Wednesday, 1 April 2015

When change will come, whether invited or not.

The world is split into two types of people: Those who fill the sink to wash up and those who wash their dishes under the running water. 

I am the latter. 

Husband said I did not like change. A very illogical statement, if you ask me, since he knows perfectly well that I thrive on change. I mean, come on. I am a Gemini, I wither down to nothing without change. But, since neither of us believes in horoscopes, I could not use that argument very effectively. However, changing home countries twice works. I left Azerbaijan and made England my home. I then left England and….well, Qatar isn't really a  home, but hey, I live here. For an unpredictable number of years.

I also fancied a girl recently. Now, that's a change.

But back to changing homes. The reason we had an interesting week here, in our household, at the end of which the above illogical conclusion was drawn by Husband, was that he, i.e. Husband, decided we should move to a different compound, closer to school.

Do you have any idea how far a school can be in Doha?  In our case, it takes us approximately 45 minutes to reach it. It can drive anyone crazy after a while. I have been pretty unconcerned about it, but only because, due to my careful carpool planning and intricate manipulations, I found myself not doing any mornings, and only driving perhaps two to three afternoons a week. Husband, however, woke up one day and realised that he was the one doing most of the driving. It was bound to happen sooner or later, of course. I saw no point arguing. He has been doing an awful lot of school runs for over three years now.

So we started a discussion about a possibility of moving to a compound nearer to the school. The more I thought about that, the more it made sense. I liked the compound, I already had a few friends from school living there... It was new, it was clean, the houses were modern. Really quite nice houses, to be honest. Light and bright, with no enormous brass chandeliers or/and golden curtains. I quite fancied living in one of those. I drove there one more time. I walked around noting the behaviour of children playing outside. I looked in my friend's house, all over, glancing inside the cupboards and bathrooms. I waked over to the swimming pool and gazed into it for a while. In the end I said yes. Let's do it, I said. Let's move!

Emails got sent, dates of relocating have been set. Friends were told. I measured my big brown leather sofa and tried to space plan it in the new room. ( I used to get paid to do this) So, it was all going well.


The next morning, I woke up and something was wrong. I did not want to move.

I talked already here about the nature of expat life and about everything being very temporary. I reminded myself of that when I felt sad leaving my compound friends and moving to a new place. I know of course, that any of them can move away at any given moment, to a different house or a different country. But, to me, this very nature of transiency of our lives here is the reason that could be both for and against the move. The reality is such, that whether you are the kind of person who likes it or fears it, if you decided to be an expat, you have no choice but to live with a constant change. And in Doha, change springs up on you all of a sudden, without any foreplay and you have to relax and try to enjoy it. You find a beauty salon near you and a nice lady does your eye brows.  You return in three weeks for your regular treatment and the doors are locked, the signage removed and  nothing, not even a notice on the door indicates that any beauty salon had ever existed in the building before. Small things like that….Or, your neighbour could be choosing a maid one minute and packing her suitcases the other, as her husband got told he no longer had a job.  Somewhat bigger things.

And maybe precisely because of that, because everything is already constantly unstable enough here, in Doha, that I refused to move. It is because of the things that make me feel somewhat settled here. My network of friends and neighbours, some of which I have known for all the years I have lived in Qatar. My hairdresser and the cheap Thai massage place. My favourite Aspire club minutes away. The dodgy Indian restaurant where I can pop to for a greasy fried prawn dish if I feel like it. The plants market I always mean to visit more often but never do. The dangerous proximity of the only alcohol shop in town. The slightly cocky compound gardener.  It is my comfort zone, the set of things that I built around me to make me feel remotely at home. And should one of the components suddenly collapse and disappear from that set, I would still feel safe and comfortable in my comfort zone. And that is what I need, I guess, to survive happily here, as an expat.

So, I said to Husband, I am sorry. I know I was excited about the idea. I know I said yes. But you know what is another famous character trait for Gemini, don't you. We are notorious for changing our minds without much notice. And maybe he is right. Maybe I don't like change, after all. Because I know it will come anyway, whether invited or not.

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Dubai according to Scary Azeri, who used to be a Dubai virgin but no longer is.

Well, my dear friends, I no longer am a Dubai virgin.

Whenever I would mention in a conversation that I had never been to Dubai, the reaction was always the same: Whaaaat??? You have not been to Dubai??

So now I have. So many times so many friends would tell me how great it was. How it was so much cooler than Doha, so much more relaxed, so much more fun…I kept thinking it was just an exaggeration. I kept thinking but why would I go? What is there besides shopping malls? As a girl growing up in Baku, I had a certain preconception about Dubai. You see, Dubai was an easy to reach destination for us, with an easy visa to get. Therefore, it was a desired location for so called spekulyanti. Not sure what the correct translation into English would be, I guess wheeler-dealers. People who would visit the country to buy a lot of clothes and stuff, you know, to then come back and re-sell at a much higher price in their home country. In their defence, there were times when it was necessary, when we did not have many nice shops around. Dubai was also full of Russian hookers, as I was always told.

So I always assumed that you would only visit Dubai in two three circumstances:

1) If you were a dodgy wheeler-dealer and wanted to buy clothes or gold to re-sell.
2) If you were a prostitute.
3) A bit of both?

So, since I was really none of the above, I never got tempted to go.

However, since I moved to Doha, I started hearing some other stories. Girlfriends going to Dubai for weekends, just to party, to shop, to enjoy sightseeing…children going to see The Atlantis…Normal people, not prostitutes or wheeler-dealers. OK, I thought. Maybe it is time for me to check it out, too.

I also felt that I had not really spent quality time with my mother since I had the kids. It was her birthday coming up soon and, (strategically important) coincidentally, it was just after my husband, who had spent perhaps last three to four years lusting after a Ford Raptor, finally got himself one. I figured that, considering all of the above, it was a good time to escape for a long weekend.

And so there I was. In Dubai, finally. Nothing prepared me for what I found.

I am going to break it down for you, in case you are also a Dubai virgin, like I used to be.

1. Oy, mama. It is enormous. Like to any virgin, the size came as a bit of a shock.  I am used to big cities, of course, I have been to Moscow and New York... and I lived in and around London…But, for some reason, I found Dubai overwhelming. When I was planning where to stay, Husband told me not to worry too much about it, as 'nowhere will be that far, really'. Oh, yes. Everywhere is far. Really, really far. My mother discovered that a hard way. She fancied the idea of trying Dubai Metro. She also fancied visiting The Atlantis to "look at the fishes". It took her a very long time to appreciate the difference between their Metro and their Tram. Is this a metro then? No, mama. This is a tram. But…No, it is a tram. But what about this? No, still a tram. Eventually, we took a tram to a metro station and we then took monorail to The Atlantis. It took us forever. On the way back, we took the same route to Dubai Mall, which I was told was the nearest station to our hotel. We got on the moving escalator, which was signposted Dubai Mall and walked for what seemed like years. My mother had a paddy in the middle of the journey. 'I refuse to walk anymore!!!'  We eventually made it into the mall only to then spend another 30 minutes or so trying to get the hell out of it. It was a challenge. I honestly thought for a moment that the whole metro-tram-monorail combo was going to finish my poor mother. I was, however, determined to make it, alive or not,  to a restaurant in Souq Bahar where I was told I could have an alcoholic beverage. And food. And a cigarette.

2. Everybody is Russian. And if they are not Russian, they are Ukrainian. That fact for some reason did not annoy me, which was unexpected. I thought the crazy numbers of Russians all over would send me over the edge, but everyone I met and spoke to was so nice and so genuinely pleased that I was speaking Russian too, that it was a surprisingly comforting feeling. But seriously, where are all the other nationalities?

3. There are other nationalities. And this is what was fascinating for someone living in Qatar. Other nationalities are from all over the world. Not like 50/50 Indian and Fillipinos everywhere you look. But actually other people! That was amazing. We went to an Italian restaurant on JBR and the waitress, despite looking very Russian, was actually Italian. I was very impressed.

4. Where do their locals hide? I could not find any. In Qatar, we see a lot of Qataris. We learn to get out of their way on the D-ring road, we respectfully step aside to let them pass in shops. But in Dubai? I could not understand. Where are they all? A friend of mine who lived in Dubai for years explained. Most of them don't wear national dress unless attending an important meeting. So you can't recognise them in crowds.

5. Everyone and everything is extremely organised and professional. And that came as a shock. It was like being in a western country only in addition to actually knowing what they were supposed to know in their jobs, the people were also happy, relaxed and friendly. In fact, Dubai is simply possibly the happiest place I have ever visited. It is, according to my mother, a celebration of life. I liked that description. That's exactly how Dubai felt. It was one endless party, everywhere, and even people who were working around us seemed very pleased to be there. If you are on antidepressants, chuck them in the toilet and buy a ticket to Dubai for a weekend.

6. It is like being in Paris, with many little cafes and squares. Only the weather was probably better than in France right now, and drinks were about 10 times more expensive. But otherwise…it was beautiful.

7. There were a lot of very fit people. As we sat in a cafe at the JBR beach, I saw many women walking past me with amazing arms. You see, I have this huge arm envy. I want some arms! Surely, after 5 mornings a week in the gym I should have some?! But nope. Still no arms. Anyway.
I am just happy there aren't as many very fit women in Qatar. Only about 10 in total, and they are all our instructors in Aspire.

This posting is already too long, so I will stop here. The bottom line is..Dubai is indeed, lovely. I would highly recommend it, but I am still not sure I would want to live there permanently. It would just be strange to live in such a constantly happy place, you know? Just unnatural.

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Please don’t tell me you are Canadian.

I have talked about national identity on this blog before, so it is not entirely a fresh topic, yet the one that matters to me. 

Just like one can choose a Facebook relationships status from all the options, my answer for "Where are you from?" question would be It’s complicated. Because, to simply say that I was from Azerbaijan would paint a somewhat deceptive picture. People would not know anything about Azeris; and if they did, it would make matters even worse, as they would try and place me in a category I don’t actually fit into, at all. Then, on top of that, if I announce that I don’t speak Azeri and my first language is Russian, they quickly assume me to be Russian, which of course, is totally incorrect, too.

After many failed attempts and explanations I have settled on a short “Azerbaijan and then the UK” answer. That usually works. Even though cannot possibly explain anything about me. Like the fact that what I personally would call home, the place I remember as a child, basically no longer exists. Try that for a cultural identity.

But that’s fine, no one actually cares.

What I am saying this for is to explain that I, out of all people, should be more accepting and tolerant and, you know, understanding of why for some of us it is a complicated issue.  But there is one type of people I find exceptionally annoying when it comes to where-are-you-from question- the type who appear to fight hard against their roots. I know it is complicated, guys. I really do. As someone who does not really fit in properly or belong anywhere in my own nation, I know exactly how you feel, trust me!

However, if you look and sound, I don’t know, Bosnian-Herzegovinian and I ask you where you come from, and you tell me you are Canadian…. Well, it is just annoying. I might say oh, ok…and move on to talk to someone else. I know you are probably technically Canadian. Or British. Or German. But, you know what I am really asking, don’t you. I am asking where your parents come from. Where you, or them, or your grandparents were born. Where you originate from. I am not really interested in your citizenship.

I ask this because I find it interesting, I am curious about your background and all that cultural shit. I want to hear a story, about where your roots are from, and how you ended up wherever you live now. Not to be told ‘Oh, I am British’.

Pl-ee-ase! So am I. I have a passport I can show you to prove it. I, just like you, come from a third world place.  I just am not embarrassed about that. In fact, I am proud of it. Because my life is a tapestry of history, places, cultures and experiences. And that should be interesting, not embarrassing. 

One of my best friend here, in Doha has a complicated answer to where she is from question. Her parents come from Azerbaijan, so long ago that it really is a different place now. They then moved to Moscow when she was a baby, so she never lived in Azerbaijan. After only fifteen years or so, she emigrated to America where she lived most of her adult life, until she got married and relocated to Qatar. So, considering that at least half of her life she spent in America, she could technically answer that she was, therefore, American. But she does not. Neither can she simply say she is Azeri, can she, since she had no experience of getting to know the country. Of course, she grew up as a small child in Russia, and she speaks Russian but that does not make her Russian. Have you managed to keep up?

Now, I appreciate that some of you were born somewhere like England, even though your parents come from Bangladesh. Of course that is somewhat different. It gives you a full right to tell me you are from that country. But I am not talking about your rights. I am talking about obvious things. So, my lovely Egyptian neighbour, please don’t just tell me you are Canadian.

Interestingly though, the I-am-British (Canadian, American) phenomenon is not as common when it comes to people who live in a non-Western country. For example, I met quite a few people here, in Qatar, who, in answer where they are from would say to me ‘I am from Jordan but I am actually Palestinian’. Or ‘I am Iranian but I was born in Qatar’. See? Easy. And nice, somehow. Just say it, please! Because, if you don’t, it makes you sound like you are trying very hard to be someone else. Like you are ashamed of who you are. That you are, in fact, a little bit racist. That you hate your own people, their race and colour, their culture or whatever else it might be, and are embarrassed to be associated with them. And again, I, out of all people, understand that you are different now from probably 99% of the population of your place of birth. You evolved into this second (or is it third?) culture person, who would never fit in if went back, who is different from another Bangladeshi who always lived in Bangladesh. I honestly understand this. Trust me. But please, tell me about your background. 

There are cases that make me cringe. Like this one Pakistani lady who announced on Facebook that people who meet her  “don’t ever believe!!! ha-ha-ha!” that she is Pakistani. Why not? Well, you look and sound pretty Pakistani to me, I wanted to point out, and yes, I know you lived in England for a very long time. Good for you. It is a lovely country. But you still are Pakistani, and that’s totally fine! You being a Pakistani does not make me respect or like you any less. Your need to renounce it on social media, however, does.  

Sunday, 1 February 2015

About one very illuminating night out.

I have recently been proven wrong. You know how a few weeks ago (or was it months?) I complained about not being able to say what you want, even with friends? Well, just as if to prove me wrong, I was myself suddenly on the other side of the barrier. Remember now, this is me we are talking about. Me, who is often rude and inappropriate, and not easily embarrassed or shocked. I was, as it turned out, delusional about that.

A few weeks ago, I was invited on a girls’ night out. To a very, and I mean very nice restaurant. By a very nice new friend. So I got dressed up and went.

There was no prelude. So I am not going to ease you into it, either.

As soon as we sat down and I got introduced to two pretty friends of my friend, they started talking about very personal things. In any woman’s life.

Like vibrators.

In the space of minutes, before the frosting had a chance to evaporate off the tall glass with my first Strawberry Mojito, I learned more about vibrators than I’d ever known in my entire life.

I stared at the pretty tall girl who was getting quite animated and excited about the latest model her husband bought for her. The Illuminator, she shouted, lights up bright green! I reached for a cigarette. ‘That’s…hmm… lovely?’ I said, hoping the conversation would move on to something else. Which it then did. But, in respect to the culture of the country we currently reside in, I am not going to go there on this blog.

Back to the toys though, the quiet girl on my right, with beautiful, albeit somewhat melancholic, eyes pointed out that to her, the best ever model is The Bullet.

You know, she said, how at times you just have absolutely NO idea what to get your friends?

Well, yes, as a matter of fact, I had one of my best friends’ birthday approaching fast, and I still had no idea of what to get her. Please, I said. Illuminate me.

Well, she said, I always get them a Bullet.

By then, I was on my second Mojito. I had to go through the first one as fast as I could, in a hope that I would get drunk quickly enough to not worry too much about the ambiance of the place, the beautiful lighting….about all those people, on a romantic date or a business dinner…People who might have brought their families visiting from abroad to a special place as a treat…people with ears.

I did laugh though. Just for a minute, I imagined the faces of my friends, any of them, really, but in particular my English friends in our peaceful suburban village just outside of London, at a birthday breakfast somewhere like The Grove, where I would suddenly announce that, not knowing what to get them, I got a vibrator.

Noticing my hysterical state, the girl waved her hands at me.

No, no, listen! I only get the best quality ones!!! Only with chrome!


Yes, she said, they have to have chrome details. They cost a lot, she said, but they are the best quality.

Right, I said. I will remember that.

By the time our food arrived, my appetite was not really there. The food, however, was delicious, and I tried not to let the topic (which by then changed to a certain act that is illegal in many countries) spoil it for me.

On the way back, my friend asked why I was unusually quiet all night. 'You okay?' She said,
'you were really not yourself tonight?'

I told her that I felt embarrassed to admit it, but the truth was, I felt uncomfortable. As if my brain was forcibly illuminated.  Simultaneously, I had a bizarre feeling that I was invited to be part of a gang of fun, cool chicks but failed pathetically. It reminded me of the time a long, long time ago, when I desperately wanted to be part of a gang of the older kids at the modern dancing group I was in. I also fancied the teacher like mad, but when one night he asked me to join them on a night out, I freaked out and did not go. I just had to admit I was not as cool as them. ( Damn it, I still look back and think WTF? I should have gone! But things often seem different in retrospective.) 

Oh, well.  You can’t help how you feel. And I felt that maybe, maybe? some things you can discuss only with very close friends and only when very drunk (And even then, I most probably would not) and not when you are in the middle of a very posh restaurant, in a very conservative society, eating very nice food.

PS Tried to Google the Bullet and found this. What can you do in 10 seconds? Chop an omelet. A “countertop magician” Hmm…Maybe she was talking about this? No. She so wasn’t.

Saturday, 17 January 2015

Fighting back or about excessive partying.

I have little time for blogging these days, mainly due to too much partying. This weekend started on Wednesday night with girls' drinks at the pool, after a free zumba class in our compound, then a night out in a nice restaurant ( girls only again) followed by a girlfriend's birthday party last night. That one, for a change, included our husbands. However, just like on many other occasions, the women were acting somewhat more wild and silly, while men just stood around talking about…I don't know what, probably their jobs?

'Have you noticed', Husband asked casually this morning, as I sat there with a large mug of very strong coffee in slightly trembling hands, 'That it is always wives who get more crazy at all these parties these days? And not the husbands?'

I have. I, in fact, have been thinking about that for a little while now, and (I think?) came up with a perfect explanation. We, middle aged women, are just fighting back.

You have to realize, I said to Husband, that, however happy we are to be wives and mothers, we sacrifice a huge chunk of our younger years for the privilege. From the household chores to giving birth, our life becomes a chain of events that claim us entirely, body and mind, 24/7, no negotiations, no time off. We go through pregnancy, throwing up, getting fat, leaking milk from what used to be pretty sexy things before then. We give birth, encouraged to do it naturally, going through undescribable pain. And then we don't sleep. For years. Most importantly, we no longer belong to ourselves. Ever again. Because, once you are a mother, you belong to your children. Cooking, cleaning, looking after them, worrying about them, thinking about them. Non stop! And some of us forget what it was like to be simply ourselves. Whatever that was. Not the mother. Not the wife. Just me.

For some it was partying, smoking, dancing till early hours of the morning. For others it was doing sports for hours every day, or reading a book, or lying in bed for however long we wanted to! Or being at work. Being able to focus on the job, on career, and not think about school trips we are missing, runny noses or homework that will need doing later.  And suddenly one day, we wake up and think FUCK! Wait a moment, what happened here? I am fat. I am mumsy. My hair is always pulled back. What happened to my body? What happened to my mind? What the hell happened to my clothes and underwear?

OK, so I am getting older... But not quite so old yet as to forget entirely how to enjoy myself. How I used to enjoy myself. And thats why, I think, we, mothers who suddenly get that tiny bit more sleep as our kids grow up, that tiny bit of free time when they finally start school….maybe go a bit crazy.

Yes, perhaps smoking cigarettes again, even though I quit for years is not a good idea. Perhaps drinking a lot and dancing till 3am ( and maybe ending up swimming in the pool with my clothes on…) is not very sensible. But wait a minute. I have done years of sensible. I might just need a little bit of craziness back in my life.

Call it a midlife crisis, if you'd like, but I watch it happen all around me. And, as we discussed with Husband this morning, in this expat life, it happens on a bigger scale than it did back in our suburban little village in the UK. Probably because the conditions are more conducive to such naughty behavior. Most of us don't work. Most of us have maids to do the cleaning after. Most of us miss our friends and families back home and need to get distracted not to feel miserable and homesick. And drugs are illegal here.

But, whether here or back home…Some of us hit a certain point in our lives when we stop focusing entirely on other members of our families and slowly look back at ourselves, and what we have become.

And so we fight back. We start wearing sexier clothes again, we dance and work out, we drink more than we ever did before and we like to party a lot. So what, I ask you. It is all for the very same reason that you ( i.e. husbands) want a sexy new car, a mistress or a paddle board. We don't want to get old. We already given up a lot for you, for the kids, for the home…But now, while we still have a bit of energy left, it is time to claim some of our own selves back. To remind us that sometimes, we can let our hair loose and party like we used to.

Please, watch out, Husband pointed out, I just don't want you to fall into this stereotypical lazy drunken expat wife pattern. Why not, I said. There is nothing wrong with that. I am an expat wife. Might as well embrace it, gratefully. Tomorrow it might all change. I might end up having a full time job, commuting on a train for hours and wearing layers in winter to stay warm…But for now, let me enjoy this tiny little bit of freedom that I have left. So, cheers! Here is to more drinking and debauchery, girls.

Saturday, 13 December 2014

Because everything is temporary.

How many people fell in this abyss,
     I fathom from afar!
     There will be time, and I will vanish too
     From earth's exterior…….
For quickness of events as they come rushing,
     For truth, for play, say I -
     Please hear me! But do also please love me
     For this that I will die.

( Marina Tsvetayeva)

OK before I go any further, please forgive me, for this posting is written under continuous influence of pre-Christmas drinking. If it makes absolutely no sense it is because I have not been properly sober for what seems like a very long time. 

Today, at a yet another pre-Christmas party, two friends and I were discussing the transiency of Doha expat life. A mutual friend of ours just said goodbye to two close friends of hers who moved away. 'It has not happened to me yet', said one friend, and I thought that I, too, have been lucky so far. However, all of us, without exception, are only too aware of this simple truth- we are only here for a fragment of our lives. And, as we enter new friendships and begin building our lives here, we all think about that point, when we will have to move on or say goodbye.

But, to me, it has become much more than that. As I am becoming more and more used to the fact that everything here is temporary, I also am becoming more aware that it is not just my Doha life that is transient, but so is everything else. Of course, it is somewhat a statement of the obvious. Yet, I have never, in any of my previous lives, whether in Baku or in London, felt the transiency of everything so vividly, so tangibly.

But, before you assume this posting to be depressing, let me try and explain why it in fact, isn't.

This surreal, fragmented life we, expats, live here is like a rehearsal for the bigger play. And you have a choice, a very simple one. You can either get upset and worry about it all disappearing, or you can enjoy it more, precisely because you know it will disappear soon.

It is a complicated feeling. Let me give you an example. Husband wants a new truck. He does not really need it, of course. But he wants it. Can he justify having it? Well, no. Is it sensible? Stupid question. And yet, after thinking about it through my new everything-is-temporary prism, I told him to get it, if he really wants it.


I love this new prism. It is pretty cool, really, once your mind accepts it. Just say to yourself that everything is transient: happiness and loss, money and worries, friends, houses and cars…And see how simple life becomes. And people. People are very transient, too. But that makes them more interesting. You meet new people in Doha, and it is exciting because you don't know how long you will actually know them for before one of you moves somewhere else. So go ahead and enjoy your new friends, their stories and backgrounds, their cultures-so different from yours, and how they enrich your life, before they, inevitably, will go.

You can apply this to everything, good of bad. Terrible boss? Not for long! Hate the traffic? Not your country, don't worry about it! Just put up with it for a short while. Not that happy with your house? It isn't yours, anyway.

So what I am trying to say is I am learning to love this transiency. I love my temporary friends, with their temporary lives becoming a fragmented part of my temporary life. Because who knows how long we are all here for. And of course, I am no longer just talking about Doha.