Thursday, 13 October 2016

My first exclusive media event.

I have noticed a few times from occasional passive aggressive comments some readers left on Scary Azeri Facebook page that they were under the impression I got paid for this blogging thing. That, in reality of course is, very sadly, not true.  Nobody pays me and nobody wants to sell me any ads. Nothing of the sort really happens, it is just something I do.  Like other people who, you know, maybe enjoy nailing their bits to the dining table. For fun.

But, in all fairness, there are some random different perks that do occasionally happen. For instance, a few years ago I got offered some freelance work, wrote a couple of articles for Oryx (Qatar Airways 
in-flight magazine), got invited to contribute to some online stuff.. and got interviewed by Global Voices Online. All great fun. And since I moved to Doha, I occasionally get emails inviting me to media only events and launches. I sort of missed a few of them throughout the year due to…well, laziness on my part. Also, frankly, I was thinking it must have been a mistake or a spam. “Exclusive media only” events. I mean, I am not a media person, am I? 

I had an image of cool, young trendy media people hanging out at these parties, looking glamorous and gorgeous, all knowing each other, glancing at me and thinking who the hell is that? Is she lost? Gatecrashing? Until one of the organisers would approach me with an official list, check, sternly, what my name was, and who I worked for, and then ask me to leave, immediately.

But one of the things I truly love about Doha is that living here, I can do things I would not have done back home (homes? Both countries) Like attend a fencing championship, or a world cup tennis match, or…well, a media only event. So when I saw another email in my scary azeri inbox, I read it out to Husband. ‘Hey, check this out...' I said.  ‘Exclusive! Media! Invitation!’

It was to the Oyster Bar at St. Regis, which was introduced in the invite as the finest address in Qatar, on the beach, with Cuban live music and hand-crafted beverages.

Is it free? Husband asked suspiciously.  I decided it probably was.  I had to send my name and my 'plus one' to confirm our acceptance.

Come on, I said. Lets go, check it out.

It took us forever to find the place. St. Regis, ‘the finest address in Qatar', is full of suspicious corridors and winding labyrinths that were designed to confuse the inexperienced media persons like myself. As we approached the Oyster Bay, a lady with an official list was waiting for me. Just like I imagined she would. I had a momentary urge to ask for the bathroom and quickly disappear. But I had my high heels and ripped jeans on, and a bright lipstick and I was (really, honestly!) invited.  I have to say, I was impressed. I suspect the’d never heard what Scary Azeri was, but as soon as I mentioned it, her face lit up with this most excited, most flattering smile, as if I was (almost single) Brad Pitt asking her out on a date. Oh, wow, she said, we had sent you a few invitations in the past, but have not had the pleasure of meeting you yet!

Blimey, I thought. I am a celebrity!!!

A security guard slapped a green paper bracelet on my wrist, which immediately made me feel all happy and warm inside: Any of us who had been to anywhere knows what such a paper bracelet means. It means, you are in. And you are in somewhere with free food and drinks. 

Please, enjoy yourselves! The friendly lady said, ushering us to the beach. Everything is on us!

Husband was clearly impressed. Suddenly, all the times I spent at the computer, all the Twitter and Facebook ‘crap’ he had endlessly complained about made some sense.
He of course, could not resist to wind me up a little: Have you not checked in yet?

‘Shut up, you are my Plus One, I said. Know your place!  It is my event.’

And so we did enjoy it. The music by ‘Gerardo Contino y LosHabaneros’ was chilled in the way only Latin music can be, the drinks and canap├ęs were being served non-stop, and the view of the bay was stunning. The band leader told us that they were invited to perform at the White House but chose to be in Doha instead. True? Who knows, but they were good. 

As for trendy and beautiful people…Well, it was pretty dark, and my attention was entirely focused on a couple of girls in such ridiculous outfits that I could hardly notice anyone else. Posing for endless photos in various, but equally hilarious poses, they were my personal highlight of the evening.

I did not really network or meet anyone, or see anyone I recognized but it was definitely a fun night out. I must make more effort, I thought, to attend these sort of events, when invited. Or to at least, check my inbox more often to even see them in time, in the first place. And it was great fun to keep reminding husband that he could be a 'plus one' for a change. 

Thursday, 22 September 2016

Another travel blog! This time-Sri Lanka.

We have just come back from another holiday. I feel a bit awkward to even say it, because we only just had the summer away, and suddenly going off again on another break, but the truth, in more detail is as follows:
  •      One drunken night, we agreed with compound friends that we should go together and once committed, we stuck to the promise, which was a great way to actually go, and not just plan as we usually do, and cancel later on, due to money issues or pure laziness. If you never materialise your travel to exotic destinations plans, I recommend this method; the same way as exercising or dieting with someone else. Get drunk, say cool, this sounds awesome! and then book tickets.
  •       We had second Eid here, in Doha, and it was still awfully hot, so it was a great time to escape- one more time.
  •       Always thought to make effort and go to one of those interesting counties that are nearer while we live in Qatar; and we have been here for five years and still have not done it.

Anyway, that’s how we ended up finally visiting Sri-Lanka.

The very first question pretty much everyone asks me after this trip is: Oh, wasn’t it amazing? Was it, like, THE most beautiful place you have ever seen?

Well, parts of it definitely were very beautiful. And I really liked it. And, I had a fantastic time.

Was it the most beautiful place I have ever visited? Well….no, it wasn't.

I have only one explanation in my head, why to me, it was not the most beautiful place. The reason is very simple. Sri Lanka, despite its ocean views, is very much a proper third world country.

So? You might ask. I can feel you all bristle at this. You are ready to tell me off for being snobbish or thinking I was somehow superior to normal people. But hey, before you judge, just remember there is one little, but important detail here; the detail that shapes my humble opinion, and gives me a certain right to it, like a black person allowed to make racist jokes. What you mustn’t forget is that, as opposed to Husband, or our Irish co-travelling friends, who all grew up in the Western world, I actually come from a third world country.

Dirt and poverty are not exotic to me; they are just dirty and poor.

If you grew up in a place where, walking into an elevator you had to pinch your nose and stand at the very edge to avoid stepping into urine puddles; if you felt like throwing up every time you got on a crowded bus because fellow passengers reeked as if they had never even seen a shower in their lives…If you had spent years suffering from awful stomach pains only to find out later in life you had been infected with Helicobacter Pylori…Ah, wait. Sorry. You might not know what that is. I shall tell you. That is an infection that is quite common in third world countries; and you get it mainly from getting exposed to water or food contaminated with feces. You are welcome.

Anyway, you get the picture. If you had spent years as a child growing up in a developing country, you might be a little affected by that for the rest of your life, in a way that makes it a little difficult to see the inner beauty of the third world.

But, forget all that. The villa where we stayed was in the whole galaxy far, far away, literally and figuratively, from all the third-worldliness, being a beautifully designed place with stunning ocean views. 

And that ocean…It took me a little while to get used to the noise. The rest of our company all thought it was funny that I did not find the ocean noise relaxing. But come on! 

You see, that ocean...It is not like any other seaside I have been to- and I know what I am saying, I have actually seen a lot of sea in my life, been quite fortunate that way. I had heard and seen waves before but not like these. You know how you hear warnings that the sea can be deceptive, that it might look really calm and inviting but can actually kill you? Well, not the Indian ocean. It does not pretend, or try to appear calm and inviting. It is proudly, in your face, menacing. Yes, it says, I can kill you in a second if I decide to. And it is absolutely stunning, in a bewitching, threatening, mysterious kind of way. I could sit there for hours just looking at those waves crashing against the rocks, absolutely mesmerised, in awe. It is amazing, it is beautiful, it is just impossible to forget. But relaxing? Never. 

So, if you asked me now, not whether Sri Lanka was the most beautiful place I have even been to, but what was the most beautiful memory I have taken away from there, I would say the ocean. Even right now, a week later, if I shut my eyes I can see those waves; and I would go back again, just to see and hear them. That ocean, without a doubt, is the most amazing thing about Sri Lanka. And the best part was that it was just everywhere. Wherever we went, however long we drove, it was always nearby. Remember how insignificant and fragile and perishable you are, it said. Remember that and enjoy every moment of your life. And try and visit somewhere with an ocean. 

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

About beautiful Azeri mountains. And bears.

'Ma’am', my maid said this morning, showing me her mobile phone. 'Look, my auntie. She had a heart attack'. She showed me a photo of an older woman in a hospital bed. I said I was sorry to hear about it. 'Ma’am', she added…'My auntie, she is a lesbian'. That information was not really relevant, but I nodded respectfully. 'Ma’am', she added, 'Three of my aunties are lesbians'.
'Well', I said, 'that’s really quite a lot of lesbians for one family!'
'A lot of lesbians in Philippines, ma’am!' she replied.

And that is my random fact of today for you.

I know, I know. I have been incredibly lazy.  I was planning to write about summer trips, and then a few more things…and I was planning to write about Baku…Just like in that song, if you know it? 

I was gonna clean my room until I got high
I was gonna get up and find the broom but then I got high 

Sadly, I don't even have that excuse. 

I mean, I have a bunch of topics right here, in my lazy head. Just need to find the motivation, somehow. It got lost somewhere between all the air planes, suitcases and hot weather.

Anyway. Today, I wanted to tell you about my trip to Ilisu, in Azerbaijan. 

You see, I had to admit something to myself this summer. Deep inside, without a doubt, despite all the shit that is still going on there; I still love my country. Shocking, I know.

Like a prodigal son, I returned again, mentally apologising for all the…hmm... unkind thoughts I had about my homeland before. 

Look, I thought, as we sat outside the little cottage in Illisu, surrounded by stunning mountains, look how beautiful it is! Just amazing! Never mind that I could not sleep at all on the train, convinced it was about to fly off the rails, killing us all. Somehow, I felt better staying awake for that. And never mind that the first cottage we were shown to in this little family owned resort, with its two tiny dark rooms with narrow single beds reminded me, disturbingly, of an episode of 'Orange Is The New Black' (without the lesbians). And never mind that behind the cottage, there was a wild, I mean, proper wild forest, with noises at night, with mean, hungry bears plotting how to get in and eat my children. You see, nature and me are like two people who, although find each other attractive, could never live together, knowing that it would just not work, and would end up badly, with one of us killing the other. I do realise that I could never live so close to it, yet I still can appreciate its beauty. 

How come, I thought, I never really saw all this before? I spent years living there, focusing on the negative parts, complaining, just like all the locals still do, about the prices, the corruption, the summer heat and the pollution. But now, living away from you, Azerbaijan, I can really see how charming you are, in your wonderful, quirky way.

I enjoyed all the little things. Watching the locals dance Azeri dances to terrible YouTube videos on a big screen, in an outdoor terrace every night after dinner; the owner, in his woolly hat at 30+ degrees, in his seventies, dragging all of us out to the dance floor.  

The young locals riding horses bareback, on the old bridge, a foal running after them.

A stranger stopping his Lada to give us a lift back to our resort (as we walked slowly back from the restaurant, in the dark, tummies full of lamb kebabs) refusing to take any money for it. 

Sitting on my little balcony at the front of the cottage at night, seeing something alive in the dark on the alley, running bravely to check what it was, discovering was a hedgehog, getting amazed at how cute it was and then noticing a dying, twitching mouse hanging from its mouth...

Discovering hiking! Discovering I was good at it! Except for, you know, all that forest around. The friendly neighbours from the resort were determined to climb all the way up, thinking it was funny that I thought bears were right there, waiting for us, patiently. Ha ha, they said, you are funny. No bears are sitting there, waiting! Yeah, I said, have you not seen  'The Revenant'??? They went quiet and we turned back.

All in all, it was a wonderful trip.

How foolish was I in my younger days, really, when I had no interest in exploring my own country?  And now, feeling more foreign there than anywhere else, I enjoy every visit, every minute of it.

Look, my mother pointed to the mountain right in front of us one morning, as we sat on the terrace sipping one of the tastiest cups of chai I had ever tasted, you see the cave up there? That’s where they say some local criminals used to hide years ago.

My mind, inspired by all the fresh air and the green mountains, quickly formed an escape plan. Maybe, one day, I will drop out and hide in that cave, all the way up the mountain. I will eat berries and drink from waterfalls. Nobody can find me there. Nobody but the bears. OK, maybe not. 

And so I am back to Doha. Till next time, beautiful country of mine. 

Friday, 24 June 2016

A very positive approach to life

I guess the most logical thing to blog about today would be Brexit.
But, since everything that could be said has already been said over a million times all over social media, I am not going to say much about it. To be honest, I am confused why people reacted so passionately about it. Because, frankly, Europe is fucked. The UK is also fucked, whether it chose to remain or leave. The whole world is pretty much fucked, whichever way we go. So please, people! Stop with the melodrama!

My morning was screwed because Ikea was closed for their specific Ramadan hours. Of course, it was my fault, as I should have known better. I should have checked online before setting off. But I assumed, since all other shops are open in the morning, Ikea would be, too. But nope. They opened at 12am. ‘Listen’, a friend said when I told her I was never, ever!!!! going to Ikea again ‘My mother used to say…God took you in the opposite direction to save you from something worse.’

I personally think God could have taken me somewhere a bit closer and easier to get to, like Dar Al Salam. Somewhere that did not involve a painful drive up and down Al Shamal freeway. But fine, I understand what she was trying to say, as basically, behind the whole god saving you idea, there is the same principle as my own theory about our life in general.

So, when a good friend of mine was really upset about her marriage ending in a very sudden way, after many, many long years of what she thought was pretty stable and good…I tried to share my theory with her. I hoped it would help, even though not sure anything would right now.
Look, I said. Life, as Alanis Morissette once wisely pointed out, has its way of sneaking up on you. And, having reached middle age, I am beginning to realise that is definitely true. So, if you assume and expect that life will wait till you are relaxed, smug and comfortable, unsuspecting of anything nasty coming your way…and then sneak up out of nowhere, and take you roughly, without any will probably realise that your situation might not actually be that tragic.

Imagine how many awful things could happen to you if this had not! I said to her. Just think. Your husband wants to go separate ways. Fine, that of course, sucks. But if he had not, if he had been perfectly happy with his life with you, then something else would probably happen. Like he would, you know, die in a horrific car crash. Or, maybe he would stay alive, but- much worse!- become paralysed from waist down. And you are then stuck cleaning up his shit for the rest of your life. Or, both of you are blissfully happy, but then-BOOM! - You get cancer and die in three months. See what I mean? You just have to appreciate that, as we grow older, life will, at some point, sooner or later, present you with some nasty, unexpected shit. So maybe, as that friend of mine would put it, God took you the opposite way (in your case, away from your husband) to save you from something much worse.

I also recently came across a wonderful article about Buddhism. Sadly, I cannot remember where it was and what it was called to share it with you here. But the overall point it was making was about us all expecting to be constantly happy. We are born in this modern world with certain expectations about how we should live, and how things should go smoothly and beautifully. Yet that is, of course, impossible, because we are not in a Hollywood movie. So, what we need to learn to do is accept misfortunes and sad things that happen to us and learn to almost embrace them. And love the moments in between, when everything is good.

What this means is….Try and enjoy your life today, even with the shit that life has dealt you. I know it is not easy, with Brexit and all the rest, but just remember…Worse things happen at sea.