Thursday, 26 February 2009

Back Home

I come from a strange country called Azerbaijan. It is a place where years of life under Soviet state resulted in a bizarre mixture of the Russian influence brewing in one pot with Muslim traditions.

It is funny how life can mess everything up in your head. As I was growing up, I hated a lot of things there. I hated the ever-horny local men pressing against me on local buses. If confronted, they would smile happily showing off their golden teeth and smelling like goats. Puddles of urine in apartment blocks. Smell of meat and sweat everywhere. I hated the dust and the wind, and the dirty bins my neighbour used to squeeze in the lift with. I hated my school and the teachers who did not teach anything but just asked for presents and bribes. All I wanted to do all my life is run away from there.

And of course! Typically…All I do these days is miss home. And the sea… So dirty these days, you might occasionally see a piece of wood floating and suddenly realize it is a turd. But still beautiful. Those rocks and waves… And so close to the city you could always get a cab and be there in less than 10 minutes. 

And the food…Oh, I miss the food. Sitting outside in those little cafes sipping chai from little traditional glass cups, waiting for the delicious shashliks to arrive. Tomatoes that actually taste like tomatoes. Stuff like that. I miss those old city streets with little rugs-selling shops, and the shade of trees and the music everywhere. I miss home.

It is such a confused place. It is sort of cute. On one hand, it used to be a part of the Soviet Union. On another, we lived in a Muslim republic where wearing a mini skirt was still frowned upon and considered risqué.

My then boyfriend’s mother did not like me because I wore jeans. One thing I had going for me in her eyes, was that that I did not pluck my eyebrows. Plucking one’s eyebrows was only meant to be happening after one is married. But considering that a lot of Azeri girls are so hairy that they end up with a uni-brow (in case you don’t know what it is is when your eye brows meet up in the middle and turn into one thick and hairy line over your nose) a lot of them dared to start plucking away quite early.

This first boyfriend of mine was of a pure blood. Blood was important back home, especially when marriages were concerned. We were evaluated like dogs- whether you were a pedigree was crucial. I never had a pure blood. On paper, I was a pure Azeri. In reality, I had bits of other bloods mixed in the pot.

It is a strange thing we have back home- all those different bloods and mixed blood people. Being Jewish is a totally different concept back home. I only learnt about it being referred to as a religion since I moved to the UK. Jews back home were well respected as clever people. Really, you hardly had to work hard at school. As long as you were a Jewish kid, you were straight away expected to be clever. I also always thought Jew was a nationality. Like being a Russian or an Azeri. Some kids at school were Jewish. It meant they belonged to generations of Jewish parents and grandparents, etc. However this carried no reference to their religion whatsoever.

Anyway, I always referred to myself as a “metiska”- a person of mixed bloods. That was a problem for my boyfriend's mother. Which worked out really well for me in the end. 

*You probably have no clue what Azerbaijan is either.Unless you heard of it while watching football, they always play against Wales. It is actually a country. I had to wait for ages in the Home Office when I was applying for my British passport. The woman behind glass window did not believe it was a real place and had to go into the back office somewhere to check.

I was 21 when I had my first serious boyfriend. I had another one at school but he never even was brave enough to kiss me.

The boyfriend had keys to a studio where his father, a famous artist in town, had been working some days. On the days father was not there, we spent long hours slowly progressing towards intimate relationship. I was worried he would not respect me. Respect equaled getting proposed to. Getting proposed to was the only way to tell you were respected enough. 

Looking back at that first serious relationship, I can not believe how many days we wasted discussing the levels of respect he had for me and our relationship. Instead of just enjoying being young and in love. Now, married and with children in suburbia, I look back and laugh at my concerns those days. But, as I said, it all worked out well in the end.