Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Playing the game.

A while ago, I was meeting an English friend for coffee. I mean, it was, very possibly, sometime in the beginning of October. We were chatting about plans for winter, plans for Christmas, whether we were staying in Doha or going home, when I asked her if she had finished her Christmas shopping already.

Well, yes, I am almost done, T responded and I chocked on my drink.
I was, naturally, being sarcastic. But I should have known. T is extremely organised.

Now, we are at the end of November. And, do I even need to say that I have not started any Christmas shopping yet?

But, in my defense…

There are a few excuses I can choose from.

First of all, just like with pretty much everything else, I have to be in the mood.  And how do you try and get in the Christmas mood in the Middle East?

We spent last two Christmases in Doha. I was a bit unsure at first. Every single Christmas ever since I’d got married, we spent in my in-laws house, where everything was prepared, cooked and decorated; and I just had to show up and enjoy. (Not bad, eh?) What if I could not re-create the proper atmosphere for my kids here, in sunny Doha?

I did my best. I made sure I decorated the house as well as I could. From an American friend, I picked up a hint on how to brine and roast a very tasty turkey, from an Irish one-how to cook a fantastic ham a la Nigella Lawson; and from an Italian one I got a fabulous Tiramisu recipe. My big girl sang in a choir and we attended a tree lightning ceremony in a hotel, and the Carols singing in the British embassy, with mulled wine and mince pies…It was all great. Yet , it just did not feel like proper Christmas to me. All my attempts seemed a little unnatural. Just like those of the local shops right now, with their snow flakes and winter coats in the window displays, trying to convince us all it is winter outside. But then (and this is my second excuse…) I reminded myself that I am, after all, not from the country that celebrates Christmas. Maybe that is why it feels like I am just playing the game.

I was listening to a Russian song this morning, for a change. The rainy morning made me a bit nostalgic so I put it on. It was Zemfira’s Don’t let go.
And I thought, as I sang along, that the melody was very Russian.

‘Listen, I just realised something important’, I told my friend afterwards. 'I don’t think I am Azeri?! OK, I am technically Azeri, but really, deep inside, culturally, I am probably Russian.'

She laughed. ‘If I did not know you better’, she said, ‘I would have thought you were constantly on dope, the stuff you come up with!’ But she knew what I was on about. She pointed out that, compared to real Russians, I was not Russian.

The truth is, of course, is that I am an odd product of a bizarre, complicated cocktail of cultures mixed up in the pre and post Soviet eras, that leaves me unclear about what I am. And removes, in huge chunks, the sense of belonging anywhere in particular.

Do you not think though, I asked my friend, that people like us, you and me, who don’t quite belong to their own culture for various reasons, are more adaptable to other cultures? Are we more flexible, because of that? Is that why we find it easy to live abroad, in places that are very different to our homes, like Qatar? And not constantly moan and whine about it like many other expats we know? Is this why we marry into completely different cultures, and adapt easily, raising our children celebrating Christmas, brining Turkeys and filling stockings when we were never brought up to do it?

So really, it isn't that bad. And I don’t really mind not belonging anywhere properly. But, this year, I decided to take my children back to the UK for Christmas. Back to their roots. Back to their country. Where the air is chilly and fresh and filled with the smells of wood burning stoves, real pine and the holiday anticipation. Let me try and give them that sense of belonging that I don't have; and what they choose to do with it later on in life is up to them. But at least, I played the game.

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

The autumn of your life.

I was trying new shorts on the other day, getting ready for a party. Is this too much? I asked Husband, concerned about that balance. He said that they were fine. But do I not look stupid? I had to check. Do I not look like a cheap whore?

‘I have to say’…Husband announced the next morning, ‘that you were probably the only non-mumsy wife at that party!’

Right, so the shorts are definitely OK, I thought. In fact, had he said I looked a bit like a whore it would have still been better than him saying I looked mumsy.

Not that I am trying to look like a cheap whore. It really is all about that balance. I guess it has always been, but as we, women, grow older, it is becoming more and more important and difficult at the same time.

How do you age gracefully? Can you age gracefully with a bit of botox, or is that cheating? Can you wear short skirts (or white lacy shorts…) when you are officially middle-aged?

There is something sad about an ageing woman. However great she looks, however happy she is in her life and what she has achieved, however great of a mother, a professional or a wife she might be…There is still this underlying hint of sadness that comes with the transition to the old age.

I look at many photos of women of my age on Facebook, and see just how amazing they look. In bikinis, sporting long tanned legs, they pose proudly- look how fantastic I still am! At Halloween parties, jumping to the opportunity to dress up as a sexy nurse…And yet, in their smiles, in their eyes, I can see the panic. The desperation. The fear. The desire to prove to everyone else, including themselves, that they are still beautiful, that they’ve still got it. And let’s be honest, I am one of them. I work hard to look the best I can, and when I think the picture is a good one, why not?  It is very, very tempting.

But then, a sneaky thought crawls into my mind every now and again. How do we know? How do we know at which point, while still believing we look great, we in fact, long ago started to look ridiculous? And how do I protect myself from becoming that pathetic older woman, a mutton dressed (and acting) as lamb?

But hey…wait a minute. Hold on, hold on! Before I reach in my wardrobe for one of those suburban mumsy dresses I used to wear in my post-baby Stepford wife era, let me introduce you to my hippy rock chic girlfriend, who, at the age of 51 is properly, naturally, effortlessly cool. 

Look at her here, in this picture, singing on the stage somewhere in a boho club in London. ( She is the one on the left.) Look at her! 
She could, of course, say to herself perhaps, it is time to dress differently…Perhaps, it is the time to act more appropriately for her age? But, looking like she does, with the cool attitude that she has…does she even have to worry about all that? Don't think so.

And now, that Monicca Belucci is a Bond girl ( or Bond woman as she corrected), I feel it is time to say to those of my girlfriends who gave up too soon on their looks, on their bodies, on their attitude…Come on! Stop it. Throw away those huge white mumsy nickers, big enough to cover a Land Cruiser, work out, eat less, get some fake boobs or botox, if you have to, do whatever you think would make you feel better about yourself, and be OK with your age. Be OK with ageing (gracefully or not) and enjoy the last few years of what life has to offer. Before we completely and utterly retire. Enjoy the autumn of your life. Because every stage, every episode is beautiful, in its own unique way. And life is too short to worry about others judging you. Let them judge. While secretly envying your freedom. But, just remember…it is still about that balance.

Thursday, 29 October 2015

A very short one. About Mitzi the cat.

I was driving past a villa in our compound where a big family used to live, for a few years, until last summer. A dark gray cat was sitting outside. Looking lost.

Look, I said to my big girl, isn’t that the cat those girls always fed and played with?

 Yes, she replied. That’s Mitzi.

 Great, I thought, she even has a name.

When people love animals, they often do things that they think are kind. Like feed stray cats, let them in their homes, take care of them. Temporarily.

People like to consider themselves kind; it makes them feel good about themselves. Some might even think they will go to heaven if they show enough kindness.

Guys! Have you not read The Little Prince?

You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed. 

It is very simple, really.

Like in this fantastic video below.

I don't even like cats. But, as I watched Mitzi sitting outside the ex-neighbours' house, I felt sorry for it.

I mean, it happens to us, people too.  A close friend of mine had to leave the country, very suddenly. So, metaphorically, I often feel like Mitzi the cat, as I drive to all those places I would normally visit with that friend. Only my friend had no choice. Those other guys had a choice. They tamed Mitzi and made her think she was their pet. Only to then leave her behind.

Please, do think a little further and beyond your desire to feel kind, and consider what you are doing to an animal's life long term. Please, stop taming things you have no intention of adopting properly.

It isn't kind. It is cruel.


Saturday, 17 October 2015

When good husbands go bad.

'Wake to see
Your true emancipation is a fantasy'
Muse. Supremacy.

‘It is a problem of expat life’ a friend of mine concluded thoughtfully, cigarette smoke emphasising the significance of her statement.

I don’t know, I said. I think it is maybe our age. And a different stage of life we are entering.

Think about it. Before, it was all about dating. Then weddings. Then baby showers. Now it is clearly a divorce stage. And well, you know what stage comes next, right? Funerals.

In less than a couple of months recently, a number of girls I know in Doha went through a sudden breakup of their marriages.

All came as a huge shock, all done in bizarrely similar way. The easiest, most convenient way for expat men here, in Doha. Go home, honey. Take some time off. Let’s see how it goes.

I have been thinking about this. It is not something you can plan for, or anticipate when you are making this expat life choice. Splitting up is possibly the last thing on your mind when, one day you make a decision- as a family, as a couple- to move abroad for a few years. Very often a trailing spouse, which is what most of us women here are, quits her (often a good one) job back home. She accepts that sacrifice as part of their future together. She maybe leaves her pretty house with wisteria, her close friends and ageing relatives and follows her husband someplace where suddenly, he is totally and utterly in charge. And at the first glance, it is all picture perfect. We don’t have to worry about finding a job, commuting and often even washing up, as maids will take care of that. But, who knows? Maybe it is the macho environment and the unwavering  power position the husbands suddenly find themselves in that adds that bit of explosive powder to the midlife crisis sleeping volcano.

Here’s a deep note for you.  (Every now and again, I can be quite philosophical. Fortunately, it does not last. )  We come here for what we originally anticipate to be a short period of time, a few years, at the most. And suddenly, something so major and significant happens, something that can alter our whole lives, right here, in what we considered to be a temporary place.

‘You’d better behave yourself’, Husband announced, as we chatted with another couple over dinner. ‘Or you will find yourself on that plane to Baku in no time!’
‘ Excuse me, I laughed, I am a British citizen, I think you’ll find?! You can’t deport me to Baku!’

‘Well…’, our friend added thoughtfully, ‘it depends on the price of the ticket, doesn’t it. If Baku is cheaper than London…It makes perfect sense! In fact, I say send her to Bahrain! ‘

Ha-ha. Very funny, I thought.  Only it isn’t.

‘So what happens if you are being naughty, not me?’ I asked Husband. Hypothetically speaking.  

And then I thought about it. What does happen then?

Well, I of course, will have a choice. I could leave.  Go back to London.  Or Bahrain. ‘But children would stay here’, Husband announced casually.

Not my ideal scenario, clearly…But, what power would I have in that situation? None, whatsoever. Will I have my own money to hire expensive lawyers to fight my case? No. Will I be able to take my children out of the country without his permission? No, that is kidnapping. Will I have money to live on? Buy my own place? No, no, no….

So basically, I would be utterly and fully f***d.

Oh God, my close girlfriend said to me- I have not slept all night worrying about this, in light of all the crap happening around right now?!

Don’t be silly, I said. With a fine arse like yours you are definitely not going to Bahrain. But…

I have seen some fine arses getting shipped home recently.

I guess, nothing is predictable or reliable in this life, and that, in a way, is a good thing. Husbands are not predictable. Their behaviour, often calm and obedient on the surface, could suddenly change. They are like Dobermans. You get them as cute puppies, you house train them…you teach them to behave, to not piss on the floor or tear up your clothes…and then suddenly, one day, some switch just flips in that brain of theirs and boom! They turn around and bite you.  And in some cases, you think you have got yourself a Labrador. Only he turns out to be a Doberman at some point in life anyway.

Of course, relationships anywhere in the world, are not predictable either. And that is a good thing, too. And people fall in and out of love all the time. Shit happens. It is just that, as an expat wife, you have to be prepared for a situation where, should your Doberman husband suddenly go crazy, or find another bitch, you can’t just pack his bag, cut up his shirts and kick him out. In fact, it might be you who has to leave everything behind. Not just your marriage. But your home, your friends…Maybe even your children.

It might not be your decision to leave. Like a toy that had lost its shiny appeal after a few years, you might just get thrown away. Not fair, right? Well, life usually isn’t. It is just that, in some places, it seems more unfair to us girls than the boys. Wait a moment…What am I saying, and whom am I kidding? In almost all places, in all cases. Anywhere in the world.

Sunday, 4 October 2015

What not to wear, or Scary Azeri's new (potential) business.

A friend of mine told me recently that, judging from my Facebook pictures, all I do these days is drink a lot. She even assumed, not sure why? That I don’t even read anything anymore. My brain, according to her, is atrophying. OK, I thought. She is being mean, but she has got a point. I do not work. And I do party more than I did in the UK. Even though, I do still read a lot. And not just Facebook stuff. 

So, the question is…Should I worry about it. Should I be thinking of getting a full time job? Another friend told me the other night that to her, I was someone who would not enjoy doing nothing all day for too long. 'You will get bored', she said 'and you probably will find that you need a mental stimulation. So you might want to look for a job'. 

 The problem of course is that I am not bored. Not yet. Not really.

 And I do not want a full time job. It will affect my routine quite significantly, in a bad kind of way, you know?

But I would like to do something. I do think my brain is deteriorating.

And, being smart as I am, I just came up with a beautiful idea.

You see, every time we sit in Paul’s with our coffee and watch people walking by, I see people dressed in unbelievably ugly clothes. In fact, there clearly are two major problems, linked to each other. One is that some people do not understand what suits their shape and what makes it a lot uglier than it already is. And secondly, some things should have never been designed, approved, sold and then bought and most importantly, worn. In public. By anyone.

For example, these pants.

I am not sure my sketch does them justice. They had a pattern of very brightly colored shapes, with the biggest one forming a black triangle, that was centrered right between poor woman’s thighs, sort of gently disappearing between her buttocks.

Or, today, I saw a rather large unit as Husband would refer to it, in bright pink sweatpants. In case it was not obvious, there was a big sign on her arse that read PINK.

Like this. 

And you know what? That big, round Kim Kardashian style backside is so in fashion right now, she could totally make it look good. In something else. In fact, in almost anything else but those pants. 

So, I think, it will be a bit like Simon Cowell, and a bit of What Not to Wear program I used to watch in the UK… What I mean is, it will be brutal. Sometimes you have got to be cruel to be kind.

Like this one woman I saw the other day who looked simply heartbreakingly awful in very tight ripped jeans. So she would just need to be told that, with her shape, these trousers are a NO.

But, she might argue…But…they are so cute…


But….I really want….




'I don’t think it is a good idea', my friend said, shaking her head. 'You will get in trouble'.

'Well, I am terrible with clothes!' a Russian friend interrupted. 'If I like a dress, for example, I always buy three of the same. At least three. Maybe four!'

Watch this, I said to the friend who claimed I would get in trouble.

Look, I said to the Russian girl. You don’t need 4 identical dresses. It is stupid.

Yes, I know, she said, but…

Listen, I said NO! You cant buy 4 identical dresses because you do not need them. That's just stupid and insane.  

See? I said. Where's the trouble? No trouble. 

That will be 50 QAR I said. You are welcome. 

 Yes. I think I will be very good at this.