Sunday, 22 March 2009

The joys of simple life?


My auntie, may she rest in peace, was a bit of a taker. Some people just are. And my auntie was pretty good at that.

One of the nicest memories I have from my teen years, is that we often visited a picturesque village up in mountains. That fortunate escape from the dusty and hot Baku summer was all due to my auntie’s networking skills. She established we were vaguely related to this hospitable family in a pretty mountain village just a few hours away, and the friendship blossomed.

Since my mother had a full-time job, I often tagged along with auntie’s kids and husband in their little Zaporojets.

Ismailli is a pretty little village. Azerbaijan has some stunning nature spots, if you are ever brave enough to leave the city and go past the old soviet oil pumps.

So every now and again we would pack our bags, squeeze into the Zaporojets, and drive for a few hours: up and up, along the breathtakingly narrow mountain roads, past cotton fields- for a few weeks of doing nothing, but eating plov dishes and enjoying the peace and quiet of a village life.

I have always been a city girl. Baku is not as big as some other capitals, but it is big enough. And trust me, when I say that the difference between villages and the city back there is a lot scarier than in the UK. For me, going to a village in Azerbaijan for the first time was a quite an experience.

Firstly, I did not speak a word of Azeri. Being a native Russian speaker, I was suddenly immersed in an environment where I simply could not ask for a spoon at the table, without checking with my auntie first: to make sure I remembered the word correctly. Any pathetic attempts of mine to communicate in Azeri were greeted with bursts of laughter from locals.

My experience of a culture clash started back then, as all 5 daughters of the house would rush across the yard to welcome us into their home. I found all that passionate kissing and embracing from someone I could not even remember names of quite disturbing.

After a week or so, when all the excitement died down, we would settle into a relaxing state of doing nothing but enjoying clean country air, eating plov and sipping hot chai.

I would get up early and sit on the cool steps outside, watching the chickens and the lady of the house. I could not help it, but feel a bit sorry for her. In my eyes she had a wasted and pointless existence. She represented everything I was afraid might happen to me, just because I was born an Azeri female. She was only about 38 then, but she looked 60. Her once pretty face was covered in deep wrinkles. She got up at 5 every morning to feed the cows, and the chickens. Every day. For years. She had never left the village to visit anywhere else, even Baku. And she had 5 children, which alone would drive me insane. Not to mention, that she probably married whoever she had been told to marry. I was wondering how she could ever be satisfied with what she had. I think I was about 16 then. I kept dreaming that one day I could visit Paris. So as I watched this little woman dragging a heavy bucket of cow’s milk, I was thinking- So… this is all there is or ever will be for her. She will most probably, never get a chance to see Paris. Can she honestly be happy knowing that?

On the last night in the village, we got invited to yet another plov dinner. Due to no other forms of entertainment, such as restaurants, cinemas or bars, people in the village kept visiting each other pretty much every night.

As usual, women just started cooking as we arrived, which meant a couple of hours of loitering and getting hungrier.

With nothing else to busy myself with, I went on a tour around the yard and the pretty rose garden. That’s when I saw a local guy working on something. I had not been introduced to him yet, but assumed him to be one of the sons in the house. He was in his early twenties. I had never even noticed village boys before. But I noticed this one. He was wearing plain cotton tracksuit bottoms and a vest. Such a typical local man outfit.

But….. as my husband likes to say in Russian….”Oy, mama”!

He looked pretty good. He had a handsome manly face, and his body was naturally sculpted by living and working outdoors. We exchanged a quick glance, and he nodded and smiled, white teeth flashing on his dark face.

So as I continued my aimless journey around the rose garden, I allowed my girlie imagination wander: What would it be like? To suddenly fall in love with this village boy, with his strong arms and honest face? What would it be like to get married to him, move to this quiet pretty village, and have his children? And sit on the ground next to other women, making tasty flat bread.
Get up in the morning, feed the cows. Go to bed at 8. Make love to my village boy, in a missionary position. Eat homegrown vegetables, and visit relatives every day. Simple, peaceful life with its simple joys.

What if that is what happiness is all about? So what if I never get to see Paris? So what there is a whole huge world out there? What if the answer to it all is in simplicity and ignorance? The less you know, the less you want from this life?

So I toyed with the idea, my mind playfully bouncing from one image to another, as we sat at the dinner table that summer night, surrounded by the smells of rice, meat and wild Lilac trees around us. Men at one end of the table, women and children-at the other. I felt contented and full of food. What else do I actually need in my life, I thought to myself. What’s wrong with just living it?

But…If only I could be satisfied that easily. So we said goodbyes and the next day we were heading back to the city. A place with cinemas and theaters, and universities, nice cars and no cows to feed at 5am. A place where goals and aspirations are so much higher. And you consider it obligatory to achieve those in order to feel happy.

Oh, and a few years after that, I got to see Paris.

10 comments:

  1. Congrats on your new blog. Looking forward to reading more.

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  2. First of all I wouldn't change many villages in Azerbaijan (not to mention the armenian invaded ones in Karabakh) to Paris or any other typical European cities, which have nothing to offer but soulless, pretty much similar, stony and cold buildings. But good luck with your good life and disgusting english or so husband. However, I would appreciate if you would not write about your useless and disgusting thoughts. Take your time and live your life in one of the useless, boring and meaningless English villages as a foriegn mother (why I don't understand.I don't consider you an Azerbaijani and I would appreciate if you don't identify yourself as Azerbaijani.
    Atilla

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  3. Your picture of Zaporozhets is too pretty and may convey the wrong impression on the western public :-)
    This one is closer to reality: http://www.flickr.com/photos/donincognito/2238499702/
    Closer still: http://www.flickr.com/photos/free_roamer_master/2543771483/
    And this is how they end up: http://www.flickr.com/photos/unutranyholas/14960393/

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  4. Your first idiot mail, you mean...

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  5. "He had a handsome manly face, and his body was naturally sculpted" [gag]

    Good thing you didn't marry an Azeri. He'd most probably be a bastard like the one above. On another note Azeri guys are UGLY and muscular figures suck. Thin, pale, malleable guys for the win (for me anyways)

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  6. @Anonymous: Yes, I am glad I did not. I am not the right kind of wife for them. However, to be fair, not everyone is like the guy above (I assume you are referring to Atilla, not Riyad, because Riyad is pretty cool) :) And trust me! There ARE some very very good-looking Azeri guys out there. Unfortunately, most of them left the country by now.
    So Edward Cullen is your type then? But he is quite "sculpted" too. So...Michael Jackson, perhaps? (RIP) :))?

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  7. Thanks! But to be fair, I can be a real bastard sometimes :-)

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  8. So Edward Cullen is your type then? But he is quite "sculpted" too. So...Michael Jackson, perhaps? (RIP) :))?

    LOL @the Michael Jackson (RIP) comment but if he wasn´t a plastic surgery freak, bodywise he´d TOTALLY be my type!

    I can´t give any examples of the top of my head but any pasty, skinny, medium height guy will do for me. Think of your typical geek in an American cheerleader teenage movie. Too bad they prefer Koreans! It´s hard being a Korean in an English woman´s body lol!

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  9. That's the kind of men my wife adores, but with long hair. They're called Bishonen, and many women develop a taste for Japanese anime and manga specifically because in those media, bishonen are the norm. One example is Fushigi Yugi's villain, Nakago:

    http://llanon3.tripod.com/fushigi_yuugi/Nakago13.jpg

    ...whom my younger sister dressed me up as:

    http://reocities.com/RodeoDrive/Outlet/2005/armour.html

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