CENTCOM sailor turns hobby into book

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MACDILL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. — “This book does not exist anywhere else in the world.”  “This book has three faces: It helps Afghans learn English, it helps English speakers learn Dari, and it helps everyone learn about Afghanistan’s culture.” These are some of the remarks from Afghans who read the book written by a Dari-speaking naval officer serving here with U.S. Central Command.

Navy Captain Edward Zellem, author of Zarbul Masalha: 151 Afghan Dari Proverbs, Afghan Proverbs Illustrated, published the first edition of his book in 2011. He did so with the hope that it would bridge the gap in cultural communication for those who read it.

“One of my long-term goals is to create a global army of Paremiologists [academics engaged in the scientific study of Proverbs] and write a proverbs book in every language to enhance cross-cultural communication, especially in high-conflict areas where better communications between cultures is vital,” said Zellem, a native Indiana, Pa.

Zellem, director of the Resource and Requirements Division of CENTCOM’s intelligence center, collected and translated proverbs in Dari, one of the languages spoken in Afghanistan, during his time there from 2009 to 2011. The book wasn’t in his original plans because collecting and translating proverbs was only a personal hobby and language learning tool for Zellem. While in Afghanistan, he collected and used Dari proverbs every day in his professional life throughout the country. He became fascinated by the colorfulness and cultural relevancy of Dari proverbs, and began collecting and translating them into English.

The artwork in the book is something that is very personal to Captain Zellem. He reviewed more than 200 illustration proposals by Kabul’s Marefat High School art students before selecting the 50 he used in the book. The first edition of Zarbul Masalha: 151 Afghan Dari Proverbs was published in August 2011 with 176 pages and 50 full-color illustrations. The second edition was released in May 2012 and Afghan Proverbs Illustrated was released in October 2012.

“One of the messages I hope people take from this book is that people all over the world aren’t as different as people think,” he said.  “Most people, and certainly average families, want the same basic things and think the same thoughts no matter what their religion, culture or national origin is.”

In addition to being an accomplished author, Zellem is also a decorated officer, having earned his commission in 1987 as a Naval Intelligence Officer.  His personal awards include the Defense Superior Service Medal, three Defense Meritorious Service Medals, two Meritorious Service Medals, the NATO Meritorious Service Medal, three Navy Commendation Medals, and the Joint Service Achievement Medal.

Zellem attended the University of Virginia on a football scholarship earning All Atlantic Coast Conference Academic Team honors, a bachelor’s in Foreign Affairs and three master’s degrees.