Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Dolma or Beshka?

My mother cooked dolma last night. Dolma is one of the reasons I could never be a vegetarian. Yes, I know, I know. You could have one of those rice dolmas they sell in London shops, but it is just not quite the same, is it. You stuff wine leaves with rice only when you cannot afford meat.

And I was thinking to myself just how much I love meat dishes. Dolma, kebabs, plov... my favourite national cuisine is almost entirely meat based. But then, I keep questioning how my predatory food preferences go with my love for animals. Because, in case you have not noticed, I am a big animal lover. Fnarr fnarr

We had relatives up in the mountains back in Azerbaijan. The relatives kept a few cows in the shed. One summer, during our visit, they had Beshka. A very cute, if somewhat boisterous, bullock. As far as I could tell, everyone in the family adored him. Their relationship with Beshka was no different to mine with my dog; except for perhaps he did not sleep in the house. Beshka was their pet. So, imagine my shock when the next summer he was gone. 'Has something happened to Beshka’? I asked in my broken Azeri, ready to express condolences. ‘Happened?’ They laughed. ‘Yes, dinner happened.’

I was horrified. How was that possible? They loved that bullock. He was their baby. I mean, if anyone tried to eat my dog, they would have to deal with me first. How could those guys decide, one day, it was time to eat their pet? Was he misbehaving a little or making too much noise?

I used to blame the barbaric Azeri village folk mentality. But then, I was reminded of this traumatic childhood episode by Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall, who seemed to be very affectionate with the pigs he kept in his River Cottage. Only until he fancied some pork for dinner.

If I think about that, Beshka was not the only time I witnessed brutal animal slaughter back home. A beheaded chicken running around… A discarded sheep’s head in the yard, still looking at me with its' eyes rolling….Considering such disturbing experiences and my love for animals, how is it possible that I am not a vegetarian?

But I am not. The last thing I think about when I queue up in our butchers’ for some meat for dinner is how it arrived there.

And yet, occasionally, when I see cows in a field, looking at me with such intelligent curiosity (like these guys we came across on our weekend trip to the river)

I remember Beshka and feel a little guilty. Just because a steak looks different in the shop, I still know it used to walk around the field staring at strangers.

Hmm….speaking of which, I wonder if there is any dolma left for my dinner tonight?

Thursday, 24 June 2010

Where iz ze money, Lebowski?

What? You don't know who Lebowski is? Seriously?

A very long time ago, when I was still quite young and innocent, I was asked to book some tickets for an important football match in Baku. It was a major event ( the 1996 qualifying match for the world championship, against Switzerland) and I, not being a big football fan in general, thought I would go just for the experience. In hindsight, it was quite a bizarre bunch to go with: two British contractors and an elderly British English language teacher.

The tickets were not cheap. Especially for someone like me, on a decent for locals, but still not a huge salary. The game was great and Azerbaijan beat Switzerland. Does not happen, you say? Well, it did, once. The atmosphere was amazing.

Anyway, back to the story. The boys gave me money for their tickets in advance. However, the elderly British teacher did not. I was not happy. I really wanted my money back, but did not know how to ask for it. I was also about to go to the UK on holiday, and really needed every penny.

I kept waiting for him to remember. But he just would not. Finally, I approached him and, very quietly, asked if I could possibly have the money for that ticket.

What I still remember is the overall feeling of humiliation and embarrassment. I stood there for what felt like ages and he did not make any effort to stop me. And then he gave me a little patronizing speech. He said that I should never be embarrassed to ask for my money back. He said he remembered all along, but waited for me to ask. To teach me a lesson, I assume, or just enjoy my embarrassment.

I have to tell you, I never really liked the guy, but after that incident, I hated his guts.

Years later, I am still not doing well on that front. Whether it is a matter of what is considered polite back home, or my personal complex, I am still a coward.

Recently, we went to a park with a mummy friend. I did not have any cash on me and we decided to have lunch. ‘Let me pay with my card,’ I told her ‘and you can give me cash back for your share.’

Considering that we had three kids between us, I ended up buying a meal for 5 people. Which, let me tell you, was not cheap. Later, we decided to have ice-creams and more drinks. By the time we finished and were ready to leave, I paid close to £40 for us all.

She was not saying a word.

A flashy and proud Azeri in me said ‘No! Don’t humiliate yourself. Just leave it. So what? It is only a lunch. She can get the next one.’

The new me objected strongly. ‘That was not the deal! You cannot afford to pay for everyone’.

After some more thinking, I decided to ask. I reminded myself of a rich girlfriend of mine who, in front of other people, openly told my friend she owed her money. No hesitation, no pathetic complexes, no ‘Oh, does not matter!’ gestures. She brought it up so openly, in such a direct and poised way, I could not help but admire her for it. Possibly one of the wealthiest people I know, she had no problem asking for what was owed to her. So why should I? And yet, I waited. I waited until the very last minute as we were about to leave, wondering- did she forget?

Because, and this is another of my things. I am paranoid of forgetting that I owe money to someone else. Just like I hate to ask for it, I would hate for anyone to have to ask me. But clearly, not everyone has that problem. The number of times people forgot to pay me back and I never asked! Flowers, going away presents bought by a bunch of people at work, party booking fees at restaurants… Why is it that some people just don’t worry about it? And I am sure if I approached them and asked, they would not feel embarrassed. But I would.

Monday, 21 June 2010

Alishah, the old ghost.

Wanted to let you know that I wrote another short story for Rammenas. This one is my favourite so far, maybe because it is personal. I knew and cared about this guy. Only some ( a very small part) of it is fiction.

Hope you like it.

Saturday, 19 June 2010

Just lunch.

A little while ago, we had a situation in our household. My in-laws were visiting for a couple of weeks, and Husband and Granddad were busy working on Husband's truck, which had to be ready in time for an important show abroad.

Long story cut short, the men were out all day long welding and doing other manly jobs. The workload and the deadline meant that my mother in law and I were left alone for the weekend.

That is when my Azeri friends called to invite us for lunch on Sunday. They did not know that Husband was too busy. But I was not. I was desperate to get out of the house. ‘What shall I do?’ I asked him. And, as I expected, he told me to just go. ‘She would not expect you to take her along’ He said.  But to me, this would be rude. Tempting, but rude.
 I knew that if I told my friends I had my mother in law with me, they would assure me I could- of course!-bring her along.

Mother in law has never been to a properly Azeri house before. Mine does not count, as I lack strong national identity to start with, plus I have an English husband.

And so we went. I was not sure she would enjoy herself, to be honest. I warned her not to get over-sensitive (for which she has a slight tendency) if everyone spoke Russian in front of her. I also warned her she might get bored. In the end, it was quite the opposite.

I can hardly remember my mother in law having such a fantastic time, except for perhaps, during my wedding with her son.

When we returned, in the evening, she could not stop telling Granddad and Husband about just how amazing her day was.

‘I just cannot believe those guys!’ She kept repeating. 

What she could not believe was the reception she had. She could not believe just how many different dishes there were on the table. She could not believe the ironed napkins, the tea cups on fancy sauces, and the beautiful trays. She could not believe the tablecloth. She could not believe the spoons. Everything, every little detail meant one thing-these people made a huge effort. For her. And she was overwhelmed. She said it was almost as if she went back in time. 'People do not go into so much trouble anymore' She said.

The way my friends treated her, making such an effort for just a lunch, as she said, was something she could not believe. And no, she did not get bored. Everybody listened to her, everybody spoke English, and everybody laughed at her jokes, whether they were funny or not. Because, I took her to a proper Azeri home. And this is what well brought up Azeries do when a respectable older person comes to their house.

‘Yes,’ Admitted Husband. ‘Azeries do old people a lot better than we do.’
And I was just very proud and happy.

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Happy birthday to me.

So, another year just flew by and I am crossing the fine line between the mid and late thirties this week.

For someone else, that might be a fun time. For me, my birthday is a complicated issue that needs approaching very carefully. You see, my mother is visiting at the moment. Which means, I have to be careful about what I do when it comes to celebrations.

Normally, I would just go out with a bunch of girlfriends. It is easier, as nobody needs to book a babysitter, and I don’t need to make a large party booking with deposits and other ridiculous complications.

But not this year. This year, my options were:

a) I go out with girlfriends, as usual. That means leaving my mother and husband at home, on the night of my birthday, while I go out. That would be weird. Not a good plan.

b) I take mother along, since she is technically a girl. That would work as far as mother is concerned. However, husband would be left at home, alone, sulking. Not a good plan.

c) I go out with husband, leaving mother at home. Husband is happy, mother would say it is OK, but feel used and abandoned. Not a good plan.

d) Take them both along to a girls night out. Hmm.. Too weird. Not a good plan.

Do you see how hard it can be to be me???

I, of course, could have a party at home. But, considering how many children my friends tend to have, I would end up in a house full of screaming babies and rummaging toddlers…around 20. Not my idea of a relaxing birthday.

In the end, having almost given up, I decided to do the following.

In the morning, mother and I, plus a couple of girlfriends, are going to a posh hotel for a nice breakfast.

In the afternoon, I have booked a massage-to have some me time.

Finally, in the evening, I am going out for dinner with husband and a few other couples.

That way, everyone gets to celebrate. Everyone, but one very important person.

‘Are we having a party?’ She asked, her eyes big with excitement. ‘Oh, crap.’ I thought.
I forgot that there is someone else in my family who would want to celebrate with me, and who, by the end of my careful planning, got left out. Now, I will have to squeeze in a special tea with a chocolate cake and a few candles in the middle of the day. Somewhere between the posh breakfast and the dinner.

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

About virtual friends

While discussing our differences in the recent posting on racism and political correctness, I came up with this idea of…well, you guys.

Because, I suddenly realized. I talk a lot about my friends. I told you about my old friends and my new friends. But I have not yet talked about you guys. My virtual friends, as I like to call you. Because, you and your comments make this blog come alive. Excuse the pompous expression. I thought I would bring your attention to this colourful box on the left hand side- the followers of this blog. I don’t know if you ever looked at those guys. Do. It is quite fascinating.
Most of them have an amazing background, stories to tell and cultures to share. Not to mention all of you who are reading this right now, but have no google profile or are not ( why not???!!)  followers of this blog. So, let’s talk about you, for a change. I want to know who you are. Where are you from? What colour and shape are you? Are you skinny, are you fat, are you funny? Are you boring? Are you an Islamic fundamentalist? Please, tell!

I know little about the followers. But thought it would be fun to talk about some of them. So, I picked out just a few from the list. The ones who either had some info on their profile, links to their own sites or simply sounded interesting- for whatever reason. Of course, I simply could not list all 120 (Hey, not long till 10,000 now! ), so I apologize if I missed you out.

Writers, journalists, photographers, artists and bloggers…from all over the world. And I just wanted to say it makes me feel pretty good knowing that people who follow and read this blog are interesting, in their own ways. Because, that makes this blog interesting, too- by association, if nothing else. I would hate it if I opened the followers section and saw a bunch of idiots. That would annoy me. Because, we say in Russian- Tell me who your friends are, and I will tell you who you are. I am quite pleased with my list. My list is pretty cool, so I say so myself.

So let me introduce just a few of my followers to you.

I hail from the Netherlands and am an expat writer not living in paradise. I do not drink wine from my own grapes or tend my own olive groves. I have, however, visited my butcher’s bedroom in Palestine, eaten fertility sausage in Kenya, and almost landed in prison in Uganda. I follow my man around the globe and watch him work on agricultural and other business projects in developing countries.”

I'm bilingual blogger writing about everything I want, including personal notes, but mostly I comment on contemporary social change and cultural issues in post-Soviet Georgia (secularism, nationalism and ethnic identity, popculture, and etc.). 
I graduated Tbilisi State University (Cultural Studies), later The University of Edinburgh (Nationalism Studies), currently looking for a good PhD program. 
"isterika" is my blog's name, though my social nickname too, but you can also cite me as Shota Khinchagashvili

Writer of fiction and lots of good insurance stuff...living the good life in the Rocky Mountains of western Montana.

Oman Collective Intelligence- http://www.oman-collective-intelligence.com/
Been in Oman for several years; it's a great place led by a great man. I love this country and always will. I graduated in London and then got the best job in the world which took me to places like Angola, Sudan, Ecuador, Bolivia, Cape Verde, Romania, and some others. Of course i ended up here in Oman
An-Lu http://angela-lucy.blogspot.com/
Μου αρέσει η έκφραση "τριάντα-φεύγα". Με εκφράζει και ηλικιακά και διανοητικά. Δεν ντρέπομαι να παραδεχτώ ότι είμαι φευγάτη, ή έστω, θέλω να είμαι!-
(No idea what that means, maybe she or one of you could translate it for me?)

Originally from Toronto, Canada, I began "Le Retour (in 3 Parts)" in 2008, when I returned to 3 cities close to my heart: Amsterdam, Paris, and Yerevan. In 2009, I decided to move to Yerevan (Armenia) where I currently live with my partner and try to survive the trials and tribulations of this so-called life
an open, honest conversation about sex, gender, body
Freelance Journalist and Photographer at EurasiaNet.org, Bloomberg News, Liberali magazine (Georgia)
Tbilisi, Georgia

I’ve been a university lecturer, actor, director, television presenter and RLF Writing Fellow at three Scottish universities. I’ve published three crime novels. The first two, Material Evidence and Rough Justice, appeared in hardback in the UK and then in paperback in the USA. The third, The Darkness, was published in paperback in the UK in December 2008. A historical crime novel, The Figurehead, is due for publication by Virtual Tales as a paperback and an ebook in the summer of 2009. Three of my short stories have appeared in the annual anthologies of the Crime Writers’ Association. My radio and stage plays have been produced in the UK, Australia, and the USA and I’ve written a prize-winning verse translation of Molière’s Sganarelle. I co-authored Just Write, a book aimed at demystifying academic writing projects for students.I've written and performed revue sketches and songs at the Edinburgh Festival fringe.Oh, and I like writing children’s stories.

 I am an American, who started writing this blog in Azerbaijan. Then - I moved to Russia. Then I moved to the United States. I tend to move around a lot.

It's not that I'm mean. It's just that I sometimes say things others only think, yet are afraid to voice themselves. Oh, and I'm not very good at talking about myself. That's why I make up people, and then place them in situations, and throw in a guy with a gun. I'm a writer, attempting to peel away from the world of Systems Engineering. Not that Information Technology is bad, its just that I don't love it. Not like I love storytelling. Pays the bills though.

Long-term survivor for many years - homelessness, hiv/aids, hepatitis c, cirrhosis, alcoholism, addiction, and depression. It is my hope to share my unique experiences and perspective on life in a way that will help others.My spiritual beliefs are Christian, but I am Not a fan of organized religion.And I'm open to other people's beliefs. Life is a journey and we learn along the way. My best qualities are intelligence, open-mindedness, and willingness to accept others. Every day I wake up with a desire to better myself and make a difference in the world around me.

I'm Jefferson, and I live in Jakarta, the biggest city in Indonesia. Maybe there aren't plenty of you that know about Indonesia. Jakarta is a really crowded city, and you will meet traffic jam everywhere, especially during busy hours. But I'm happy to live here, because Jakarta almost got everything. They got lots of shopping center, a huge amusement park, Sea World, etc. I just can't stand the traffic!
Alaskan born and raised, I am a Peace Corps Volunteer in the mysterious country of Azerbaijan.

Svet and Kyle Keeton- http://blogger4you.blogspot.com/- a lovely pair of helpful bloggers who focus on giving advice on blogs and blogging- both in Russian and English.

Who here does not yet know Riyad? An ex-colleague from Baku and an active commenter of this blog from day one, when none of you even knew it existed.

Fatalin: http://fatalin.blogspot.com/-a famous girl back home!
“Liberal feminist, theist, activist, ache for the earth, eager for justice, love life”

Lives in Manchester, UK. Has full-time job, 6 year old daughter and a football obsessed husband. Tries to maintain her sanity by singing in a renowned choir in spare time. Would like to have it all: fulfilling career, well adjusted child, perfect marriage and beautiful home. So far have achieved stressful job as teacher, demanding daughter, 16 years of marriage and an old house that "we're doing up".

And of course, Gabriela!

Now, you tell me. Aren’t they all fascinating? Different? Cool? Now it’s your turn. Just say hello and tell us where you are right now and why you are here. Go on, just this once!

Monday, 7 June 2010

What DO women want?

I wrote this, admittedly light-hearted, piece for Womens' Forum, but they thought it was not serious enough. But here is the beauty of blogging. I can be my own editor, and, as an editor, I say: There are too many people trying too hard to appear serious in this world.

You have most probably seen the Mel Gibson movie “What women want”. It was simple for him to read girls minds once he zapped himself with a hair dryer. But was that movie realistic? I am not talking about the magical electrocution that empowered his mind-reading. Never mind that. Let’s focus on the more important issue here.

What do women actually want? What do we want from these poor emasculated, stressed out, underpaid, overweight creatures we call men?

Let’s be honest. We want everything. Which is a problem, as the society generally expects us to get all that from one person. But realistically, He has to come in a set of five, if not ten different males to live up to our unrealistic expectations.

We want them to be fit. We want them to be hot and handsome. Dangerous but tame. Bad, but miraculously turned good once they met us. Desired by everyone else but faithful. Faithful, but keeping us wondering- just in case. We don’t want to relax, you know.

But that is just about the appearances! You say. I apologize. How superficial of me!

We want them to be smart, of course. Otherwise, we would not want to breed with them, in case our kids turn out dumb. We want them to handle any pretentious conversation at dinner parties with graceful ease.

We want them to be able to fix everything in the house and kill all the spiders. We also would like to know they can kick ass like that vampire guy from Twilight- just in case we need protecting one day.

Most importantly though, when we finally marry our prince, we want him to provide. Because, whatever we say, we like it when men provide us with a financial stability. Does not matter if we ourselves are successful and have a good career-shmareer...whatever. We would like to feel secure and comfortable in our partnership with the chosen male.

On the other hand, should that male get out there to work his arse off in order to keep us in the style we so wish to get accustomed to, we complain. Of course, we complain! Because, most probably, he won’t be around much, will he? He is busy, remember? Making our life secure and cosy.

And if he is not around, how can he spend more quality time with us? How can be bath the kids and read them bedtime stories? How can he take us out regularly during the week to provide all that entertainment, watch movies and party all night long? He barely has the energy to kiss us goodnight.

So much for the romance! But the problem is, we need romance. We want adventure, excitement and passion! We want kisses like on the first date and walks on (preferably Caribbean) beaches.

And finally, if we do actually get it all....we most probably will not want that male anymore. We would just get bored.
Because, we are designed to always want more. And once we have it all, there is nothing left to complain about. And how unbearably boring would that be?

Sunday, 6 June 2010

A (not tiny but very short) love story

For those of you who read my little attempts at fiction...

There is a new - very, very short this time- love story on Rammenas.

Rammenas wanted tiny love stories. I assumed it was about the size of the story, not people.
This, however, reminds me about The Lord of the Rings.

Eh? you might ask.

Well, I always fancied Aragorn- of course! My friend was into Legolas. So, my mother, who went to see the movie with us at the time, sighed 'I guess, that leaves me Gimli' .

Anyway, moving swiftly on,

this one is not about dwarf love, but just a very short love story. Officially, Rammenas wanted it to be 100 words max. So this one is not tiny enough to qualify, but we decided it was OK as it is. So it is not a tiny, but a very short love story. Technicalities-shmekmikalities, I say!

Friday, 4 June 2010

A little bit brown.

The other night in a taxi, I was trying to explain to a friend of mine who I was talking about.

You know, I said and used the woman’s name. That did not mean much, as there were at least three of those names in our village.

OK, the red-haired girl. No, she did not get it.

You know, the one with two little children... No, still no clue.

So, I resorted to the last explanation- The one with an Indian husband.

My friend giggled nervously and quickly glanced at the back of the (Indian looking) mini cab driver’s head.

She clearly was not sure I could say Indian husband. My question is: Why the hell not?

The husband is Indian. She knows it. I know it. He, hopefully, knows it, too. It is like saying my husband has an Azeri wife. Is that racist? No, because I am Azeri. Whether I would prefer to have been born French is a different story altogether.

I am just getting too fed up with this hyperbolized sensitivity and the political correctness in this world. Western world, I have to add as the rest of it is still incredibly rude.

You must have seen in the news about Mrs Obama’s champagne coloured gown. We must say champagne, because, guess what, we should not say nude. Because it is not quite her shade of nude. Oh, I say pleaaaaase. Give me a break!

This brings us to an interesting (to Azeries and our neighbours) dilemma.

My English niece thinks I am a little brown, as she once pointed out.

I don’t consider myself a little brown, unless very tanned. But I took no offence. So what? To her, I look browner than her.

In fact, I suspect a lot of people do not consider Azeries a white race.

I personally am confused. I never know, to be honest, which box to tick in various forms. They have Asian, they have Mixed race, they have African, Latin and Caucasian white...but there is just no box for Azeries. Because, Azeries are sort of in between. Not quite brown, not quite white, but a little bit brown.

But what, I guess, I am trying to say is so what? Mrs Obama is black. When Mr Obama was campaigning to become the president, I saw an ad that asked us not to make that issue an issue. So what, they said, it should not matter. But it does matter. Because, once he won, they said isn’t it great?! The first black president? So it did matter! What I am saying is pretending we are all the same is ignorant and stupid. Not mentioning something does not make it right, or more acceptable. It just makes it worse. If I were Indian around here, in a 99% white suburb...I would much rather my friends did not pretend they did not notice. Because that, my friends, would just piss me off.

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

"Hello my new boyfriend!!!"

Finally! Azeries broke through to the global spam emails! Until today, I have only seen Hi my name is Natasha from Russia, but this one is from Azerbaijan! How exciting!

Below email was received by my friend today. I am not even going to attempt to change a single word in it. I thought it was just perfect as it was.

Macho smooches on expat+harem

Check out
Macho smooches
my latest mini-posting for expat+harem.

I just love the sketch, somehow it is one of my favourites.