Sunday, 15 May 2016

About sexual harassment. When you are in your 40's

Teacher: Explain the word 'harassment', please
Student: I once dated a girl. Her-ass-meant a lot to me.

I have had a fascinating couple of days. Which made me think about harassment. And before I continue, I want to clarify. I am not talking about any sort of serious sexual harassment. I am talking about the kind that we girls ( ladies?) all experience at some point in our lives. You know, getting hit on, getting chatted up by strangers, that kind of harassment.

You have got to trust me when I tell you that, growing up in Baku, in my days, we girls had to learn about harassment pretty early, and fast.

There were some basic rules. Don't smile at strangers or they follow you home. Don't let any man stand behind you in a over-crowded bus. Ideally, don't take an over-crowded bus at all. Don't look at any strangers, don't make eye contact. Don't enter elevators with strangers. Learn how to say NO! many, many many times, over and over again. Azeri men are relentless, always horny and never give up hope. Even when they look like apes. Especially, if they look like apes, I guess.

It was everywhere, and I meant everywhere. Being a young girl in Baku was stressful. Not only did you get harassed on the street, in a bus or by a taxi driver, I once had to change a dentist. Which was a shame, as finding a good dentist in Baku those days was hugely problematic, and this guy was great. Until he decided to put his hand on my thigh and ask seductively how my day was. To which I had to get up and leave, saying 'well, it was pretty good until now, asshole'.

Sadly, my maths teacher in high school- isn't life cruel and unfair??- never made any attempt to harass me. And oh, how I would have loved him to! Now, many years later, he found me on Facebook and sent a few flirty messages. Dude! I wanted to tell him….That train left your station about 20 years ago.  Isn't it ironic, as Alanis Morissette would point out.

Generally, I always managed OK and only had two properly unpleasant moments when I had to hit someone to send the message. Once with an elbow in the stomach,  and once with…hmm…a badminton racket. Which I strongly recommend, by the way, as a weapon. It works really well swung backwards, with the wooden edge across the face, should someone approach you and try to grab you from behind, uninvited.

Now, in my respectable middle age, I look back at what I thought was a peaceful childhood and teenage years and think wait a moment! That was kind of nasty, really.

So, as you probably imagine, I am well equipped by my what I thought was quite a sheltered growing up experience, to handle any basic form or harassment. And, isn't it ironic, how different your reaction is to people hitting on you when you are hmm…middle aged, as opposed to very young?

I used to be terrified when a stranger approached me and tried to chat me up! Terrified. Repulsed. Disturbed at the very least. Nowadays, I just find it hilarious.

At a big drunken expats party last weekend, a stranger tried to approach me. OMG, he said, are you real? You are too beautiful to be real! See what I mean? Hilarious.

And today, I had a funny episode with three local youths in an elevator. And I thought, oh wow. How cute are you? Babies. Just babies.

At first, I did not even realize they were addressing me, as one of them said "Hello! How are you?" But, nobody was actually looking at me. All three of them were staring intently into their mobile phones. I glanced up and thought I must have misheard and looked into my own phone-I had to look somewhere, too. It was a very small space with three young guys in thobes and myself.

'Excuse me?...' the other one suddenly said as his friends giggled nervously. 'Are you a student? '

Ha, I thought. That filler was money well spent after all.

We were in a lift of a medical centre, so perhaps he thought I was a student, which by the look of them, they might have been themselves. 'No', I said, laughing.
-Are you a teacher then?
-No, I said, getting bored.
-What are you???

What am I? I chose the easiest answer. 'I am a wife.' I said.

'You married?!!!!'! The braver youth slapped himself on the thighs in comic disappointment and addressed the skies: 'Ya Allah!'

And we all laughed, as the doors of the elevator opened and we walked out, in different directions.

Bless them, I thought. How different was that, compared to my young days when Azeri guys would try to make a pass at me. Is it simply my older age that makes me see these attempts as funny and not threatening or particularly offensive? Do these local guys, with their polite, funny, clumsy attempts at flirting appear so innocent to me because I am older and wiser now? Or are they indeed just much more polite than Azeri youths used to be in my days?

I guess, I will never know.

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Singapore travel report.

I decided recently that I am becoming wiser. This, of course, is one of my many delusions, but I would like to think that it were possible.

You see, I suddenly resized that I started to prefer experiences to possessions. That, my friends, to an Azeri, is a huge, huge developmental step. As Azeri, I have been preconditioned to love (preferably expensive) things.

So anyway, instead of buying stuff, I told husband we should maybe go away more. And so, we went to visit good friends in Singapore over Easter.

I could go on about this trip forever. You see, when we went there first time, seven years ago, we were coming from the UK. And yes, of course it was great, and everything, but I was not seeing things like I saw them now. From our first visit, I could summarize my overall impression in two simple points:

  1.       The most amazing, fantastic, tastiest ever food. Everywhere.
  2.       The Zoo.

However, now, seven years later, everything was surprisingly different.

First of all, before I go into anything else, of course, was the green. Singapore is so wonderfully green! I loved, loved, loved the plants. And, in contrast to Doha, there was very little beige colour around. 

As for the rest…

We were extremely lucky. It helps when you are visiting someone who is local and our friends were able to show us things I am sure not every tourist gets to see when coming to Singapore. And those special, very local things were, of course, the most fascinating.

Like visiting my friend’s auntie’s house. The house that pretty much remained as it has always been, she said. Getting served a fruity drink (ch'ng t'ng) that reminded me a lot of the Russian kompot I used to drink as a child. And a stripy cake (Kueh Lapis). Looking at all the old family photographs, furniture and exotic trees in the garden was just…well, lovely. 

Or, one morning, we went to Petwalk in a Serangoon HDB estate for breakfast. It is a very simple, outdoors venue with local vendors serving standard cheap, delicious foods. In the midst of it, there were men, of various ages, mainly older, sitting around, socializing. They were there with their birds. The whole concept of men who are so into their birds that they spend hours sitting around discussing them was just alien to me. May I clarify that I am not talking about 'birds' as in girlfriends or wives. I am talking about real birds. Like, you know, canaries.

I got utterly bemused by this scene. There were possibly about thirty little wooden cages with small birds in them, hanging on hooks, off the wooden structure above, every hook with a number attached to it.

Why are they just sitting there with those birds? I asked and was told they bring them there to socialize and compete. Occasionally, an old man would walk up to a random cage, take it off its hook and hang up elsewhere. 

The whole process was so unusual that I could not stop watching it.

Socialize? I laughed.

'You know', our friend explained to me, 'they sit there, chat away…check out other birds in other cages, see who they might fancy…'

Yes, I said, but they can only see other birds but can’t actually, you know, get to know them closer? That’s a bit sad, isn’t it? For the birds?

Well, the friend said philosophically.- Isn’t it a metaphor for life? You live in your (mental) cage and fancy a bird in another cage?

Right, well…I thought, that's kind of deep, and a bit depressing for an early morning. Yet, you might say, it added a different, ancient Eastern wisdom dimension to this wonderfully weird custom. 

Singapore also had some impressive, awesome modern stuff. You know me, I am not that easily impressed. But this one particular arts exhibition…Was just superb, and by far the best exhibition I have ever been to in my life.  Combining art with science, turning your coloured picture into a 3D moving object on the big screen on the wall…It was all like stepping into the future. I mean just wow.

And of course, the Zoo, the Night Zoo, the Universal studios, and the S.E.A. aquarium…and amazing amazing restaurants, cocktail bars….

I thought I loved Singapore first time, but now? Now I fell in love with it, again, more so than before, on a whole different level. 

Finally, I learnt how to speak like a local. First of all, you have to add la at the end of everything. Second of all, those guys have this word basket. Which I presume, originates from a bastard? Or perhaps, not. Perhaps it is just my imagination. The beauty of it is that you can use it in every situation in life. 

Check it out:

Watch where you going, basket! 


How many times did I tell you, la!!! You are such a basket!

I am totally borrowing this word, la. 

Anyhow. This was my travel blog on Singapore. Hope you enjoyed it. 

Here are a few pictures. 



Sunday, 28 February 2016

About therapeutic qualities of Facebook.Yes, for real.

There are days when I simply love Facebook.

I know people often complain, and there have been numerous articles on the subject, about how unhappy they become from witnessing other people’s online happiness. Their glamorous dresses, their new cars, their paradise beach photos with bare toes and cocktails in front of endless white sands and turquoise blue seas…

However, there also are occasions when Facebook can make you feel better about yourself.

Like the other day. 

I saw a few photos posted by some guy I (barely) knew years ago. One of those Facebook friends who wasn’t really your friend in real life, you know. He was on holiday somewhere pretty. The whole thing looked perfect. The sea water was turquoise. The mountains in the background were green. The sand was white. Beach. Cocktails. You know, the whole lot.

I saw a photo of him with his very young children and thought he looked well. I knew the guy was roughly my age. The kids looked cute. And then, in another photo, I saw a picture of an older lady kissing one of his children. How nice, I thought. That’s sweet.  He obviously took his mother on holiday. A proud thought crossed my mind, along the lines of Azeris looking after their parents, taking them on expensive holidays, and all that.

There were a few other photos, with the old lady alone with the kids…and then suddenly, there was the last photo that looked a bit….strange. The guy was standing in the middle, kids on each side, with his arm wrapped around his mother’s waist. Proudly.

Wait a moment, I thought. Something is wrong here. This is a bit strange, even for an Azeri family. This is perhaps slightly, you know, incestuous.

And then, and I swear to you only then, it hit me. It was not his mother. It was his wife.

I checked and double-checked. I looked at his profile.

Yep, wife.

Bloody Nora! As my father in law would say.

Turquoise sea water….Beautiful beach…and a wife that looks like your mother.

I thought it would be a good idea to make an A1 size print of this photo and hang it on my wall. Maybe in the bathroom, where I stumble into in the morning feeling depressed  about the dark circles under my eyes and that aging face…Just at that precise moment all I need to do is glance at this photo, and it surely will put things into perspective.  It might be a better idea to have a few copies.  And when the visitors ask me why I have a large portrait of some strangers on my wall, I will just smile and tell them that those people mean a lot to me.

I am sorry that I cannot share those photos here, with all of you, so that you could benefit from them too. Could be wonderfully therapeutic for some of you. 

So what is the bottom line of this, you might ask. Besides me being a bitch, of course.
Well…The guy looked so happy in those photos. I mean, maybe he truly is. Maybe, as my husband would point out, she is a wonderful person and the guy loves her a lot. OK. I will try and believe that. Yet, it made me think about what we see on Facebook verses real life.  And it made me think of all those people I know who looked so blissfully happy on Facebook. Or rich. Or beautiful. Or just perfect in all those ways. It made me think of the roses and hearts and bunnies and white kittens…and the reality that was often so different. So really, if you do get upset by or jealous of something you have seen on Facebook, just remember…Most of it is just a pretty facade. You know, a bit like those buildings in Baku that are all cleaned up on the outside, but falling apart inside, with the lifts that stink of urine. 

Friday, 5 February 2016

Let him play that golf.

My friend was telling me about her late father. How much she missed him and what an amazing person he was. You know, she said, I will tell you this one short story about him, which would paint you the picture straight away. And it did. I knew immediately what she was talking about.

Look, she said, one night we had guests over at our house and one visitor accidentally dropped and broke a beautiful expensive crystal glass.
The guest was devastated, but my friend’s father picked up another glass: ‘What, this piece of junk? Is this what you are upset about?!’ And he chucked the second glass on the floor.

‘Every time I tell this story’, my friend said, ‘it gives me goose bumps. That’s what kind of person my father was. ‘

I know, I said. And I told her about my grandfather.

My grandfather was quite a famous actor and an opera singer in the old Soviet Baku. One night my mother, then a little girl, was woken up by a loud music and singing. A whole large group of Romani, or gypsies were in our 5th floor city apartment. After the play, at 2am in the morning, my grandfather showed up at home with a whole performing troupe of the Romani. The next morning my mother remembers having nothing to eat in the house, as everything was eaten and drunk with the gypsies.

Yes, my friend concluded. Those men like our grandfathers…that generation…They don’t make them like that anymore.

OK, I thought. Let’s be honest here, for a change. Aren’t we, the women, to blame somewhat for what is happening to our males?

I thought about the glasses story and how any of my married girlfriends would probably react, should their husbands decide to demonstrate the endless generosity of theirs by smashing our favourite expensive wine glasses. They, we, would go mental! Modern men simply can’t win this game. It is not possible.

We want them to be generous, yet we want them to be sensible. We want them to do crazy things for us, for love…yet we want them to protect our children and their future.

So we face a cataclysmic paradox here, girls. When single, we have certain expectations of our dates, and we often get attracted to men who are, in our eyes, are capable of all those things we get turned on by: passion, craziness for us, silly romantic gestures, etc etc. But then, we get married and suddenly, we don’t want them smashing our wine glasses and feeding a whole dancing troupe of Gypsies all the food our children were going to be fed for the next few days. Our expectations suddenly become very different. And so we try and change those men. Change all those traits we had once fallen in love with. We try and manage their craziness we used to think was charming. We, girls who were so impressed once before with careless romantic gestures, beat all that shit right out of our males. We stomp all over their passionate personalities, the personalities we had once found irresistible, to turn them into sensible providers. A friend of mine was telling me how impressed she was with someone we both knew who would not let her husband keep any of his salary. She is in charge of family finances, she decides what and when gets purchased.  Really? I thought…Really?  Is this what you think should happen? Is this what you think a prince from fairy tale would dream about when he proposed to his fucking Cinderella…(let alone Christian Gray if that’s your fantasy male)? Vanilla sex twice a month and his salary controlled?

Another friend of mine was pleased to announce that her husband, always a very keen golfer, finally realised that playing golf every weekend was not great for the family. He had to spend more time with the children and her, she said. So he gave up his favourite hobby. Great job. You just cut off a chunk of your man’s soul, as well as his balls. Well done, girlfriend. You obviously don’t need any of those anymore.

So what happens then? What happens to all those husbands we have so successfully pussy whipped for years?

Well, it is pretty predictable isn’t it. They either turn into pathetic, lethargic, fat sad bastards, growing ugly stupid beards to at least appear masculine, sitting on  sofas watching TV with empty eyes, dead inside…or they rebel. In many different ways, none of which you would appreciate.

So, maybe, and I am just wondering here..Maybe it is not that ‘they don’t make them like that’ anymore. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that we try and work hard to re-make them into something we think we need, something the society expects, something that, at some point will become breathing, functioning, emotionless robots that we, ourselves, one day will suddenly find…boring.

You might be one of those women who always wanted a sensible, predictable, secure man to pay your bills. And that is OK. However, if at some point in your life you were attracted to something else in him, even if it does not seem very sensible right now… Please, please! allow him to retain at least a little bit of his craziness. Not just for him, but for you, too. I admire my friend’s father and his gesture with the wine glasses. And I love the Gypsies story my mother told me. And I do think they make them like that these days, too. Only we, women, must try and not destroy it all entirely with our primal need for security and predictability. Please, please, please…let him play that fucking golf.

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Playing the game.

A while ago, I was meeting an English friend for coffee. I mean, it was, very possibly, sometime in the beginning of October. We were chatting about plans for winter, plans for Christmas, whether we were staying in Doha or going home, when I asked her if she had finished her Christmas shopping already.

Well, yes, I am almost done, T responded and I chocked on my drink.
I was, naturally, being sarcastic. But I should have known. T is extremely organised.

Now, we are at the end of November. And, do I even need to say that I have not started any Christmas shopping yet?

But, in my defense…

There are a few excuses I can choose from.

First of all, just like with pretty much everything else, I have to be in the mood.  And how do you try and get in the Christmas mood in the Middle East?

We spent last two Christmases in Doha. I was a bit unsure at first. Every single Christmas ever since I’d got married, we spent in my in-laws house, where everything was prepared, cooked and decorated; and I just had to show up and enjoy. (Not bad, eh?) What if I could not re-create the proper atmosphere for my kids here, in sunny Doha?

I did my best. I made sure I decorated the house as well as I could. From an American friend, I picked up a hint on how to brine and roast a very tasty turkey, from an Irish one-how to cook a fantastic ham a la Nigella Lawson; and from an Italian one I got a fabulous Tiramisu recipe. My big girl sang in a choir and we attended a tree lightning ceremony in a hotel, and the Carols singing in the British embassy, with mulled wine and mince pies…It was all great. Yet , it just did not feel like proper Christmas to me. All my attempts seemed a little unnatural. Just like those of the local shops right now, with their snow flakes and winter coats in the window displays, trying to convince us all it is winter outside. But then (and this is my second excuse…) I reminded myself that I am, after all, not from the country that celebrates Christmas. Maybe that is why it feels like I am just playing the game.

I was listening to a Russian song this morning, for a change. The rainy morning made me a bit nostalgic so I put it on. It was Zemfira’s Don’t let go.
And I thought, as I sang along, that the melody was very Russian.

‘Listen, I just realised something important’, I told my friend afterwards. 'I don’t think I am Azeri?! OK, I am technically Azeri, but really, deep inside, culturally, I am probably Russian.'

She laughed. ‘If I did not know you better’, she said, ‘I would have thought you were constantly on dope, the stuff you come up with!’ But she knew what I was on about. She pointed out that, compared to real Russians, I was not Russian.

The truth is, of course, is that I am an odd product of a bizarre, complicated cocktail of cultures mixed up in the pre and post Soviet eras, that leaves me unclear about what I am. And removes, in huge chunks, the sense of belonging anywhere in particular.

Do you not think though, I asked my friend, that people like us, you and me, who don’t quite belong to their own culture for various reasons, are more adaptable to other cultures? Are we more flexible, because of that? Is that why we find it easy to live abroad, in places that are very different to our homes, like Qatar? And not constantly moan and whine about it like many other expats we know? Is this why we marry into completely different cultures, and adapt easily, raising our children celebrating Christmas, brining Turkeys and filling stockings when we were never brought up to do it?

So really, it isn't that bad. And I don’t really mind not belonging anywhere properly. But, this year, I decided to take my children back to the UK for Christmas. Back to their roots. Back to their country. Where the air is chilly and fresh and filled with the smells of wood burning stoves, real pine and the holiday anticipation. Let me try and give them that sense of belonging that I don't have; and what they choose to do with it later on in life is up to them. But at least, I played the game.

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

The autumn of your life.

I was trying new shorts on the other day, getting ready for a party. Is this too much? I asked Husband, concerned about that balance. He said that they were fine. But do I not look stupid? I had to check. Do I not look like a cheap whore?

‘I have to say’…Husband announced the next morning, ‘that you were probably the only non-mumsy wife at that party!’

Right, so the shorts are definitely OK, I thought. In fact, had he said I looked a bit like a whore it would have still been better than him saying I looked mumsy.

Not that I am trying to look like a cheap whore. It really is all about that balance. I guess it has always been, but as we, women, grow older, it is becoming more and more important and difficult at the same time.

How do you age gracefully? Can you age gracefully with a bit of botox, or is that cheating? Can you wear short skirts (or white lacy shorts…) when you are officially middle-aged?

There is something sad about an ageing woman. However great she looks, however happy she is in her life and what she has achieved, however great of a mother, a professional or a wife she might be…There is still this underlying hint of sadness that comes with the transition to the old age.

I look at many photos of women of my age on Facebook, and see just how amazing they look. In bikinis, sporting long tanned legs, they pose proudly- look how fantastic I still am! At Halloween parties, jumping to the opportunity to dress up as a sexy nurse…And yet, in their smiles, in their eyes, I can see the panic. The desperation. The fear. The desire to prove to everyone else, including themselves, that they are still beautiful, that they’ve still got it. And let’s be honest, I am one of them. I work hard to look the best I can, and when I think the picture is a good one, why not?  It is very, very tempting.

But then, a sneaky thought crawls into my mind every now and again. How do we know? How do we know at which point, while still believing we look great, we in fact, long ago started to look ridiculous? And how do I protect myself from becoming that pathetic older woman, a mutton dressed (and acting) as lamb?

But hey…wait a minute. Hold on, hold on! Before I reach in my wardrobe for one of those suburban mumsy dresses I used to wear in my post-baby Stepford wife era, let me introduce you to my hippy rock chic girlfriend, who, at the age of 51 is properly, naturally, effortlessly cool. 

Look at her here, in this picture, singing on the stage somewhere in a boho club in London. ( She is the one on the left.) Look at her! 
She could, of course, say to herself perhaps, it is time to dress differently…Perhaps, it is the time to act more appropriately for her age? But, looking like she does, with the cool attitude that she has…does she even have to worry about all that? Don't think so.

And now, that Monicca Belucci is a Bond girl ( or Bond woman as she corrected), I feel it is time to say to those of my girlfriends who gave up too soon on their looks, on their bodies, on their attitude…Come on! Stop it. Throw away those huge white mumsy nickers, big enough to cover a Land Cruiser, work out, eat less, get some fake boobs or botox, if you have to, do whatever you think would make you feel better about yourself, and be OK with your age. Be OK with ageing (gracefully or not) and enjoy the last few years of what life has to offer. Before we completely and utterly retire. Enjoy the autumn of your life. Because every stage, every episode is beautiful, in its own unique way. And life is too short to worry about others judging you. Let them judge. While secretly envying your freedom. But, just remember…it is still about that balance.