I chased them furiously. The two teenage boys crazily ran down the stairs as if they were being chased by a wolf. Being caught finally, the younger one cried, “Bayram, bayram!” The older one gave up fleeing, stopped, and looked back in disbelief. Approaching me, he muttered the same thing, “Bayram, bayram.” I was too angry to heed what they were desperately saying. I threw the cap they left at my door and yelled at them with a threatening gaze and a stern face. They repeatedly said, “Sorry, sorry” in English and disappeared into the evening.
It had been a long day. I had been tired of the day’s work, and the stress from living in a foreign country was taking a toll on me. Exhausted, I was just having a peaceful dinner with my family when the boys came knocking on the door. When I opened the door, I only saw a cap on the ground and heard a couple of boys giggling somewhere in the dark hallway. I couldn’t see them. I was irritated and murmured, ‘Just leave me alone.’ I closed the door and went back to the dinner. The knocking returned within minutes. I opened the door again and it was just the same—the cap, the invisible and giggling boys. It was their huge mistake when they came for the third time because I was going to teach them a lesson. I stormed out and began chasing the two panicked boys pelting down the stairs at top speed—that is how the crazy chase began.
Although I sprained my left ankle a little bit from the hullabaloo, I felt fine because I made it very clear to them that it was not a good idea to be rude to foreigners. Minutes after I finished dinner, I received a phone call from my Finnish colleague. When I shared with him what had just happened, he laughed and said, “Hey, it’s Novruz Bayram. It’s a Spring festival in this country. The boys were just doing their traditional thing. I’m sure they never intended to be rude.”
He was right. The two boys were just celebrating Novruz Bayram—a holiday celebrating the coming of Spring. They just wanted to invite this new Asian family to join their fun time. What the boys did was just like trick-or-treating in Halloween in North America: they visit houses and place their caps at the door. They knock on the door and run and hide themselves. The landlord comes out with candies, nuts, and other sweets, and put them in the cap lying on the ground. Then the boys return to collect them, and they leave. It’s a fun and beautiful tradition of Azerbaijan!
And I did that to the boys.
When I hung up the phone, it was already past 9 pm. Completely ashamed, however, I couldn’t stay home. I got out to look for the boys. I wanted to apologize to them. I wanted to find them and sincerely ask them to forgive me. But I could never find them. They were gone. Even until today—twelve years since then—I still feel sorry.
(Novruz Bayram celebration in Azerbaijan)
(The header photo: Batamdar, Baku, Azerbaijan, August 31, 2011; from the window of our apartment)