Sunday, 21 June 2020

Have you posted enough black squares?

I have not written for a while, but for a change, this time it is not because I have been too busy or been feeling lazy. I just really wanted to express what I thought about the current situation in the world, without coming across as a racist. Which I suspect, is virtually impossible in the current climate. 


Yet, when something bothers you, and your main channel for expressing your thoughts is your personal blog…you cannot simply bury it, and talk about something else. It doesn’t work. 


So I know it will not be easy, but I am going to try.


I was watching an old interview of Morgan Freeman. I always liked Morgan Freeman. What I would like to point out here is that I am not proudly claiming that I like Morgan Freeman because he is black


Because right now, in the way the media is, everything turned black all of a sudden. Every advert has a black person in it. Everyone who is anyone is urgently hugging a black friend and taking a photo of it. Every single celebrity is virtue-signaling. What a great expression. Every magazine seems to be shouting: Look! Look! We have put black people on the cover! Aren’t we so Woke! Please don’t dislike us, please keep following us!


Is so fake. It is so forced. It is done under such aggressive, relentless pressure. 


It makes me feel very uncomfortable, and the fact that I cannot even explain why, makes me even more uncomfortable. I feel that this forceful feeding the world with the anti-racist stuff is going to backfire, badly. I feel it is probably creating a deeper divide based on skin colour. 


Which brings me back to Morgan Freeman. I like Morgan Freeman not because he is black, or not. I like him because he is a good actor. I honestly don’t care what colour he is. And, as this interview demonstrates, he thinks the same way about race issues. 


How do we illuminate racism? He asks. Stop talking about it.


In this interview, the guy asked him how he felt about the Black History month.  Morgan Freeman replied that he thought it was ridiculous. Black history is American history, he says. You want to relegate my history to one month?


Do you have a white history month? He asked the interviewer. No, the guy replied. I am actually Jewish! 


Fine, Morgan said. Do you have a Jewish history month?


No, says the guy. We don’t. 


       -Do you want one? 

-      No. I don’t.

-      I don’t either.


Now, I appreciate that I don’t know enough about America. I never lived there. I of course know they had serious racism issues in the past, and I am sure some of it is still present. But I also suspect it is a lot better these days. Please watch this video, where people who do know, talk about it. In a much better way than I can. 


I also loved this Denzel Washington’s interview about Fences. The way he said things are better. “You and I are sitting in Four Seasons. Things are better.“ And the way he said…you can’t legislate love. You can change laws, but you can’t legislate people into loving you. 


And that’s just exactly what I feel is happening right now, as I watch all this sudden over the top focus on black people on social media. The more obviously they do it, the less believable it becomes. I don’t believe you are fighting for racial equality if you apologize for a movie filmed years ago, loudly support some idiots defacing a statue, or simply post a photo of a black model. I think you are just doing what you are pressured to do, or feel you would, in some way, benefit from doing. And those who are racist are not going to change because you are plastering more and more photos of black faces on social media. 


Now, I don’t have an answer how to get rid of racism entirely, because I actually believe humans will always dislike each other for one reason or another- whether it is religion, skin colour, economic status, white privilege…you name it. Some people will always find a reason to hate. My Jewish friend is convinced Jews are hated more than anyone else. What about Muslims? You think they don’t suffer from racism these days? I would be curious to see a worldwide anonymous poll on who is most hated right now. I am sure the data collected from such research would be quite fascinating. 


Of course I feel appalled that anyone- no matter what colour - could have died like Floyd did. It is awful.  However, I can’t help but notice that this whole huge uncontrollable wave of protests is slowly turning into something disturbing and worrying. 


The fact that the media who, as my other favorite celebrity, Tim Minchin pointed out, has a “penchant for hysteria”, has gone absolutely insane with the accusations of TV shows, books and people who may not have posted quite enough supporting images of BLM, is crazy. 


Emma Watson got criticized for not posting enough about black lives. 

And wait, also for making some esthetic changes to the black square. Not for posting something racist. Not for posting nothing against racism. Nope. She was chastised for not posting enough, and not doing it in the correct way


Is that normal? Is that the way to fight racism?


Friends didn’t have enough diversity in it? What the actual fuck. 


Which TV show will be next, I wonder. Desperate Housewives I seem to recall, is very white. What about Modern Family? Sex and The City? How far will we go? Oh and by the way, SATC has a whole storyline about reverse racism in it, where Samantha was not allowed to date a black guy because his sister didn’t approve. Based on her skin colour. I am surprised that episode hasn’t been erased from the series yet. 


You must be realizing that the world is turning into a crazy circus. Surely, some of you must feel that when the Vogue editor apologizes for not giving enough opportunities to black editors in the past, she is just saying it because she feels she has to be quick and say something before getting attacked, or sacked? 


How much of what people are in a hurry to announce now is based on a genuine desire to fight injustice? How much is done because people feel they have no other choice but put some picture on Instagram? Does that not bother you? Perhaps because I grew up in a Soviet Union, a country which was built on severe censorship, forcing people to say only what they were allowed and dictated to say, this situation really worries me? I wanted all my life to escape the Soviet structure and move to live in a free speech Western country, where I expected people to be able to express their opinions- popular or not. This, now, is not really the case. 


It is outrageous that people should be worried that they would be labeled racist and lose their jobs if they question whether Floyd should have been turned into a martyr he got turned into, and whether he really was such a "gentle giant".  

And the fact that we live in the society where you feel you might get in serious trouble for asking questions like that is by itself, I think, is a huge problem. I do not believe that by putting everyone under all that social media pressure you can get rid of racism. You are only going to make racists hide better, but hate deeper. More violence will come, and will be met with even more violence. Where does this stop?


And humor…Dear god, what is happening to our sense of humor? It is being smothered by the political correctness. I posted a Chris Rock video on Facebook. I knew I would be judged for it. But it was hilarious. Moreover, I think Chris Rock was being very clever in that video, shining light on some serious issues but in a humorous, smart way. But nope. Not one, and I repeat not one person liked it. 


Now, lets just be honest here. Did people not comment and not like it because they didn’t think it was funny? Were they truly appalled by it? Or did they not like it because they were afraid to be judged and attacked should they dare to laugh right now, when the world is so busy going absolutely crazy? 


Watching Faithless concert the other night on TV, I reminded myself what normal should look like. That band, with a cool black singer, with talented white and black people working and making great music together, that’s how things should be. Natural. Not forced. And mostly, they actually are. Lets not forget that in this mass hysteria.  Meghan Markle became a princess of England. Obama became a president. Of the United States. We don’t live in 1950s. And we don’t have to humiliate and abuse all policemen, including the ones in England, burn books, or be told what to post , what to watch or what to say to prove we are not racist. 

Thursday, 14 May 2020

The unexpected shapes of hope.

I was chatting with a girlfriend in NYC whom I had not really talked to properly for many years. But these days, of course, we both have free time for zoom calls.  You know, she said, I am having one of those low days. Is difficult to stay positive, isn’t it. Some days I feel our life will never get back to normal. 

I was thinking about it afterwards. Shit, I thought. Will it ever get back to normal? 

Nobody of course knows the answer, even though everyone has an opinion. Seriously though, doesn’t everyone have an opinion on the whole Corona subject? And how strong those opinions are! Corona has become another big divider in the society. As if we needed any more. 

Just like the Conservatives think Liberals are just naïve idiots; just like those who were against Brexit thought they were intellectually superior to everyone pro. Just like anti-vaxers are disliked by...well, the rest of the world... And just like with many other things we all categorically can never agree, or even imagine how it is physically possible to have some other crazy opinion on, COVID-19 has divided the whole world even further, into very distinct groups. 

It is incredibly frustrating to suddenly realize that your little cousin believes the virus doesn’t exist, and thinks you are paranoid; and your friends share videos that to you are so painfully obviously stupid and yeah, it hurts but you know people find their own ways to cope and you try, you honestly try your best and sometimes fail, to appreciate that perhaps, just like many other beliefs that might be alien to you…it is just a way for people to escape the reality. And you have to be kind. Or at least pretend. 

Because this reality kinda sucks, to be honest. And that’s the bottom line; whatever you believe in right now, whether you think the virus was man-made in a lab in CHI-NA! Or maybe you think it doesn’t exist at all, and doctors everywhere get paid to write any random geriatric death down as caused by COVID…whatever you believe or want to believe…it still sucks as let’s face it people will loose jobs, here and there… and summer holidays aren’t happening. And neither are brunches for a while. And I appreciate my personal priorities shining right through loud and clear in that sentence, but I don’t care. I miss the brunches! 

It is easy to feel shitty right now. People are getting fed up. My colleague and a friend was hinting the other day that they had just bought a table so big that, sitting in the garden for a drink, we would totally be socially distancing. And he is definitely old enough to know better. But I am seriously tempted, of course. We are all so, so bored. 

Flying and travel will never return to normal, another friend suggested to me the other day. "Of course it will!!!" I said optimistically, sounding dangerously like Trump. "Just like that!  Like magic! You will see! It will all be fine again!"

But really, inside, I was not so convinced. I also get days when I wonder just how long this will last, whether we will lose the jobs and have no money and won't see our elderly parents. 

But then, I remember what one of the consultants I am working on a project with said the other day during our virtual workshop. It was, surprisingly, the most positive, optimistic thought I have heard during this whole pandemic period; and it came from this unexpected source, during what was meant to be a very serious discussion. It was a small group of a few very intelligent, experienced people from various countries, all stuck in their homes, miles away from each other, trying to figure out what changes were to happen; and how things would affect us and our little project.  Everyone was super serious and super important on that call. I was taking notes, not saying much. 

"You know what?' this guy suddenly said. "The only time I can think of in my whole life when things were this scary and this uncertain and our future looked extremely bleak was when we first heard about AIDS".   (At this moment, the others on the call laughed politely but not too enthusiastically, probably expecting him to stop there, but he didn’t.) 

"I remember, he said, I was a teenager. And to me the future looked dreadful then. There was no hope. We all thought we would have to stay monogamous for the rest of our lives.  We would never have sex with strangers again. But guess what? That was not the case. Here I am in Netherlands….and everything is fine and back to normal. We have coffee shops and saunas and…"

Anyway, he said. I am just saying we all might feel things changed and are there to stay this way, and the damage to the society and economy is irreparable…but, just like with AIDS, life most probably will get back to normal. It might be a new normal, as some of the changes that got propelled into happening right now might actually work really well, and we may decide we might as well keep them this way…yet things will most probably get back to normal. 

Now, I know the guy is an unusual character, an architect and is an eccentric free spirit in Netherlands. I know he is not a professor specializing in viral infections. Yet, every time I feel down, I remind myself of that story and you know what? It really does cheer me up.

Yes, AIDS was scary and horrible, people died from it and still do…and guess what, it didn’t disappear and is still here, but we learned to live with it.  Life goes on and the saunas still open in some countries… and people are not that monogamous. 

So here is to hope. And to the weekend. 

Monday, 23 March 2020

Corona Part 2- The real problem

Media is funny. I sometimes wonder if it is all directed and controlled by one secret control centre somewhere.

Have you noticed with Corona? At first they were all writing that only old people die from it. And now, have you noticed? How many articles suddenly popping up about a little girl who is on the ventilator...and a random young person, only underlying conditions...and lots more? It is almost as if they panicked, all together, and thought shit, shit! No, we didn't mean to do this, sorry!

They were the ones who spread the 'only sick and old people die, don't worry guys!' news around and now, when they saw all those stupid students who just wanna party on their spring break because they don't give a shit about anyone else, media started backpedalling, frantically. They are so obviously trying to fix their own fuck-up.

They fucked up. because:

a) Majority of people are stupid. There are people who do stupid things because you know, they are ignorant and don't know any better. But, amazingly, there are people who do stupid things even though theoretically, technically, they should have certain amount of brains. They have degrees and jobs and make good money.

Today, I was reading a discussion on one group chat. One of the fathers suggested we "stay safe" and use sanitizer to clean equipment in their small kids' playground. Another parent responded with a suggestion that that particular disinfectant was not strong enough and suggested to mix it with bleach. Wait, said another one. Bleach is harmful for the kids! Lets use Dettol! And nobody, not one of those nice, friendly, educated, western expatriate parents thought for just one moment that it makes absolutely no difference which disinfectant they use, and how often... when all their small kids (who don't have much control over keeping a distance or touching their faces, or covering their sneezing) play on top of each other for hours, all in a group.

This is the bunch of people who worry whether security guards and gardeners are all "clean". As if Corona is not something that can affect our little bubble, our western community, as long as the labour and security get regular checks. How hard is it to understand that there is little point in social distancing and closing the schools, if you then bring all those small kids to play in a park all on top of each other? Dettol away at the every centimeter of that slide five times a day, but all it takes is for one of those kids to pick the virus up from their pilot or doctor parent ( just for example...) and cough and sneeze all over those lovely clean blond children. Isn't that obvious? Clearly, not.

b) People are selfish. Terribly selfish. I don't know why everyone is so surprised at all that panic buying, at the youngsters not caring about someone else dying as long as they are okay...and people continuing to socialize and go out while that smart media keeps trying to influence them not to. You know why all those articles about young people dying now appearing all over social media? Because that is our only hope to stop those idiots. You can remind them of sick people, you can beg them to think of their parents and grandparents...You can continue posting flattening curve diagrams...They don't really care. That's the problem this world is facing, not the actual virus. You can try and post all sorts of inspirational influential cards, but they will still do what they want. Unless you change your story, and try and convince them they themselves may be lying there gasping for air, dying without a bed in ICU. That may if not stop, then slow them down a little. But only this group, the selfish one. Not the one above, who are hopeless.

So what to do you say. Well, there is only one thing that is possible and needed- a total control. A total lockdown. Thats why I have hope for the countries where the government had the balls to say you know what, you can't resist going out so I will make you stay in. You don't like it? Tough. Stay at home, you stupid selfish wanker. And stop buying so much toilet paper.

That may just work.

Saturday, 14 March 2020

Corona- Not all of it is bad.

So...Poor Abu Dhabi still not getting its' turn in my blog.

I was going to write about it...and now this corona thing took over my attention completely, understandably.

So...Corona. Well, you already know everything there is to know about it. But I am going to tell you about this strange funny feeling I have from the situation. I cannot quite explain it, can't quite find the right is almost relaxing this not being able to control anything but washing my hands and not going out much.

It reminds me of the time when I was pregnant. You see, when you are pregnant, other things sort of step back and pregnancy takes over completely. You turn into this machine which cannot worry about some things, like for example exercising enough or whether you go on expensive holiday or not, and some other things in life; you just worry about your baby, and delivering it properly and safely.

So, this whole corona situation now is a little like that. You see, I had plans. I was going to Baku for a week, husband was not too pleased about that, as he would then have to stay with the kids over Easter.... Also, when it came to summer plans, we as a family could not quite decide or agree on where to go.  One child preferred England, another somewhere more exotic...I wanted to go everywhere... plus maybe Paris, as someone offered us a cool place to stay for free... all of a sudden, we no longer discussing summer vacation. We just don't know what will happen.

Suddenly, I can't have the big housewarming party I have been planning....and yes, I am disappointed but also relieved as I had 45 people on the invite list and it required a lot of careful planning and work, not to mention all that expensive booze!

My job announced that we could not travel or take any leave until further notice, so suddenly my dilemma when and whether to go to Baku is no longer a dilemma. I am not going anywhere at all.

My children, away from most of their friends and school, are forced to be nicer to each other and spend more time together. I caught them painting and playing Wii games together, something rarely seen in our house.

And I am learning to just relax. It isn't something that comes to me naturally.

I sit in my garden and watch the plants grow. There is action there, too. The other day I saw a falcon attempting to snatch some eggs away from a pigeon nest. That was pretty cool.

Today I had time to use three!!! face masks I had bought ages ago and didn't even remember I had them.

I have been to the gym more! And maybe will even finish some of those Netflix series we had started but never finished. Fck it, I might even start that book I have been promising to start for years. Might even get to finish it, depending on how badly corona gets me and when.

I am thinking of all those brunches I wasn't sure whether to go to, or save the money...Shopping... expenses...dinners....Imagine, I said to a friend the other day, I may end up saving money!! Something I could never master however hard (I thought) I tried.

Of course, I worry. I worry about my mother being alone there, in Baku. Especially since according to Azeri reports, they only have 15 cases so far.

I worry about my cardiovascular issue which, according to all the death percentage charts, is the ultimate winner.

But somehow is what it is, you know? It is completely out of my sterilized hands. I can't change anything, I can't make any plans other than trying to survive as long as possible, and I can't go anywhere. This uncertainty, bizarrely, can be quite relaxing. Until now, this couple I know has been agonizing whether it was safe enough for them to go on their planned holiday to Thailand. But not anymore! Now Thailand is out of the question for us from Qatar, so the stress of making that dangerous call has been removed from their lives. See what I mean?

Corona can also be used as a fantastic excuse. Anything you don't want to do you can excuse yourself from doing because of Corona. Don't fancy going for milk? Sorry, corona! Don't want to attend meeting? Corona! Don't want to invite someone for dinner, even though it has been your turn for like a year? Corona.

Even my teenager daughter tried it today when I asked her for a favor. Please, I said as I was already upstairs and about to jump in the shower after gym... please can you go to the gym and fetch my watch that I had left behind?
But mama, she said, I don't want to go! I don't want to get Corona!

Ha, I said. Nice try! Get off that butt and go get my watch NOW. I will decide what is safe and what is not, and I reckon, you can take that little risk.

So you isn't all that bad.

As this Russian joke said.... This time next year, you will be laughing at all this Corona craziness. Well, not all of you will.

Stay safe, guys. And remember to flatten than curve.

Sunday, 16 February 2020

Cute love story

I want to share a very cute love story with you. 

It filled my heart with emotion when I heard it. No, that’s not quite right. More than one simple emotion, in fact, but a whole bundle of them. Sadness mixed with joy, hope mixed with this sort of comprehension of cruelty of life

As it often happens on this blog, I was planning to write about my recent trip to Abu Dhabi. But, incidentally, I got distracted and decided I just have to write about this. Especially in light of the Valentine’ day. I know I am a little late, but still. Love is the theme of this month, not Abu Dhabi. Abu Dhabi can wait.

This is a story of an expat love. An expat love has additional complications, as if love wasn’t complicated enough. Few years ago, I watched as a young teenager couple was split up by the fact her family relocated from Qatar. The girl was heartbroken: she was leaving her first ever proper romance behind. But her mother was unphased by it. She will find lots more new boyfriends, she said. And, as she predicted, the girl didn’t wait long. Oh well, I thought as I saw her with a new beau on Facebook, she was too young for any serious relationship anyway. There is plenty of fish in the sea, right? We are not in Romeo and Juliet times, after all. 

Yet, it made me a little sad. How shallow are we? I thought, as I was listening to a divorced family friend going on about his many girlfriends. Why would I settle again? He said. I have too much fun now.

As you get older, you do, undoubtedly, see a lot of shit happen all around you, and of course, can’t help but become more cynical. Or more realistic, you can say. 

And then….this cute story happens. Another teenage couple was torn apart by his family having to move back home. The boy, I must add, is handsome. I am adding this to paint the whole picture properly, as these details matter. Not only is he handsome, he has always had this incredible coolness about him. You see, coolness is even more attractive than good looks. And the problem is, you cannot fake coolness. You can do many things about your appearance- work out, buy nicer clothes, change the shape of your nose. But coolness? Nuh. You are either born with it, or not.

This child….i saw him grow up. And he is cool as fuck.  I told his mother, a friend of mine, that he will one day become a rock star. So, imagine my thoughts when he was heartbroken leaving his first love in Doha. 

Don’t worry, I told his mother. In no time he will have all those local girls back home chasing him. And we are talking western world. A proper western world, where girls are a lot more active. Not a sheltered, well-behaved, over-protected bubble he lived in here. So imagine him, I told my friend, in a new school…. cool as he is, good looking as he is?... Good at sports and music? Come on. I give him a few weeks, no more! He will have forgotten all about his Doha girlfriend. 

Weeks past, then months. My friend texted me to say that the family was struggling with the costs of flights as the boy insisted to come back to Doha for Christmas. And now, he is back to Doha again on a school break. So amazing, I said to my friend. They are still together then? 

Guess what, my friend said, laughing. Recently, it was their anniversarySo, being so far apart, unable to control the world and parents’ jobs and circumstances, they ordered a pizza and ate it together- on Facetime. 

Oh my, I thought. Those guys are properly in love! 

And not only is that by itself, is a beautiful story. I also find the fact that the parents- on both sides, from different cultures and countries, are doing everything in their power to support those kids. They finance their holidays, they allow the visits, they understand their heartbreak. And I just love that. 

Whether we want to or not, our children will get influenced by usUp to a certain age, we are in control of their lives. And we try to teach them all we know: from manners to loving broccoli. And I would imagine that most of you will be pretty good at teaching your kids how to protect themselves. From bullies and jealous friends to strangers and the internet. But what about love? Would you, like these parents in my cute little Facetime pizza story, support your child or would you just dismiss their feelings, tell them there will be plenty more? Because, to me….this is where we create proper human beings. And this is where we teach them that, despite all the shit in the world, love does exist. 

Tuesday, 28 January 2020

8 Years

8 years, Facebook tells me. 8 years is scary long. 
As I was walking around the compound, getting some extra steps in, enjoying the weather, and chatting with my visiting mother, I noticed a young expat woman with a pushchair, by herself. Look, I said to my mom, that’s me 8 years ago, when we just moved to Doha. Walking around, pushing my baby in a pushchair, looking for all those friendly expats I had heard I was going to find. Finding only cats and maids instead. 
So much has since happened, so many things changed! Even the trees they had only just planted when we moved there, are suddenly very tall. 
And my baby girl is 8 years old. 
She doesn’t remember any other home but this villa, in this compound. She is excited about the move. She is choosing her new bedroom and planning new play dates.
And speaking of play dates…Husband is concerned. The new place has a bit of a party reputation. He was secretly hoping there would be a quieter life now that our compound group fell apart. 
As for me, I am torn between feeling excited and sentimental, at the same time. It feels weird moving to a new compound now, after spending all my Doha life in one place. As we looked back, Husband pointed out that this, in fact, was the longest we ever lived in one place. Wow, I thought. That’s true. How is that even possible.
You think of somewhere else as your home, somewhere else as your permanent place. And you think of your expat life as a small chapter of your life story. A temporary phase, which would soon pass. However, some of us end up staying longer than expected, and suddenly this temporary life here becomes your reality. I look back at families I met during these 8 years. Things I learned about other cultures and traditions, other marriages and relationships, other friendships. It is amazing, looking back, how much has happened, how much has changed here, in this temporary location that probably affected us all forever. 
In my mind, I compare expat experience to a war. It may be an unfair comparison, as life here, let’s be honest, is a lot less like a war than the real world back home. But, what I mean is….You know when you watch a film and the main character demonstrates some pretty shitty weird behaviour and blames it on the post-war trauma? Well, I think we, expats, are all like that. You think you can go back and fit right back in, but it just not that easy. You are now different. Changed and will never be the same, as someone said to me recently.  
I know I should not panic about moving to a new compound. First, it is a lovely house and the compound looks great. There are palm trees both in the back AND the front gardens. How about that?
Secondly, change is inevitable. It was always going to happen. And lastly, walking around our old compound without all the familiar faces feels wrong. Too many people left too suddenly, and not necessarily because they wanted to. Every corner has a story, behind every door there are too many memories. Every shortcut witnessed our kids grow up, cats run away, us walking back from all those parties. 
And so… it is time for a change. A small change for me, as my move is nowhere nearly as dramatic as some of my friends’ moves recently have been. And yet, it feels huge, somehow.
Goodbye, my first Doha home. Hope the young mother I saw earlier finds her friends here, just like I found mine.