijan where Armenians have been fighting with Azerbaijan since 1988. All Azerbaijanis have had to flee the region. Currently in 1999, Karabakh along with 6 other regions inside Azerbaijan, are occupied by Armenian military forces. Up

7 Haram - In Islam, food that is forbidden such as fish without scales, pork and alcohol. Up

8 "Our poverty has caught us by the throat so that water can't even pass" - meaning that someone is being "strangled" by hunger. Up

9 Red egg for Noruz - A custom in the region to tap your hard-boiled egg against some else's egg and see whose will crack first. Up

10 Savab - according to the Koran, a good deed, the opposite of sin. Up

11 "The lamb's black day ends when its mouth reaches the green grass" - The "lamb" refers to the Soviet Union. The "black day" describes the difficult situation of the people. The expression means that when the Soviet Union receives some help, the country will go on. Up

12 "Inshallah," an Arabic word meaning "If God wills." Frequently used to preface remarks related to making future plans. Up

13 Avicenna - In Azerbaijan, Avicenna is known as Ibn Sina. Born in Bukhara in the late 10th century, he later traveled to Hamadan, Persia, and wrote the most famous books in the history of medicine. Up

Translated by Jala Garibova

From Azerbaijan International (7.1) Spring 1999.
© Azerbaijan International 1999. All rights reserved.

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