Thursday, 14 May 2015

Do you speak…. Italian?

I was chatting to a friend this morning and she was telling me a story that, under typical circumstances, would not be worth remembering. It was your normal kind of conversation we girls often have, about skipping the gym too many times, about possibly feeling fatter than usual…She described the horror she felt as she stood in front of a full length mirror the night before. 'I told my husband', she said, 'Just look at this!'

The husband tried to comfort her. "Amore…"

'Don't you amore me!' she replied. 'I am getting fat!'

Now, what made the whole story entertaining, of course, was that my friend's husband is Italian. How cool, I thought, when your husband refers to you as amore? Mine usually calls me wifey.

I told my other friend, who speaks English with her husband, just like I do, that we made a huge mistake. We should have chosen more wisely. Look, I said. I already spoke English when I met Husband. I had a job where I talked in English all day long, I sent emails and watched movies…It sort of became my second language pretty quickly. So it was not really something very exotic anymore. Also, let's be honest, what's so exciting about English language? Not much. Now, thinking about it in hindsight, would it not have been cool to have married someone who spoke some other, more you know, romantic language? Like Italian. Or French? Oui. Definitely French. You know how they say…if you haven't dated French, you have not dated.

In that case, would all the mundane situations become so much more exciting? Imagine…

Your Spanish husband says to you Sacar la basura...

You go all googly eyes, but really all he said was Take the rubbish out. ( Not that any husband would ever say that, in any language.)

Or he might come home and ask Que hay de cenar esposa?

Should he ask you that in English, i.e. What's for dinner? it might not turn out to be such a good evening for him; but in Spanish it suddenly sounds so much better.

And, of course, thinking about marrying into different cultures made me wonder what it would have been like should I have married someone from my own country. Not someone very traditional, like my first boyfriend was; as that would have been a fiasco from the very beginning. But someone more like myself. But then, I cannot even imagine that situation, somehow. I don't think I'd ever even seriously considered that option, to be honest.

I asked Husband. Surely, I said, you must have thought about this? What would it have been like if you were married to someone English?

Husband (who, come to think of it, had girlfriends from all over the world), shook his head. 'Nope, he said. 'Pretty dull'.

'But have you thought about it?' I pestered.

'No, not really', he replied. 'But I do often wonder what it would have been like to have married money'.

Hmm. Not sure he isn't Azeri after all.

Sunday, 10 May 2015

Love me, forgive me for having a dog. Even if you don't have one yourself.

I have had a little falling out with an old friend recently. Oh, we will be fine. It happened before and it will happen again, and this time, it was not even a real falling out. Just a teeny disagreement. I would not even call it a disagreement, as I chose to say nothing and go silent on her for a while, until she decides to be nice again.

However, it got me thinking about how your lifestyle and changes in circumstances can affect old friendships.

A while ago, husband was not sure why this one friend seemed to distance himself.

 'I had not said or done anything', he claimed, and I had to admit that, in that particular case,  he had not. However, coincidentally, I came across a very good article, which listed a few reasons other people might hate you. When you have not done anything wrong. And one of the examples they used was of two guys discussing their weekends at work. As far as Guy No 1 was concerned, he was having a friendly chat with his nice colleague. However, after that, he noticed the Guy No 2 started avoiding him.

So what happened? well, Guy No 1 was telling his friend about his crappy weekend. What a horrible time I had! My car broke down on the way to the seaside, and then the girlfriend was a bitch and fell out with me over that…Or something like that. Now, what's wrong with that story? Absolutely nothing. If you told Guy No 1 that he had annoyed Guy No 2 and made him feel jealous, he would be incredulous. What is there to be jealous about? My car broke down, my girlfriend was a bitch…

However. The Guy No 2 lives with his disabled father. He does not make enough money to have a car, and he definitely has no girlfriend, either bitchy or not. So to him, all he heard was Look at me! I have a car! and I have a girlfriend! 

The result? Guy No 2 hates Guy No 1. Was it Guy No 1's fault? No. Was he showing off? Nope. Yet, the result is the same.

I told Husband that story. 'So you see, following that logic...When you talked about your work problems, to this (ex) friend of yours,  it was a reminder that he was unemployed for years.'

'But that's ridiculous!', Husband responded. Yes, it is. But that's how it works.

Now, I repeated that mistake with this old friend. Divorced, with two small children, and two jobs she has to juggle, she takes my problems and issues I sometimes share with her as insignificant. To her, I have absolutely nothing to ever complain about, and technically, she is of course, right. She told me off, and maybe, I deserved it. I should have been more tactful. I should have been careful not to mention that aspect of my life…or this…or this. My goodness, definitely not that. But, in the end, that is what my life is at the moment.

So, I guess, my question is…Can we remain friends with people if our lives become so significantly different from each others? Can we still share our problems with them, however pathetic, spoilt and annoying we might sound?

All you do all day is drink wine and go to the gym, she said. What do you know about real problems?

And I felt like replying. I felt like pointing out where I live. I felt like reminding her that she has a career, and a social security, possibly the best medicine in the world, and a home. And parents who live close by. And friends who are not going to suddenly relocate elsewhere. And she knows which country she will live in 10 years' time. All those simple, normal things that seem like luxuries to me.

But I did not say anything. What's the point? She is, after all, right. I do drink quite a lot of wine. And I do go to the gym. And she really should be okay with that.

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.