Friday, 29 May 2009

Russian girls, a little bit of vodka and lovely food....

Tonight, husband is away. In-laws are visiting for the week, helping me to look after the toddler, so I could blog and occasionally go to work. They are watching Britain’s Got Talent. Really sad I know, but arguably, better than the Eurovision. And the sax guy is pretty cool.

So I organized to take some Russian girlfriends to the Azeri restaurant on Edgware road. This is what I like about London: You step into Southall and think you might be somewhere in India. Ealing is becoming more and more Polish. And once you are on Edgware road, you suddenly feel like you are somewhere in the Middle East. In fact, I felt peculiar walking there without at least a head scarf on. Even the beauty salons have Middle-Eastern-looking ladies smiling at you bashfully yet invitingly from every poster, their eyes covered in heavy black make-up.

The Azeri restaurant is modestly tucked on to the very end of the road. (Not the posh Marble Arch end, of course.) It has a very realistic statue of a fat and smiley Azeri chef at the front, and it looks like a dodgy café.

Making my way down the carpeted steps into the tiny basement, I suddenly thought that I had not warned my unaccustomed ex-Moscovite friends about the character of this place. About the fact that the ground floor is always dark and empty and everything is going on downstairs, in the basement. Or, that the toilet is just like you would find it in Baku, so please do not expect it to be spotless, with flowers and hand cream on the sink. Or, that the owner might be sporting tracksuit bottoms.

As I walked into the little basement, I took everything in at once: a scene straight from a Baku chaihana (tea house). A small group of very Azeri-looking guys stared at me blankly, Barcelona vs. Manchester United playing loudly on the TV screen. A very large and imposing man sat in the middle of the room shouting in Azeri on his mobile phone.

I panicked. It felt like I accidentally walked into this man’s living room, and would any second be told women were not allowed. My Russian friends will freak out, I thought. They will glance at this place from the outside and pretend they just happened to be walking past. My only comfort was the fact that the owner vaguely recognized me. At least, we will be safe, I thought, sitting down.

One by one though, the girls appeared. As the last one walked in (a pretty one, with hair down to her waist and a cool biker jacket on) the atmosphere changed. The Russian girls did not seem to have noticed, or cared about the Azeri male dominated atmosphere. Their uninhibited laughter filled the air.

The imposing man with the phone disappeared, and the group of young lads in the background sat quietly, watching the football. The food was delicious and the owner had proper trousers on, which pleased me immensely, and filled my heart with national pride. And the whole living room feel was actually quite cosy and homey in the end. Not your usual European style venue, but isn’t that the whole point?

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

One (unintentionally) racist Azeri Rottweiler

A friend stopped by for a coffee. I was, as usual, moaning. This time, about my lower back that was suddenly in pain. I told her I bet it was caused by the latest Pilates class I had started attending locally. It was just way too advanced for me, I said.
Who is the teacher? – My friend asked since she knew the field pretty well.
Describing the guy, I said I thought he was black.

You think? - She laughed- How is that possible? Surely, you must know if he is black or not!?

Oh, wow, I thought, very pleased with myself. This is it: I have reached the ultimate non-racist state of mind! My husband can be proud of me: I am officially purified and cleared of any racist Soviet influences, whatsoever.

Because, I hate to say this, but ex-Soviets can be pretty racist. Without even realizing that they are, as it is often the case.

In my Baku days, I don't remember meeting many black people. In fact, I met three: One at university, one at work, and one from the US embassy.

And that is my excuse for my racist Rottweiler. ( It had to be a Rottweiler, didn’t it? Poor thing. Talk of the prejudice and bigotry!) He had not met any coloured humans in his short life- not until he was placed in a very large box and flown in to London. Having had emerged out of the 6-months jail (yet another excuse for his behaviour) my dog would go berserk at every black person he saw. Fortunately, dogs are not humans. And it only took him a few weeks to realize it is not the colour of somebody’s skin he should be guarding me against.

And this morning, as if exclusively for this posting, my Russian colleague came over offering me a cup of tea.

- You take it black, right?- she asked me in Russian.
- Yes please- I answered
- Cherniy kak negr? (Black like a negr? )?- She asked happily, laughing away.

There is no easy way to describe the stunned silence in the office, as everyone was wondering if they really heard what they thought they heard. And I don’t think she understood what the problem was.

In Russian language, the word “negr” has always been, and still is, the official term for a black person. If you try to use the word black in Russia, they will most probably think you are talking about Azeries, Armenians or Georgians.

I had this debate with my parents, who kept using the word loudly in central London, and then argue with me that it was not an offensive term in Russian. Yes, I know it is not meant to be, despite the fact that it sounds dangerously similar to the very racist idiom in English. Meant or not, you might not have time to explain as your teeth get knocked out on London underground. The world has moved on, leaving Russia and its ex-Soviet brothers way behind on this one. And of course, America has moved on even further, so I will probably insult a few people because I used the word black.

A British friend of mine, of Chinese origin, was told off at work in the States, for using the word Oriental.

-Shhhh! You can not use this word anymore!- they hissed at her
-Eh? What am I to use then? I am Oriental! - She exclaimed

They told her she had to use the word Asian instead.

-But hold on, -she laughed- When we say Asian in UK, we mean Indian, not Chinese? That surely, will be confusing?

But such is the crazy, silly world we live in.

Sunday, 24 May 2009

Smile when your heart is...from Eastern Europe?

Tonight, husband is watching Wanted. Without Steven Seagal, but with Angelina Jolie. The breasts and lips are a lot more impressive, but other than that, similar stuff: lots of gun fire and fast cars and that’s about it. Afterwards, he will announce: “Wifey, that was two hours of my life I will never get back”

I was driving to the gym yesterday: shades on, sunshine outside, radio tuned in to my favourite channel... (XFM if you wish to know, only I am in mourning now that Alex Zane no longer presents the breakfast show)

According to a local mummy friend of mine, she pulled in a lay-by to give way to my car, and was frantically waving to get my attention.

“But you”-she mocked- “in your ignorant Russian style, did not even smile or wave!”

OK, I thought, never mind the Russian bit. I am used to being called a Russian or more often to be honest, a “mad Russian” by friends and other locals. I used to try to explain that:

a) No, I am not used to the cold winter because of where I am from,
b) No, we don’t have bears walking around the streets, and as a matter of fact, neither do the Russians.

But she made me think: I know precisely what she meant. I always recognize us, ex-soviets by this stern Eastern-European facial expression that a lot of us do indeed, have. I of course, can not speak for the whole Eastern Europe. But I have an idea why it happens to Azeri girls.

I have been trying to figure out how, after just two years or so of living in the UK, every time I went back, taxi drivers in Baku immediately saw me as a foreigner. (Funny, isn’t it? Foreign here; foreign back home. Basically, foreign everywhere)

I kept wondering what it was. And I think it comes from an overall body language, including facial expression. Western women are ready to smile. It can be a polite smile, a bored smile, or I –am- just- about- to- kill you smile. But they still smile, nevertheless. Bumped into each other’s shopping trolleys- smile away. Smile to waiters and shop assistants, bin men and joggers. Wave and smile to passing cars and adolescent girls on horses, who block the road and ride ever so bloody slowly.

So really, my life here requires some regular facial exercise. But it is not the skill I always had. In Baku women don’t usually smile to strangers. (Unless they escaped from a mental institution or stand leaning against lamp posts at night.)

If you are an Azeri woman and you smile to a strange man, you are probably loose, and deserve being treated accordingly. A friendly smile is an invitation for casual sex, as far as Azeri males are concerned. So if you are a decent and respectable girl, you can not smile to a taxi driver, or a shop assistant, or a waiter. In fact, the more rude and arrogant you appear, the more admiration you will get. (Unless you are ugly, of course:then nothing will help)

So, honestly: we are not being rude. It is simply, a form of defence mechanism we had to develop, to avoid being constantly harassed anywhere we went.

I think things are changing though. I saw some recent Azeri wedding photos, where brides were actually looking happy and smiling away, and even dancing.

PS You might be looking at my attempt to sketch some excited Azeri males, and thinking: “come on, scary azeri-those guys are gay!”

Well, no. Partially, it is my sketching: I tried to show one guy leaning over his mate in excitement about those passing hot chicks, not to get on top of his friend. However, a lot of traditional Azeri guys do have this very close body contact going on. Say, you see two Azeri guys in their early twenties walking along in Baku, arm-in-arm. You might assume, and I would not blame you, that they are a couple but really, they are straight. It can be confusing -you might think Azerbaijan is the most tolerant Muslim country in the world as far as homosexuality is concerned…. Eh, no. I doubt it. It is just that, for some bizarre cultural reason, Azeri males kiss each other, hug and walk around arm-in-arm but yet, it does not mean anything. So my sketch is actually pretty realistic, after all.

Thursday, 21 May 2009

A cupcake art story, or a sign or me turning into my father...

I noticed this week, that I am getting older. And I am not talking about wrinkles or getting tired more easily. It is the fact that I am showing first signs of dementia.

As I now have a beautifully decorated kitchen-diner….I decided I should purchase some sexy bits for it. You know, something to go on those lovely “cooking apple green” walls.
And it just so happens, that there is a lovely kitchenware shop right near my work.

For some bizarre reason, I thought some tiny oil paintings of cupcakes stretched on little square wooden frames were 50p. each. Nothing costs 50p. these days. Even in Baku. Especially in Baku! So what happened to my brain that I thought they could cost so little?

I did not like them, somewhat because I thought they were just too cheap. Having walked around and thought about it, I figured I liked them enough for 50 p each.
I rushed back in the shop, and I am just glad I looked at the price sign again. Of course they were not 50p, you silly cow! They were £50 each.

Thankfully, I checked before I said to the shop assistant that I would have “three of those, please”. How awfully embarrassing would that be! As an Azeri, I would have to remain unfazed by it, and pretend it was all cool when she said that would be 150 pounds, please. I would keep a straight face, smile and pass my card over. As if it were normal to pay 50 quid for a tiny wooden square with a stupid cupcake on it. Just because it was done by some trendy young artist, who probably bikes them in, wearing blue tights and a hand-knitted shapeless cardigan.

I walked out of the shop, still amazed how I could be such a moron.

And that’s when I realized, it must be my age. I must simply be getting old.
Because, this is precisely the kind of thing my father would do. The kind of thing that would make me cringe.

Once, about four years ago, when I was visiting Baku, my dad wanted to buy me a present. I had been looking for a nice ethnic rug then. ( Like a proper foreigner. When I lived in Baku I thought those rugs were too ethnic, and not western and modern enough.
Nowadays I kick myself for not having bought a huge lot like all my expat friends did. The rugs were cheap then, and the customs guys had not yet realized they could make decent money on stopping you taking them out of the country. )

So, one day dad called and excitedly announced that he found the perfect rug for me, and I had to come right away. He took me to one of the most expensive little shops in the old town where, in the dark and cool basement, a man rolled out a pretty rug. Which I knew, sadly, my father could not have afforded. I was getting nervous, however he appeared very confident.
"How much was it again?"- he asked casually, taking out Azeri manats.
“300”- said the shop owner, glancing suspiciously at my father’s money,- “Dollars” -he then added. My father was shocked. He thought the rug cost (those days) 5 times less than it really was being sold for.

I felt awful. It is one of those moments I wish I could go back in time and fix somehow, just to save my father’s grace. But I could not. It was a disaster. Personally, I did not give a damn about the shop owner and what he thought about us. But I knew my dad was not happy. He wanted to treat me, wanted to impress me with his skills of finding such a good deal. I was very frustrated for him, but also annoyed thinking: how on earth could he ever think that rug could cost 300 manats? How, at his age, could he be so naive? Because, my father is smart, and creative, and talented. But as it often happens to creative types, he is just not street wise, and lacks any common sense, whatsoever. Which is, sadly, a big problem if you are a male, and live in Azerbaijan.

And now, running away from the trendy kitchen shop, I was thinking of my dad…and the rug story. Was I turning into my father? I have lived here for so long, and I know how much things cost. I know what is in fashion (and silly cupcake pictures are totally in right now) and which shops over-charge you for just walking into them. So what the hell happened to me then? 50 pence…My a***!

Monday, 18 May 2009

Go tiger! or a story about a poorly-endowed suburban man on a Saturday afternoon

I am ashamed of myself. I can be such a cretin at times.

I am a mother, live in a respectable neighbourhood, and should behave. Plus, I am old enough to know better. And mostly, I do. But…a couple of weeks ago, I got in a road rage. (right in the middle of our posh commuter village)

Until then, I never got in a proper road rage before. Although, I came pretty close once, driving from work. Someone was very inpatient, and I...might have shown him a finger. However, what I did not anticipate is that the lights would change, and the car would stop. The door opened and out emerged a very tall, very dark guy with fantastic dreadlocks and in a black suit. (a pretty cool combination by the way)
He marched to my car, and I quickly pushed the safety lock button in (discreetly and elegantly leaning on it with my elbow, so that not to lose all my cool) whilst smiling my most idiotic smile.

You would have thought, that incident was enough to teach me a lesson about cars and fingers. Alas, Azeries are emotional drivers. (And I am not saying English drivers aren’t. In fact, I think these are the times Brits feel particularly brave: in their cars and on email)
So…a couple of weeks ago, coming back from an afternoon party nearby, I was driving very slowly. OK, some might say irritatingly slowly. However, in my defence, and what this guy in a car behind did not know, is that I was left in charge of three small children and platters of left-over food, as well as a few boxes of wine- all packed in my poor little car.
So I was determined to make it home without any of the precious cargo getting damaged.

As I drove down the narrow road to my house (approximately one mile), I saw some of the party group walking down and slowed down to wave to them. At which point, a probably otherwise very respectable and decent middle-class man got too annoyed with me and beeped loudly, while dangerously taking over. Of course, I should have not reacted. I know that. But this is where my easily ignited roots take over. I articulated and mouthed everything I thought about him, making sure he could lip-read me in his rear view mirror. I can only assume he did, because he stopped the car on the hill and walked over to shout at me.

Was I afraid? Nope.Was I embarrassed? Yes, very much so- afterwards. I was embarrassed I shouted so loudly the whole village probably heard me. I am embarrassed this man might one day turn out to be a quiet husband of some new local mummy friend. I am of course, embarrassed in front of the kids who witnessed my horrific transformation.

But, most of all I am embarrassed that I forgot to tell him about the size of his penis.
That night, as I was recounting the story to our friends, a girlfriend pointed out he probably had a very small penis.

Oh, damn- I thought. The penis, of course, the penis!!! How could I forget about his penis?? That famous old insult- how could I not have used it???!! How frustrating! Don’t you just hate it, when you think- in hindsight-what you should have done or said? Next time-watch out, you impatient undersized frustrated suburban ……..But I hereby promise…I shall remain cool next time. Cool and dignified. Like a proper lady.

Thursday, 14 May 2009

A Fish story, or about Russian cartoons

A friend made me cry today.

It is pretty pathetic, really and I should not confess to it, because things that make me cry these days (whatever caused such a change in personality: old age? hormones?) are pretty innocent and not at all depressing. By standards of normal people that is.

She sent me a Russian cartoon. Bloody Russians.

It is self-explanatory, so I will attach the link here for those interested.

I watched it. And it made me cry. A little.

It is a story of a girl who saw a scary old man catch a little fish and she tried to save it, but he took it away. Presumably, to make a nice hot uha (Russki fish soup).

I am not a vegetarian. Not only I enjoy eating fish, I also discovered a few years ago the joys of a boat fishing. That’s when I realized that I had a monstrous killer instinct deep inside me. And, on a glorious sunny day in the stunning Caribbean sea, the monster got released.
I hunted like a cavewoman, I pulled those poor little (By the way, mine were not that little- not that it was a competitive fishing, or anything…) creatures out, and then as we pulled to the beach, watched Francisco the boat owner cleaning and gutting them, making Ceviche….hmm… one of the best days out I ever had. So, apologies to my veggie friends but-no regrets, whatsoever!

I also discovered that my killer instinct is genetic when I took my mother on a (slightly less glamorous location) boat fishing trip up in North Wales. I had never anticipated how a respectable demure Azeri lady could turn into a barbaric hunter in a matter of seconds. Every time her fishing rod jerked and something got hooked on it, she shouted “Oop-paaaaa!!!!!” so loudly, I kept looking around expecting someone to appear with a straitjacket. Her pupils were dilated, hair all messed up and her hands red from the freezing mid-May Welsh wind: but she did not notice.

But today, watching this cartoon made me cry. And not just because the poor little fish got eaten by a scary old man. I just thought it was so beautiful. The falling snow…and the piano…There is just something about Russian cartoons. There is just something about Russians, really. The drama, the tragedy, the sadness, the soul… The country that produced Marina Tsvetaeva. What else is there to add?

Just make sure you don’t let your children watch this one.

Monday, 11 May 2009

Not-so-secret affairs, or proud Azeri males

A long, long time ago, I fancied a boy. He had the longest eyelashes I had ever seen and was sexy in the way Prince used to be (in his younger days) - slender and slightly feminine, but somehow, definitely not gay.

That by itself was not the problem.

The problem was that I also fancied his best friend.

The friend was very different, quite manly and strong. They were both attractive-in different ways. Eventually, after a few months of glances, flirt and innuendoes, I started going out with the boy no 2. However, this interest towards the first boy with long eye lashes did not just go away. That’s how, one day, a year later, we ended up in quite a complicated situation that almost led to me cheating on my boyfriend with his friend. So as you can imagine, not a good situation.
Fortunately, (for reasons that lie outside this posting) nothing happened then.

And now, many years after, I met the eyelashes boy for lunch, back in Baku. He looked pretty different now: older, wiser, with less hair. Of course, I myself looked pretty different too: older, larger, and definitely,wiser.

It was nice to catch up with the ghost from the past. We had a chat about life, our children and spouses. About his business in Baku, and about plans for future.

It was all very pleasant and civilized. A kind of chat I would be having in the UK. However, not quite. Knowing what Azeri men are like when it comes to relationships and married life, I asked him if he had a mistress. He has an expensive car, his own business, and he lives in Baku- a set of attributes that almost guarantee he has some naughty stories to tell.

But my old friend reassured me he was not a "typical Azeri".

He reminded me, that for a successful Baku businessman like himself, not cheating on his wife was almost embarrassing. His business partners and friends might think he is gay or an impotent. (or bring him a goat). So, for ten or so years of being in a happy marriage to a very pretty young lady, and having fathered a few children, he managed to remain faithful, he claimed. Despite many challenging situations he had to work hard to get out of.
As I chewed on my steak, nodding away, and contemplating whether to believe his story, he added casually, that he did, however, have an experience with a Chinese prostitute last time he was on a business trip.

So we ended up talking about Azeri men and cheating. Come on, he said- you surely don’t think only Azeri men cheat?!

I assured him I was not that naive. However, the difference is: where I live now, it is not a sort of thing married men casually chat about.

I tried to imagine two businessmen at a game of golf somewhere near us:

- Nice weather, isn’t it, Andy? (has to start somewhere, and English people famously discuss weather all the time)

- Yes pretty good, pretty good indeed… Let’s have another beer…

- Cheers… How did your trip to China go last month?

- Oh, great. The flight was good and the food was pretty decent… Had some time to do some sightseeing and oh, yes…had a prostitute visit me in my hotel room one night. It is good to be back home though.

- Oh, great, good for you. So what are you guys up to this weekend?

Hmm…No…Not working.

Of course, cheating happens everywhere. However, what amazes me is the ease with which some Azeri men brag about their “secret” affairs. The pride they take in it. What part of its complicated past made Azeri society so tolerant of the whole thing? Surely, it is not the strict Soviet days where every naughty husband, whether it was drinking or cheating he was guilty of, was facing an open shaming and firing procedure in front of everyone at work. And it can’t be the religious traditions that are not too keen of such behavior either.
So how come it is the norm for Azeri men to do (and then happily discuss!) something a lot of western men only fantasize about? Or, at the very least, bother to keep a secret?

I am pleased nothing serious happened with either of those boys from a long, long time ago. The one with long eye lashes thinks a Chinese prostitute does not quite qualify as a serious cheating, whereas the other one, unfortunately, died in a nasty car crash. I heard he was with his mistress at the time, while his heavily pregnant wife was waiting at home- just another typical story with a sad ending.

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Lifts, knives, walls and other precious things

I should go away more often. Every time husband is left alone something miraculous happens that makes him want to do nice things to the house. My husband, I have to explain, does not like DIY. Neither does he enjoy other typically suburban husband duties, such as mowing the lawn. So, what might be an enjoyable weekend task for some other local husband is in fact, a sign of emasculating humiliation when it comes to mine.

Thus, I appreciate that painting our dining room while my daughter and I were away in Baku was an act of heroism and pure love. All I had to do was to hint that,after six months of agony, patches of various shades of colour all over the walls, and endless discussions (with some girlfriends whom I consider to have a good taste) I finally decided on the colour (with this lovely name cooking apple green); and it really was the best time to have this work done, while the child was not around. He of course, told me to keep on dreaming. But when I came back, my dining room looked great.

The problem, however is that when my husband applies such hard work to something in the house, he expects me to handle the area with respect and care. Both concepts are pretty alien to an ex-Soviet.

Let me explain what that means.

Back in Baku, my mother still lives in the same flat I was born and grew up in. It is an old Soviet building, and everything in it is also old, including the lift. That particular lift has suffered years of some people either using it as a urinal, or breaking it with heavy furniture items. It makes a lot of grumbling noise when you ask it to move, and might not look pretty, but yet….it works.

What I am struggling to understand, is how come everything around me in this clean and pretty western country is so….precious and fragile.

Take the very same object- a lift. How come my mother’s lift still works, after years of abuse, but the brand new, beautiful and sleek elevator at my work keeps breaking every month? And when it does, we can not simply ask someone to come and fix the problem as there are contractual issues involved. It is a new building, and a new lift. We therefore, have to follow certain procedures in order to get our contractor to come back and fix this piece of crap. In the meantime, we email the staff asking them to be patient, (again) and continue using the stairs, while we are locked in the negotiations for months at a time.

And it is not just lifts that are a problem for someone like me in the UK.

I had to learn quite a lot. That I could not use the end of an expensive sharp kitchen knife as a tin opener. The fact that a knife is expensive does not mean it is as strong as Soviet knives of my childhood, which could be happily used as any tool we needed at a time.

That, if I used my Soviet brutal force, things would easily break in my hand. Like the interior “bits” of my car that I ripped off when they did not do what I wanted them to do fast enough.

So once again, even after many years of training, I did not see any danger coming when, having washed up a couple of pans in my newly decorated kitchen, I shook the excess water off. And a few drops went flying on the beautifully painted wall above the sink.
That, in my husband’s eyes, was a criminal offense and a sign of disrespect towards his hard work. But here is my problem: Where I come from, paint used to be cheap. And labour even cheaper. Knives cost pennies and were hard and durable. Lifts were meant to last for many years- and not just the duration of a contract. And I did not have to think about velocity and projection of water when I shook it off my hands.

That night we were having dinner with my visiting in-laws. Having had a couple of glasses of red wine, I got slightly animated in my storytelling. And, imagine my luck. As I waved my hand to emphasize some particularly exciting part of the story, I knocked my large glass of wine across the table, all over my father in law’s new fleece, and (of course!) the virgin clean, cooking apple green, wall.

I have to give my husband some credit. Considering how frustrating he found me flicking some water around, imagine what it must have felt like, to see that baby of his covered in red wine. Out of all possible evil things I could have done that night, including cheating and murder, this was definitely the most unforgivable. And yet, he managed fine. He even resisted telling me off.
The only thing he suggested was to keep the marks, and stick a post-it note near them with “3 days PP” written on it (i.e.. 3 days Post Painting)

-And the only way you managed to keep that wall clean for the whole 3 days- he added, looking pleased with his own joke - is because you were away for the first two of them.

Sunday, 3 May 2009

Not (at all) a funny subject or Baku shooting

Such a strange thing-chance. Or fate. Whichever you personally believe in. I had not visited Baku for two years, and just when I finally did, this weird shooting happened. I got up in the morning, and it was finally sunny and hot. Having canceled yet another massage appointment,( I tried to squeeze as many as possible in my visit, as they are still cheaper than in the UK) I grabbed my child and mother and headed to a nice hotel near the beach. Suddenly, my mobile went mad. Everyone I knew was calling to check I was not around the central 28th of May area, where some “terror act” just happened, they said.
What exactly happened?- I sighed, losing patience after about 3 phone calls: the weather was far too nice to worry about some distant shooting. Coming from this country, a one-off incident did not sound that scary to me: I was one stop away from the explosions on the underground a few years ago in London.

By lunchtime, I heard more and more stories on my mobile phone, and the taxi driver taking us back from the beach, was sharing details I was convinced were made up: The shooter might have been alone, but there could have been two of them. He was a professional, as he only shot the victims in either heads or necks. A mother lied dead with a child still holding her hand……

The next night- my last night in Baku- we went out for a meal with a bunch of relatives and friends. Everyone had their version of what happened. An old English friend of mine as usual, knows everything. He insists a war is coming, and he is convinced summer is the best time for it. Everyone who can leave should leave before August- he says. Get your mother out of here by summer. Right, I say….Right. Calm down.

But he says I have no clue. He says, I turned too British now, and lost touch with reality of that whole region. He on the other hand, lived there for too long, and is thinking like a local now. Everything that happens is a plot, and a sign. Everything has a hidden meaning.
And that basically, is the prevailing mood of the people back home. For years, I hear something terrible is about to happen. When I went back a few years ago, an Azeri driver I used to know from work warned me not to come back again.
It is nice that you miss home,- he said- but I am telling you: It will get really bad here.
Clearly, everyone is an expert in conspiracy theory.

Honestly? I personally have not got a clue. And that is precisely what I think is annoying: that nobody truly knows what happened, and probably never will.

I can easily imagine the guy was a nutter. (There are enough of those all over the world, just look at Atilla!) But I can just as easily buy into the theory that it was an evil move to destabilize the country, and get it into yet another damaging war, so that it could then be invaded, taken over and raped again. For the gas. For the oil. For the money. Just like it happened before, just like it can happen again.

And as I stared out of the car coming home on my last night, I watched buildings swim by in all their new glory and beauty. All the money pushed aggressively into my face from every sign: Dior… Valentino…D&G… expensive shops opening all over the place….all those flashy cars, lit up fountains and restaurants. Such a stunning facade. Such a shaky and vulnerable content inside. My poor, abused country. What is going to happen to you?

And then there are those families. Who probably don’t worry much about any war or future right now- for them, there isn’t much point of the future any longer. They spent years razing a child, probably bribed his way into that prestigious university….fed him breakfast in the morning, and made sure he had a clean shirt on…and suddenly, their world collapsed around them. Just because…well, who the hell knows because of what or whom. Does it even matter? We are all too insignificant and disposable in this game. And it could have been me lying on that asphalt that morning with my daughter holding on to my hand. Kismet. Fate. Or just a stupid chance.

But life goes on, and that night we were laughing and joking at the busy and loud Turkish café. And now I am back, in my English home, and my favorite wisteria is about to start blooming. Yet, my thoughts occasionally drift back to those families who lost their children that day. What a pointless and horrible waste.