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.

Thursday, 26 May 2016

About one burrito. And Soviet bananas. And happiness.

A few years ago, we were talking about a holiday that our friends had gone on with some other friends. 'They were disappointed', they said, laughing, 'as they just could not understand why every day had to be planned around where we were going for lunch and dinner!'

Ah, I said, next time you should go with us.

I don't ever underestimate the importance of food in my life. Food can make me happy. (and so can wine, but I will just focus on food for today...) But these days, with my obsession with getting fit, and trying to eat clean and healthy, low-carb food, I somehow forget how important it is to sometimes relax and just enjoy it- whatever you fancy eating at that moment in time.

Tuesday started badly. You see, the night before, because 5 years ago I had given birth to my wonderful baby girl, I decided that, despite it being a Monday night, I deserved to have a few drinks. I had to celebrate the whole nightmare  miracle of giving birth; as well as surviving the pool party with fifteen 5-year olds earlier that day.

So you imagine how painful Tuesday was, with waking up at 5:30 followed by school run and two hours of exercise classes. Being good, I had a protein shake straight after the weights class, as recommended. I then had two eggs. Still feeling pretty depressed, I thought I was going to cheer myself up with tofu crisps that my friend taught me how to make in the microwave. I had the whole pack of tofu. Some fruit. Some coffee. An awful lot of water. I could barely keep my eyes open. The day was dragging painfully slowly. At around 5:30pm my big girl was playing a flute solo at her summer recital at school.  I loved it, but in a melancholic way a very lethargic zombie would. 

' What’s for dinner? Husband whispered during a short break in the string concert performance, not much hope in his voice. He could see the state I was in.

Ha, I said. 'You probably did not expect this, but I have two nice sea breams that I am planning to bake with some vegetables'.

'OK', husband said, 'sounds good. But let’s take the kids to fast food place in Dar Salam (our local mall) as it will be pretty late by the time we are done here.'

Fast food.

Immediately, panic filled my brain. The fast food place to me in my then current state, suffering from hangover, exhausted from working out and still tasting tofu crisps in my mouth would be like a mug of steaming blood to a new vampire.

Of course, I thought to myself I did not have to eat. I could just feed the kids, and wait till we get home. And cook my healthy fish. 

On the way there, husband pointed out that my favourite Mexican place was, coincidentally, located just there, next to McDonald's. And that precise moment was the very moment my will power left me. I saw it go, I begged it to stay. But it just walked right out.

You have no idea, simply no idea what effect a burrito had on me that Tuesday evening. Have you ever seen sci-fi movies, where there is a robot, or an alien, or some other creature is lying there dead on the table; and then they pump some blue liquid in its veins and you can see it moving fast inside its body; and within seconds the eyes pop open? That was me.

Almost immediately I felt rejuvenated. Revived. Awake and so alive! And, most importantly, happy. Oh so deliriously happy! 'Nachos!' I growled, 'We need a plate of nachos, too! Now, now!!! '

Wow, I thought, looking around. Isn't life beautiful? Look at the crazy coloured pants on that woman's humongous arse! Hear that little spoilt brat driving his mother insane whining for a doughnut!  So much going on around me! So wonderful to be awake for it. 

Thinking about food and happiness, I also remembered the day my mother took me to Moscow. It was in the old Soviet times when we did not get any bananas in Baku. Difficult to imagine now, when bananas are everywhere. But in those days, we had to queue for a while to buy a couple of kilos of bananas. I came back to the hotel, and lay there on my bed, reading Sherlock Holmes novels, eating bananas. And you know what. I still think of that day as of one of the happiest days of my life.