Monday, 29 June 2009

Severing my Azeri dæmon


Tonight, husband is watching Glastonbury music festival. Respect.


I have a new resolution. I have decided, looking at my credit card bills, that I must stop being so Azeri.

Despite what some more traditional Azeries might tell you, there actually are many things that are very Azeri about me. Some of them I manage to hide well, some I get away with. Some I am even proud of. But there is one thing that I must (absolutely must!!!) get rid of.

Husband is getting increasingly annoyed about bailing me out. He probably finds it even more annoying considering he wants to spend every penny he has left after the mortgage payments, endless taxes and everything else on his new business idea-becoming an off-road competition buggies manufacturer. He is telling me he will start selling them shortly (as soon as the recession is over, I guess) and make me rich.

In the meantime, between husband’s middle-age madness (or a genius business plan- who knows?) and my Azeri habits my credit card bills are not looking too healthy. And before you assume I keep buying myself expensive things, let me explain. I tend to spend a lot on other people.

It is like some mental disorder.

I already mentioned something about Azeries being wasteful with money before. And about our genetic need to show off. And about wanting to appear generous and better off than we really are. But since this is something that I am focusing on right now, I will risk this gentle reminder.

OK, so here is a situation. We got invited to our good friend’s birthday lunch last weekend. Husband thinks we don’t have to take a present: a bottle of nice wine would be enough, he says. After a few minutes of my meaningful look, he goes to the shops and returns with a book.

It is very English and very elegant- to buy someone a book. Sometime ago, I would have argued that it was embarrassing and unacceptable- because it only cost £9.99.
I don’t care if it is a great story (which it was: one of my favourite books this year). I would have not accepted my husband’s explanation that I am “not Mrs Abramovich” and that this friend “would appreciate the gesture, not the price of the present

I would have insisted we must buy something more substantial.

But not the new me! I have now given myself a promise and I am going to work on it.
No, Scary- I told myself,- You do not have to go overboard just because you feel thankful you have been invited to a birthday party. Or because this is one of your very few good friends who is actually in this country. Be cool. Be British about it. I feel the pain as I am severing my Azeri dæmon though.

Another important thing I must remind myself all the time that it is not a competition.
And when we show up with our elegant and sophisticated symbolic present, I must not get depressed that the other couple brought him an Armani tie.

Or when my good friend has a new baby, and I buy her a lovely soft toy, I must not feel like I failed when our more successful girlfriend pulls out a gorgeous bespoke keepsake box.

But it is all about the mentality, isn’t it. I was shocked when my Irish girlfriend was telling me how annoyed she got with her sister.

-She bought such expensive Christmas gifts for our nephews and nieces!- she said, clearly outraged.

I did not get it. What can she possibly get annoyed about? The sister loved her nephews, had a good job, was single and wanted to spend her money on buying them nice gifts. I even felt sad I was the only child and my daughter did not have generous and loving aunties like that.

-But their parents can not afford such presents- my friend explained - how do you think it made them feel??

Oh?...-I thought.
Oh…-said my dæmon.

Saturday, 27 June 2009

About connections and talents

I am reading Wife in the North now.

I bought it as part of my “blog into book” research. Because, as you probably realize, most of us sad bloggers secretly hope that we might write a book one day. (Or get noticed in some other, not anyhow less glamorous way).

This is how it happened. One day a friend of mine asked if I considered starting a blog. (She probably just got tired of me ranting on.)

-What on earth for?- I wondered. I had only sort of heard of blogs, but never as much as glanced at any. (Yes, I used to have a real life before)

But the friend then proceeded telling me the story of the Wife in the north. This woman, -she said excitedly- only had her blog running for weeks when she got noticed by an agent and offered a book deal!

Curious, I googled ‘wife in the north’, read about her publishing deal and came across some more realistic details of how it actually happened.

It did not surprise me that she had help. As an Azeri, I am well aware of the power of connections. Back home, without connections and money-you are nothing. And will most probably remain nothing till you die-however hard you tried or however talented you might have been. Getting into a good university or a good job- everything is a lot harder in Baku unless you are related to someone influential or can pay. Preferably, both.

Having moved to the UK, I quickly realized that similar rules of the game apply here. (The cynical Azeri in me seeks evidence all around.) Only with a larger number of exceptions. Talents do get discovered, and people can make it without connections or daddy’s money. But it is just so much easier if daddy could help, isn’t it?

I admit, sometimes It can be difficult not to get bitter. You feel like you spend all your life knocking your head against a brick wall. Until you give up. That moment of recognition that your life will probably just pass by, and you will never become anyone can be harsh. When that happens, men tend to spend their money on a mistress or a Porsche, and women focus on breeding and house extensions.

But back to the wife in the north story. Of course, I thought to myself, she would get a book deal. She was a professional journalist, with all the right connections. Her local MP put her link on his site, as well as a famous American writer. She got that needed push, the exposure. Whereas, for the rest of us, bloggers, the reality is a lot more cruel. There are thousands of blogs, with at least half created by mummies and housewives. Most of them are painfully boring. Glancing through tons of comments other bloggers leave on wife in the north blog, I can just hear them screaming out- Find me! Read me! I can also blog! Look at mine!

But the truth is, most of them are missing one important factor.

Just reading the first few pages of wife in the north book, I could see it clearly. This Judith woman is bloody good. Her turn of phrase, her sense of humour, her beautiful attention to detail are something no MP could help her with. And all the rest- the useful connections and influential people linking to her blog are all just the lovely little extras. What really matters is that she is very good and most importantly, she managed to make me laugh, smile and even feel very sad a few times.

So all I wanted to say is….

I was wrong and I was not fair. Because the bottom line is this: the woman can write. More importantly, she is very funny. And everyone who says she got the deal because of her friends and connections are just jealous, bitter and talentless saddoes.

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

A very modest Scary Azeri wanted to tell you.....


Check it out, check it out! Scary Azeri is in a magazine!

Cool, eh. OK, I know it is not Harper's Bazaar or the Guardian or anything like that. But it looks good, and is glossy. And it is a real magazine, so there.

It is the first time scary azeri stuff got published (besides some bits I occasionally send to contact.com.az)

There is one more coming out in the June issue.

In my ( very pathetic, I know) dreams I had this huuuuge increase in traffic to this blog, and lots more followers… ( I love my followers and lovingly count them every morning.)

But…Don’t ask. I bet there is not one person here who came via INBaku magazine. If you are, I am impressed. You must be an expat in Baku, who:

a) was sober enough to pick up the magazine
b) was sober enough to read it
c) was sober enough to then memorize the name of the blog and look it up!

And that is impressive. Last time I was in Baku I thought expat bars looked a lot dodgier and trashier, expats a lot more drunk and local hookers a lot cheaper than I remember them 9 years ago. Or perhaps, I just forgot.

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Western happiness and "suffering soviets"


Tonight, husband is watching Transporter, with Jason Statham. Wants to know if I find the guy attractive. Well, he is stacked, and can kick a***.
But has no waist. So no, not really. I much prefer Clive Owen.


An expat I knew in Baku has recently moved to the States. Browsing his FB profile, I noticed photos of a new girlfriend and, curious, took a closer look. The girl was pretty and slim, with long hair and legs. All seemed in order, really. But something in her face bothered me. I could not figure it out straight away, but that something was very annoying.

I looked again. Here they are on top of a mountain. Here they are on a boat. Here they are sipping tea… And finally, it hit me. The girl had the most intense expression of happiness on her face. In every photo, she had the biggest, widest, most frantically enthusiastic smile accompanied by very wide eyes.

I wrote to our mutual friend, asking her if she noticed the same. Ah, my friend replied, you don’t get it. She is just American. Everyone there has to act overly-enthusiastic about everything at all times! Oh, an apple! How awesome! Oh, look, a train! Wow, that’s just great! Oh, look at that flower, that is gorgeous!! – kind of thing.

Mentally, I went through all the American friends of mine. Fortunately, none of them had such frantic intensity in their smiles. (I would just have to kill them if they had)

But it just got me thinking about this whole issue of portraying happiness and success in western cultures.

Husband claims that Soviets just love to suffer.

OK, I can see he has a point here. Should you ask some ex-Soviet how he or she is doing, don’t expect a short and happy “Fine”, or “Great”. Be prepared to listen about their mother’s and grandfather’s health problems, as well as what went wrong that morning. Culturally, it is quite okay to moan and complain back home. (Maybe, people there just have a lot more to complain about?)

But I say westerners are losing the ability to express their natural feelings.

Of course it is great to be happy! Everybody loves lucky, successful people. We think, maybe subconsciously, that their luck and happiness would rub off on us.

And it can really get you down being friends with someone who is constantly unhappy.
I knew a girl back home, who was always sad about something: a man, money, weather, politics…you name it. Every time I sat there for a couple of hours patiently listening to her, I felt like a Dementor was sucking all the happiness out of me. Unfortunately, at some point, I just had to get out.

So yes, we love happy people. And in turn, we would like to appear as happy and successful as possible.

And for every society, there are certain standards of that success:
A nice house. A family. Kids. Preferably two. Depending on your social group and the level of income- maybe three. Good jobs for husbands. Nice gardens for wives.

And if you fit in that perfect scenario- great.

But occasionally, I wonder: What if something nasty happens to me tomorrow? What if I get very ill, my husband dies or worse, runs away with an 18 year old, or we lose our house? And suddenly, I no longer fit into this perfect picture?

Would I keep getting invited to all these lovely garden parties and BBQ’s with other happy families? Or would some of my luckier friends start avoiding me, like I avoided that depressed, divorced Dementor (ex)friend of mine?

So yes, as a “suffering Soviet”, I guess I have my concerns with this necessity to appear happy and successful at all times. I am not suggesting being happy is not good. I am just saying: What’s wrong with natural emotions? One day you are happy, another day perhaps, a bit down or just tired, or annoyed with your partner? Or perhaps, your mother in law is driving you insane…That kind of stuff.
And I think it is great to have people around you who understand how you feel and not just expect a wide smile and “I am great, thank you” when they ask how you are. And who would be there for you no matter what happens.

Friday, 19 June 2009

Yummy? mummies of our Stepford



I am such a hypocrite. There is me telling you how unkind it is that people stereotype Eastern European women, blah-blah. But in all honesty, I have no right to complain.

To be brutally honest, I myself can be (other than when I am just being really lovely):

a) Judgmental
b) Opinionated
c) Bitchy
d) Cynical


So, I know I was saying it was naughty to generalize. But here I am, getting ready to label up some local women for your amusement.

The other night I went to this cocktail party at my local girlfriend’s place nearby. That whole night was good fun, and I met some other type of local mummies that was quite different to the ones I already knew. So, it got me thinking about various types of mummies in our wealthy commuter village.

I have been entertaining myself by mentally splitting them into a few major categories …So here it goes:

Local mummies according to Scary Azeri:

Type 1-

The Ladyyyyyy

Hair: Shiny. Normally blond, but can be any colour as long as looks pampered and healthy.
Style: Boring, but expensive suburban chic. Think Boden.
Personality: Boring.
Favourite music: Twinkle, twinkle little star.
Cares about: Children parties, house renovations, home deliveries.

Looks down her elegant nose at Type 2

Type 2
The WAG

Hair: Blond. Straight, with highlights.
Style: Glamour, with a touch of bling. Stilettos. Fake tans. French manicure and pedicure.
Personality: Girls just wanna have fun
Favourite music: Take That, Beyonce.
Cares about: Partying, looking glam, drinking.

Does not give a damn what Type 1 thinks about her.



Type 3
The (extreme) church goer

Hair: Unwashed
Legs: Unshaven.
Style: Plain clothing, often stained
Personality: Boring, but very kind and friendly.
Favourite music: Afraid to ask.
Cares about: God stuff. Going to church. Getting kids into the church school. Hanging out with church mates.

Does not look down at anyone: not allowed to.

Type 4
The Environmentalist

Hair: Mousy.
Style: None. No time for that when there are global warming issues to worry about.
Personality: Irritating
Favourite music: Flute
Cares about: Environment

Looks down at everyone who owns a 4-wheel drive.


And then there is the rest of them (includes my friends, of course!) who don’t quite fall into any of the above categories, but are just normal. Each in their own, unique way.

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

A scary story, or about Azeri teeth



I had a dentists’ appointment this morning. Just a filling but I am still drained by the whole experience. You would have thought, I should have got used to it. Because, my relationship with dentistry goes way back.

My new dentist is a husband of a mummy friend. Patted me on the shoulder when I went for a check up, and told me a filling would normally cost £120 but since it was me, it would only be £95. Very Azeri of him.
(Had to get a new dentist recently, as the old one made so much money on my Soviet teeth that he took a year off, gallivanting around the States.)

I think I was about 15 or so when my cousin and I went to the park across the road for a game of badminton.

In the middle of the game, I noticed a local youth- a dodgy-looking geezer from the Pohlushka.

(Pohlushka, which is a sort of an affectionate Azeri-Russian term for a sh***hole, is basically the Baku slums. Along with the nearby Kubinka, the area is famously dodgy.)

The guy was slowly moving towards us, while staring at me. This is where I got confused. My gut instinct was telling me to run for my life. But my stupid pride demanded to act cool. So, I chose to pretend he did not exist, until he walked up from behind me and, muttering something in Azeri, wrapped his arms around my waist. I did not have the time to think and analyse what would be a sensible thing to do. Still holding the badminton racket in both hands, I swung it all the way around and whacked the youth across the head.

As he half-collapsed on the ground, swaying from side to side in pain, I told my cousin we'd better get out of the park.

Unfortunately, we were not fast enough. The pohlushka warrior caught up with us and punched me in the face. Having been knocked to the ground, and struggling to get up, I remember telling him he must have been pretty brave to fight a girl. He stumbled away, swearing and still holding on to his head.

A couple of Russian babushkas rushed over as soon as the coast was clear. They were petrified. The guy was pretty famous in the pohlushka neighbourhood.

- You are lucky he was not carrying a knife on him, you could have been dead by now! – They were telling me, wiping my face and pressing a wet handkerchief to my mouth.

I thought I escaped with just a swollen lip. However, a few months later, a large crack appeared across my front tooth. In a year’s time, I had to have it crowned.

Apart from my scary story though, bad teeth is just something that most Azeries have to live with. Perhaps, some of it is genetic, and some due to the environment. I also realize now, that there is no concept of dental hygiene in Azerbaijan. And of course, you can (still) occasionally spot some gold teeth. (It used to be some form of investment. More reliable than banks, I suppose) My toddler was quite impressed by them. For weeks afterwards, she kept talking about “that lady with pretty, shiny teeth”.

I personally always had some dental problem, and spent years moving from one dentist to another. Most of them were not either not good or left the country, and the only good one I had finally found decided to put his hand on my leg during the check-up. (And still had the nerve to charge me!.)

My first dentist in the UK was not familiar with Soviet dentistry. What he anticipated would take a couple of weeks, took over two years. He spent hours sweating and cursing over my old Soviet fillings, but what he did not know was that Soviet fillings were not just for Christmas. Soviet fillings were for life.

So, he sent me to his colleague in Harley Street. In case you don’t know, Harley Street is where the real (dental) mafia is based. They are all related and interconnected. (I got suspicious when I noticed my dentist’s family portrait on the mantlepiece at this specialist’s surgery.) One would direct you to another and so on. Once caught in their net, there is no easy (or cheap) way out.

But eventually, after a number of expensive tortures, and at least three different specialists in Harley Street, my teeth got fixed, whitened and polished.
I told my toddler the other day we must look after her teeth so they would not end up like mummy’s.
She looked into my mouth and announced my teeth were nice.

Thank you, sladkaya- I thought- If you only knew at what price!

Friday, 12 June 2009

“Mega, mega white thing”, or a little praise for Britain

I have been complaining so much in my blog that I suspect this local mummy (who I got very annoyed with) was actually right, when she said that all I do is moan all the time. I should of course, have replied that all she talks about is how wasted she had got the night before. But of course, being the lady that I am...I resisted.

So- no more complaining! For today, anyway.

I was driving to work a couple of days ago, and they played Born Slippy by Underworld on the radio.

To anyone who might say this song is nothing special, I will answer- You have no taste, my friends. And you probably listen to Britney Spears. I respect that.
(Well, I have got to say it, don’t I: so you don’t take offence and never return to this blog)

But please! Let me tell you about this song. It is a superb piece of music. More importantly, this song is just so quintessentially British. (I am sure you realize that you can not judge British music by the Eurovision contestants.)

Every time I hear this song, it reminds me of how cool this country actually is. Despite me moaning about it every day.

Years ago, I was sitting in my office back in Baku. I started typing an email to my British girlfriend (whom I had been staying with on my first ever trip to the UK. It is during that visit that I’d first heard the Born Slippy song.)

As I sat at my desk, messing about and just typing the words from the song: “lager, lager, lager….” a new mail envelope popped up on my screen. It was from this girlfriend in London, and it read: “mega, mega white thing….”

It was like we were in one room, singing in unison. I started the sentence- and she finished it.

As I sat there laughing at her email, I was thinking how cool it was that two people from very different cultures and backgrounds could have such a connection- at that very same moment in time, miles away from each other. It probably sounds a bit silly. But to me, the fact that I could feel that song was like a sign that I could accept this culture as my own, and feel at home.

One of my old girlfriends shared a fascinating theory with me. According to her, you have to be married into your own culture for the marriage to be successful. You are from different pots, she said. The brunches, she announced poetically, might intertwine well enough, but the roots will always come from different pots.
(I might have mentioned before I have friends who say what they think?)

I love this pots theory, by the way, and use it every time I disagree with husband. I tell him he does not get me because he is from a different pot! Perfect excuse for any sort of misunderstanding.

Some things are just hard to explain. Like why you like one particular song and not another. Or why you fancy one bloke and not someone else, who might be taller or richer, or from your pot. Sometimes you just feel things and can not explain why. This country, just like any other, has its problems. But it has music that gives me goosebumps, and good Chinese food, so it suits me just fine.

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Three colours- Pink





You're just like an angel
Your skin makes me cry
You float like a feather
In a beautiful world
I wish I was special
You're so fucking special

But I'm a creep
I'm a weirdo
What the hell am I doing here?
I don't belong here

(Creep by Radiohead- One of the best songs ever)




Pink is a the girlie colour. When my daughter was born, we decided we were not going to dress her up like one of those precious princess types, and we were not going to buy everything pink for her. Our little girl is going to be cool- husband announced proudly. We bought her yellow bedding and her sleep suits were white. However, she is almost 4 soon and of course, pink is her favourite colour. Whether we wanted it to happen or not.

I was asking some girlfriends yesterday: what makes some people so damn popular? We were talking about a friend of ours, and I am concerned they might have misunderstood me. I wasn’t trying to bitch about her, or say that she was not worth liking. I mean, I myself was immediately besotted when we first met, and kept stalking the poor woman until she gave in and started hanging out with me. What I was trying to say is: how come some people are simply liked by everybody who meets them? And everyone wants to be their friend?

Somebody laughed and said it was probably her blond hair. Or the friendliness she exudes. Damn! No hope for me then, from any angle.

What I thought was even more fascinating is that her little daughter is becoming most popular amongst all her mates too. Yes, she has blond hair too.

Not long ago, my girl bit this popular friend of hers (a daughter of my popular friend) at school. I have a very well mannered little girl. She does not normally bite. So, I was concerned. When confronted, my daughter told me that the girl was her best friend but had refused to sit next to her at school.

-My child is fickle! - My popular friend laughed.

Yes- I thought -a bit like you. And not in a bad way. But like a pretty social butterfly. Popular, charming, and without deep emotional attachments to anyone in particular. And sadly, my daughter is obviously so much like me. Getting emotionally attached and therefore, vulnerable. Genes, eh.

Honestly? I am a little bit jealous. It might be childish and silly, but I am.
I have never had this charming aura about me that would make everyone chase me to become my friend, invite me over for lunch all the time, and buy me gifts to get my attention. I had never been that popular amongst women. Men, maybe. But not women.

And yet, women are extremely important to me. OK, I might honestly think that 79.8% of them are boring, stupid cows. But I do want the other 20.2% to like me.

Husband can’t stand it when I sulk about some girlfriend- what she had done or said, and complain that she did not sit next to me at school or hold my hand…. you know, girls at the playground kind of stuff. But I have to complain anyway, what else can I do? I can’t bite them like my daughter did.

And I am not just jealous that some people are always popular and don’t even have to make any effort. What I am actually more jealous of, is the fact that they seem not to care about stuff like that. I bet this friend of mine had never allowed any girlfriend to hurt her.

Friendships change as we grow older. I look back at my very first best friends, and think how similar my feelings towards them were to being in love. The only difference was that I did not want to have sex with them. Other than that, pretty much the same: The jealousy, the attraction, the emotional roller coaster…
I used to fall in love with my best friends.

But as they either moved away, forgot or hurt me (oh, so much!) more than any boyfriend ever managed to…I guess, I have changed. These days, I don’t have one best friend. I have a few very good girlfriends, some all right ones…a few social acquaintances, and a few people I just like to occasionally spend some time with.
And the rest 79.8% who I bet would love to be my friends.

Saturday, 6 June 2009

Three colours- Black

Tonight, husband is watching Die Hard 4.0. I guess he would like to think he could kick a** like Bruce Willis. Whereas I can totally relate to the geeky hacker.

Today, to continue this colour trilogy I started, the colour is black.

And black, without a doubt, is the most popular colour back home. Azeries live by Henry Ford’s principle that a car could be of any colour, as long as it is black. The same rule applies to clothing. In both cases I have a sneaky suspicion that the fashion is somewhat dictated by the idea that black does not show dirt and therefore, can be washed less frequently..

But black is also the colour of funerals.

On my mother’s first ever visit to the UK we saw an elegant hearse, shiny and long, with a lacquered coffin inside, and one dark blue rose resting on it. It was the most subtle, most beautiful funeral procession we both ever witnessed. A small group of relatives were quietly standing near it as we walked past. My mother said that she wished she could have a funeral like that- peaceful, quiet and elegant.

So of course, that got me thinking -what did I want to happen to my body when I die? I always thought it did not really matter as when I am dead I won’t care anymore. Until I relocated to the UK, and found out they tend to cremate everyone. And that thought did not appeal to me at all. Yes, I know I would be dead and all that. But for some reason, the idea of being burned just makes me uncomfortable. However elegant the journey is.

So, I thought, if not cremated, then is being buried better?

In Baku, we like fancy funerals. We hire enormous marquees that we install in the yard or right on the streets. There are always a few women wailing away, the louder the better, and I bet there are professionals you could hire, in case you don’t have enough relatives who are genuinely that distraught.

We serve a lot of chai. And a lot of halva. And if we can afford it, we cook plov and feed everyone. Then there are Thursdays. Every Thursday is a mourning day, and more people come for more chai and halva. And there is one week’s mourning, and the 40 days, and probably some other special days I am forgetting.

I have a theory there must be a good reason for this palaver- You get so worn out by all the planning, organizing and cooking required, you have no time to get depressed, or understand what had actually happened. So all this cooking (coped with worrying about how much all of it is going to cost you) is a good distraction.

The last funeral I attended back home was when my grandmother passed away a few years ago. I had to board the plane on one day’s notice as we normally bury our dead the next day - according to the Muslim traditions.

Speaking of which, this is where I think Azeries are still very confused.

Being part of the Soviet Union had an enormous impact on Azerbaijan. During Soviet times, religion was not allowed. All of a sudden, as the country got its independence, people rushed to claim their own identity back. And religion became increasingly popular. But here is where the problem lies: Not that many Azeries actually seriously practice Islam, or know what they are meant to be doing. Especially, when it comes to such a serious matter as funerals.

My grandmother was an atheist and did not want any religious ceremony.
However, my younger cousin decided he was now a traditional guy.
As a few men lifted my grandmother’s body up to carry her out of the flat, he panicked whether the body was facing the correct way. Is it the feet that were meant to be leaving the flat first, or the head? No one knew for sure. After a short hesitation, the body finally got taken downstairs.

The confusion continued as my cousin questioned whether women were allowed to go to the cemetery, or should be waiting at home. Finally, he attempted to stop me from washing my hands when we got back, because according to him women had to wait until men washed their hands first.
I guess, in hindsight, I should be grateful to him. The anger I felt that whole day helped me cope.

As for my own funeral…Well, I guess a few people will get together and see my coffin disappear behind the curtain in a crematorium. They will then come back to either our house or a pub, and have some sandwiches. I imagine a bit like at a toddler party, only with the crust left on. And I want everyone to have a few drinks, and discuss how mad I was and share a good laugh. And maybe a few tears as well. It is a funeral after all.

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Three Colours- Blue



(Just borrowing the colour trilogy from Kieślowski, but mixing in my own colours)


What do you think of when you hear the word blue? A clear sky on a summer day? Or a newborn baby boy?

In ex-Soviet republics, when we say blue, we mean gay.

OK I have to warn you, guys this posting is not your everyday English small talk over a cup of coffee. I have already lost one dedicated reader due to my unorthodox choice of topics. So if you are somewhat faint-hearted or very square please come back another day. Don’t leave me! I will write about something else next time.

But for today, the colour is blue.

I work in a very accepting and accommodating environment. Somehow, the whole educational sector in the UK seems to be very tolerant of anyone who is different. We have people who I would put money on to be hanging out at nights at Camden town tube station, sporting vampire outfits and chains through their noses. And of course, we have a very high percentage of gay people working for us. I have no idea why, we just do. Working somewhere like that, I forget that homosexuality is still a controversial thing in this world. I mean, I heard people boo Heith Ledger on the red carpet for his role in Brokeback Mountain.

So come on, what can you expect from Azerbaijan?

I dare to suggest that for some reason, Azeries find homosexuality funny. There is a village in Azerbaijan that is notorious for its blue-ness so to speak. The origins of this myth is not documented, and whether it really is so blue, or just very unfortunate to have accidentally got that reputation is not clear. There are hundreds of national jokes about the poor villagers, and if you were to travel there, you would probably be advised not to drop anything- so you would not have to bend down to pick it up.

And even though Azeries had to borrow a lot of words from other languages to describe other aspects of everyday life, there definitely is no shortage of the authentically Azeri expressions when it comes to the subject of blue love.

There also is a lot of gossip, again of a humorous character. A long, long time ago, in Soviet times, a famous Russian singer Valeriy Leontyev came to Baku on a tour. According to urban legend, he had to be escorted back to the airport surrounded by special security forces. Allegedly, masses of passionate Azeri males were too excited about his tight leopard leggings and muscular buttocks.

But that is not why I brought the whole subject up.

What I personally find bizarre is the fact that there are some so-called straight men in Azerbaijan that can (by chance?) get involved in a homosexual act, and honestly think that does not make them gay.

One very gay British expat I knew socially, coming to work in Baku as a manager for a couple of years, had not expected his assignment to turn out to be that exciting.
He was a handsome young Englishman, blond and in shiny tight PVC pants (which he only wore outside working hours, of course) As many expats do, he hung out in clubs and bars till the early hours, drinking cheap alcohol and enjoying expat lifestyle.

You might remember from my previous posting that local police liked stopping taxis to catch some “prostitutes”- just for some pocket money, you know.

That night, however those three watchmen of local morality got a bit more than they had bargained for. Planning to pocket some extra cash, they stopped S. on his way from the nightclub. S was drunk and had no documents, of course: Nothing like that would fit in his tight PVC pants. He assured the policemen that he had everything they could possibly need back at his apartment. Including some vodka. Policemen followed him back to his flat. One of them, an older guy, eventually retired, after having had a few shots. However, the other two stayed. According to S. both policemen were:

a) straight
b) married with children
c) kept their guns on

S was shaking with excitement, his voice high pitched as he proceeded to tell everyone the next day about the seduction and the guns.

So what is this? Were those two policemen gay? Or were they just… you know, greedy?

For S, I am sure, the incident meant an act of skillful seduction on his part. He probably saw himself as a sleek hunting machine of the night, a gay predator who managed to seduce some straight married guys. Whereas, the policemen probably thought they took advantage of one very drunk expat, and used him. And because they were, (forgive me, my square readers) givers not takers, they probably believed they remained straight Azeri machos.

I guess you could only compare this approach to prison. Using sex as humiliation. As punishment. And as a tool to establish who is in charge.

That is the kind of homosexual act I personally think all those guys (who put themselves in charge to protect the morals of the country) should be trying to eliminate. And not spending their time shouting abuse at the Azeri writer who dared to write about Armenian-Azeri gay love story. But who am I to know? I am just a suburban mama in a country where it is OK to be gay.

Monday, 1 June 2009

Why you should never marry an Azeri girl.

So, summer is officially here.

Which means, people relax and look forward to their holidays abroad. For me however, it is a stressful time-the time I want my mother to visit. That process is never simple. First of all, we have to go through the whole visa application process. Last time the interrogation lasted for 40 minutes. Is she coming to nanny/baby-sit for us? (This, by the way is officially prohibited by UK law. If you are a foreign grandmother, you are not allowed to look after your grandchild.) Is she living with us? Otherwise, why could she possibly be staying for this long and visiting so often?

All those questions make perfect sense to the British officials. It probably seems very suspicious that anyone would want their mother to stay with them for 2 months at a time, unless exploiting her as cheap labour. (Admittedly, very tempting considering the cost of childcare in the UK)

But what might seem weird here is the most natural thing for Azeries. The whole purpose in life for an Azeri grandmother is to look after her grandchildren. It is the task that comes as naturally as cooking dolma. They just don’t understand how it is possible not to want to do that, or not to be expected to.

A while ago, I was discussing going to a spa with my local mummy friend. She was struggling to get a babysitter and said she might not be able to join me.
- What about your mother? - I questioned naturally, as I knew she lived nearby.
- Are you kidding? - She said incredulously- I could never ask her to baby-sit for me while I go to a spa!

Eh?- I thought-Why not?

Getting my mother past the UK entry clearance officer is only the first step in the process. Step two involves my husband, who would not want his own mother to live with us for that long. I established, after almost 9 years of marriage, that two months is the absolute critical limit. Anything more- and my husband’s sanity is in jeopardy. Anything less -and I am not very happy.

That brings us to this very sensitive issue- the British husbands and the Azeri family dependency.


If you are from the UK (or other western culture for that matter) and have an Azeri girlfriend, my advice to you would be: do not marry her. If you are determined to marry an Azeri, then at least do yourself a favour and find an orphan. Because once you are married to an Azeri, you are married to her whole family. Often, that includes cousins.

You might think you did OK (better than my husband anyway) if she can cook all those elaborate Azeri dishes. You might secretly hope (some people are silly!) that she would behave like a good Muslim wife and never nag, demand or argue. She might claim that her parents would be happy with her immigrating. And that she is totally cool leaving them behind in Azerbaijan (where there is no concept of social care for geriatrics), to get old and crippled on their own. Do not trust her! If she is a nice Azeri girl, she will forever be tied to her family with the ties stronger than you can ever imagine in your worst nightmare.

She will want to support them both morally and financially. She will probably insist she has to get their flat refurbished, buy them a new telly or a car, and pay for any medicine or surgeries they will need, as well as send them cash every month…. More importantly, she would also be expected to. Forever. On top of that, she would always be plotting how she could eventually bring them over, so they could benefit from the proper medical care, and get looked after as they get older.

Yes, there are some parents in Baku who could, should they want to, support half of the UK. But that is a tiny percentage of the population. The majority are suffering from inability to adjust their old Soviet skills to the new ruthless world they now live in. They are scared and lonely, and they expect to be taken care of by their children, who were a lot quicker to acclimatise to the new life. And if you were an elderly person somewhere like Baku, wouldn’t you be afraid to be abandoned there? As you get older you get sick more often. And to be sick in Baku is pretty scary. Even if you have money. And what if you don’t?

As for me, I worry all the time. I worry about my mother and my father getting older back in Baku. But also, I worry about my own old age. Because, when I see what relationship a lot of British children have with their parents, I am terrified. I look at my little daughter, who needs me so badly right now, and wonder to myself: is she going to abandon me in a home when I am old and of no more use to her? Is she going to never call and never visit on weekends? I guess I could secure my position now if I learned how to cook and do some gardening. Alternatively, I could try to get rich so she would at least have to pretend she cares-for the inheritance.