Saturday, 30 October 2010

How can I ever make that decision?


Our dog is getting very old.

Some of you might remember ( the ones who have been reading this blog for wa-a-ay too long)  that my first dog made his own choice and jumped off our 5th floor balcony back in Baku

Unfortunately for my 12-year old rottweiler, we live in a house now, with no balconies to throw himself of. Neither would he squeeze between the railings, for that matter. So he is stuck getting old and waiting to either pass away or for us to make that horrible, depressing decision: to help him. 

If thinking about putting your pet down makes you as sad as me, then here is a free advice from me:

Whatever you do, do NOT watch Marley and Me. It really is not what you might think it is. It is a depressing movie designed for all dog lovers in the world to suffer through every single minute of it. They trick you into watching it by calling it a dramedy, which implies it should- at least in some parts- be funny, but don't fall for it. You will cry. The only two movies more depressing than this one I can recommend ( if you are after hours of crying) are:

a) Dancer in the Dark with Bjork. Superb, by the way.
b) A.I.  You think it is over but nope, it goes on and on and on....forever. They don't even let you take a break in between your fits of sobbing.

Back in Baku, I don’t think putting pets down was such a common thing to do as it is in the UK. Maybe, it is because Azeri pets never stood a chance of survival in a country where the only medical professionals that are scarier than doctors are the vets. 

To be honest, whenever I heard of people putting their dogs down, I thought they were probably doing it too quickly, looking for an easy and clean solution. Maybe things got a bit messy. Maybe they just did not like looking after an old pet. No way! I thought. It is just cruel. To me, a pet was always a member of my family. If tomorrow, a human member of my family is too old and sick- like hmm...husband?- would I consider putting him down, too?

‘You should let him go with some dignity that he has left’ my hairdresser told me yesterday. She might not be any good at cutting hair (you should see me today!) but that sentence had more impact on me than anything else I had heard on the subject. Dignity. I never thought of it that way.

His back legs are getting too weak, he is becoming more and more incontinent, and all he wants to do is sleep all day long. I know he has had a great life, I know a lot of other dogs of this breed never make it to such a ripe age. And yet, how can I make that decision?  I don’t know if he is in any pain, I can’t tell if he is suffering. I can’t have him go to sleep just because I am fed up washing his bedding every other day and spending a fortune on special bed sheets. 

So, yes...Marley and Me...Not a good movie if you love dogs.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

To immigrate or not, that is the question.



A guy I know in Baku is immigrating to Canada. ( everybody seems to be immigrating to Canada these days, have you noticed?) It is strange that my first reaction was not an excitement for him, but almost a shock. Why are you doing this? I wanted to ask.

Strange that it should surprise me. After all, I spent most of my conscious life wanting to leave Azerbaijan. Why would I question the motives of someone else?

But then I thought about this.

Another Azeri friend of mine who lives in London now has a very influential family back in Azerbaijan. For him, every trip back to Baku probably feels like visiting some magical kingdom, where he is treated like a royalty; and life is a constant celebration.

Of course, in comparison to such extravagant, hedonistic living, life here, in the UK is, well, pretty dull. So, it does not surprise me when he says just how much he would like to move back home. It would probably make sense for me too, if I could have such standard of living. But for me, things would be very different.

I never belonged to a rich family with connections and power. My parents would not only be unable to protect and support me, they would need protecting themselves. I would never do fantastically well, only well enough, because of maybe some western connections I might still have. Perhaps, some expat friend would attempt to influence the local system and get me a reasonable job. But maybe not even that. In the system where every position has a fixed price tag on it, and where local mafia hold the power even in expat organizations these days, there is no place for people like me.

It is not just the corruption and connections that would be my problem. It is the azeriness. You have to be Azeri enough to appeal to the locals you are dealing with, to become influential, prosperous and ochen vajniy.

And you see, this friend of mine who is now venturing into the life of an immigrant, has all the right criteria of azeriness in him. He is a cultural city boy, with good family roots. He is Azeri enough but not a chushka. He can speak the language. He has some professional and business skills- in a specifically Azeri sense of the word -which he used to build his own business. Which, in turn, became successful due to some connections and influences he must have used in a carefully balanced Azeri way. The way I would never even know. Besides all of the above, my main problem would, of course, be that I am a woman.

So, as I listened to him telling me about Canada, I wanted to shake him. Why would he leave everything he has so easily, to go somewhere where he would have to be one of the normal, real people? He would have to get a proper job, his English would have to be much better, his knowledge of how things work back in Azerbaijan would not be of any use, and he would never have as many friends and family members around him as he does now.

It is cold there, I wanted to tell him. It is going to be cold in all possible senses of the word. Don’t go. Stay where you belong, in the country that made you what you are. Where you are somebody. Because, in the western world, you will be no one. In your late thirties, you would have to start all over again.

But I did not pass my negative thoughts on to him, of course. I just said 'Exciting, of course. But also a little bit scary.'‘No’, he replied. ‘Not really that scary. I am taking a lot of money with me.’

Money of course, helps. But I still am not convinced he is making the right choice.

You see, some people are meant to immigrate, but some aren’t. I was born to immigrate. He is too Azeri to do it properly. As a friend of mine said, giving me a good example of a Korean family who dumped everything back home and ran to Canada….she said ‘you have to have nothing to lose.’

But then I thought I was being too negative. This friend of mine, despite being more Azeri than me, is probably concerned about the future of his kids. He probably realizes that his life in Baku is not really what the real world is about. He probably understands that he should move his kids, while they are small, into a country where they will have a reliable medical system, less corruption and a decent education. So perhaps, for him personally, life will be pretty tough in Canada. He does not realize it now, but he will. Give him a few years, when the honeymoon stage is over. But, at least, his children will have a chance for a better future.
Inshallah, eh.

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Natural born leader


There is one mummy at school who annoys me a little. I am not the most tolerant person, as you might have noticed. But it always fascinates me why someone annoys me. Because, very often it takes literally minutes for me to feel irritated and days, if not weeks, to figure out why.
 
This particular mummy is quite pleasant, really. Everyone seems to like her. I would not say she was rude, or arrogant or anything at all that would justify me being annoyed. 

So, I thought, it must be me. Maybe, I am just jealous of her flat stomach and the non-existent arse. I would never admit that was the reason, even to myself. But perhaps, it is?

And then, the days of the teacher’s consultations came.

The mummy in question met the teachers the day before me. Standing in the cold morning outside the school gate, she was sharing her experience.

'Ha-ha!' she said. 'It was amazing listening to the teacher describe my child. It was as if she was talking about me.Everything, every good thing and every bad thing...it is like looking at myself, you know?'

That was all pretty normal. I even started thinking she was quite okay, really.

And then, she said this. 

'The teachers said that there were three girls in the class who were clearly natural born leaders. And I thought: of course! Ha-ha! Just like me!'

Everybody smiled and I almost jumped  in joy. There it was! That’s why she annoys me!  

My child is a natural leader, just like me. 

I mean, how can anyone stand there with a straight face, smile smugly and announce that not only she believed she was a natural born leader, but also that her 4 year old child was clearly born to lead, too? 

So I am satisfied now. I actually don’t even think she will annoy me any longer. Now, that I know what the problem was, I can relax and even enjoy her company. Because, it will never stop amusing me how some people can be so utterly, openly, indulgently in love with themselves.Am.Az.Ing.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Sunday pizza and some Russian mushrooms


A friend of mine stopped by for an impromptu early tea with the kids today. We did not do anything special, just bought some pizzas in M&S and rustled up a salad. Well, I can’t rustle anything up. Husband did it.   

It was such a nice, relaxing Sunday afternoon, though not very Azeri, of course. I did not spend hours cooking and cleaning in advance. 

The day turned out to be a little more unusual than expected. My friend’s parents in law are Russian and live in London. They were driving back today to bring my friend’s child back from her sleepover at their place. My friend expected them to just drop her daughter off at our place and leave. But we asked them to come in.
They got excited. They had been mushroom picking earlier and had a large plastic bag full of them.

‘Would you like some?’ The grandfather asked hesitantly. He knows their very Russian way of picking mushrooms, and then filling my friend’s western kitchen with the strong smell of cooking them does not go down very well. But I love mushrooms. I would never brave picking them myself, but there is nothing like the smell of  freshly picked mushrooms, still covered in dirt, being prepared in your kitchen. Once he saw how keen I was, the Russian grandfather was eager to cook them for me right there and then. 

My friend was not convinced it was a good idea. She was worried about imposing her Russian in laws on me and she was embarrassed for the whole mushroom preparation in my kitchen. But honestly, she had nothing to worry about.  We sure had enough pizzas, and we, of course, did not mind if they stayed. 

As we all sat around my old wooden dining table (I could say antique. It sounds so much better, doesn’t it? But really, it is just very, very old) I tried to make the Russian in laws feel more comfortable. 

‘I feel so awkward...’ the grandmother kept repeating. ‘I was not intending to stay for dinner!’ 

And I was just thinking how sad our society has become that they should worry about imposing. It was a low key Sunday pizza for goodness sake. The babushka also kept saying how wonderful it was, how long she has not been to an impromptu dinner like that, and how Russian it all felt to her. 

And it reminded me of my in-laws faces a few days ago when I bought them a couple of treats for helping out so much during their recent visit. I did not know if it was a good move to be honest. I would hate for them to feel like I was paying them for their hard work. But I was so grateful for their help that I just wanted to show it somehow. And it shocked me to see just how happy it made them both. I could see it in the way my father in law opened that bag with a bottle of gin, and the way my mother in law’s eyes lit up when she saw the huge box of chocolates. Such a simple, such a small sign of appreciation resulting in such child-like joy in their faces almost made me cry. I know it probably sounds strange. But it just made me realize what it is like to be an elderly parent. How amazing it must feel when your children accept, involve and appreciate you. What it must feel like to be paid some attention, even if it is just a few minutes of listening to their stories, or asking them if they would like to stay for pizza. So often we just take parents for granted, used to their helpful hands and all the endless love they give. And give. And give. Never expecting any thanks or gifts in return.

So I was thinking today, watching that older Russian couple enjoy their time at our house, that I must be getting older myself, if I start noticing things like that. And that I must try harder to show my appreciation to my parents and my in laws. While I can.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Some thoughts inspired by a hairbrush. Part II.





OK, firstly someone had to point out I said hairs instead of hair in the previous posting. If that offended anyone else whose English is much better than mine, I apologize profusely. I also apologize to those truly posh people for whom an Aveda hairbrush was not good enough to be considered posh. I was not taking it seriously; and shall pay more attention to what I call posh in future. I promise. I would not want the whole Britain to be considered not posh enough just because I happen to like Aveda, you know? 

Now that we have cleared those two aspects, let’s move on to Part II or the hairbrush influenced thoughts.

My grandmother once told me a story about a famous composer who was in her house and saw her hairbrush in the bathroom. ‘Please!’ He exclaimed, ‘Please tell me this is your cat’s brush and not yours? How can you, such a beautiful young lady, have such a filthy hairbrush?’

It was of course, decades ago. And not only my grandmother, but also my mother and I remembered that comment for years.

And so I was just thinking how, sometimes, people in your life could say something that affects you and makes you remember that comment forever.

Once, when I was maybe about 8 years old, I went to see my Russian girlfriend who lived in the same yard. As we chatted and played, I noticed her occasionally glancing over at her older sister, who was lying on the couch, and not participating in our conversation. When people exchange meaningful glances behind your back, they often believe you won’t notice. But you always do.

So, when we went to play in the yard, I confronted my friend. What was that about, I wanted to know? She confessed that her sister refused to play with us, because she did not like me. That was fine, but I wanted to know why. Only when you are that young, you can expect your female friend to tell you the truth about something like that. My girlfriend blushed and said it was because I talked too much. Her sister found me incredibly irritating.

Needless to say, I never spoke to the sister again. But her comment stung. Maybe because it was…hmm….quite relevant. I do talk a lot. My husband talks an awful lot, and my child talks so much that sometimes I think I will crush the car if she does not stop for at least a minute.

On another occasion, a foreign exchange student was sitting next to me at an arts lesson at the university, watching me paint, and suddenly took my hand.

‘Oh, I thought you were a classy girl!’ He said, looking at my nails. I glanced down and realized that my nail polish was chipped. The truth was, when I left the house that morning, they were still OK. But I did not attempt to argue with him. He was right. Chipped nail polish is a huge no-no.

Of course, there were other comments. I seem to attract those. But not every single one I would remember. I am not sure what it is, whether it has to really hit a nerve, or be true, or something else. Perhaps, it has to be something you already know about yourself, but secretly hope others won’t notice. But there is something good to take out of every mean (or simply truthful?) comment. I definitely never have chipped nails these days, and I always make effort to pause and listen when I talk to someone. It is not easy, but I try.

Friday, 8 October 2010

Some thoughts inspired by a hairbrush.

Part 1.


I was in my friend’s bathroom one day washing hands when I noticed a very nice looking hairbrush. It was so nice that I got tempted to brush my hair with it, to see if it was as soft and lovely as it promised to be. I glanced around, the door was closed and nobody could see me.

'Go on!' a voice inside my head said, 'Try it. She will never know!'

But I stopped. Some instinct told me it would be a very chushka thing to do. I felt there was something too personal about a hairbrush. And, very often, they are not that tempting to use, with hairs stuck in bristles. This one, however, looked clean and new.

All the same, I resisted the chushka urge. But, the beauty of that particular brush got stuck in my sick head, and, when I came across it in a shop, I bought it, despite the ridiculous price tag.

Now, I was a proud owner of a posh hairbrush.

Because I love it so much, and because I have a thing about dirty hairbrushes, I try to keep it clean. Which means pulling my long dark hairs out of it on regular basis.

So, imagine my reaction, when a little while ago, a friend commented, coming out of my bathroom, that she loved my hairbrush.

I looked at her. This friend is one of my most sophisticated friends. Someone with style and elegance that I, admittedly, would love to possess.

No, I thought to myself, she just means it looks good. She would never! use someone else’s hairbrush. Surely not. She is too much of a lady to do that.

But then she added ‘It feels soooooo nice, really massages your scalp, doesn’t it?’ and she patted her hair happily.

Well, there was no doubt she tried it. She had no problem admitting she tried it, and she clearly did not think it was inappropriate.

Later on that night, in the bathroom, I inspected my precious brush for foreign hairs. However stylish and sophisticated this friend is, I still think that was a slightly chushka thing to do.

What is the moral of this story?

Even people you think are more of a lady than you are occasionally let their deeply buried chushka urges shine through. And really, there is a bit of chushka in every single one of us. Even the sophisticated ones.

Sunday, 3 October 2010

From lemon squeezer to Peter Rabbit.


Judge not, that ye be not judged. Last night i had the most bizarre dream. I am actually embarrassed to tell you any details. All I can say is I was NOT participating in any activities. It was like watching a very weird movie. In short, the events took place in what I can only describe as an erotic circus. I wonder if those even exist. Because, if not, we could be talking huge business potential here.

I have been talking to my Russian friend about her English in-laws. I love that subject. It never fails to amuse and entertain me. It feels good to discuss in-laws, because it always makes you appreciate yours more. Because, however strange I might find something my mother in law does, she cannot compare, in my wildest dreams, with these guys.

Besides some other bizarre habits, one of the best aspects of their behaviour is their choice of presents.

A long time ago, when my friend was freshly married to their son, and settled in London, she received her first birthday gift from the in-laws. She unwrapped the parcel to find a special lemon squeezing device. A very practical item for any household.

I wondered if they, perhaps, thought that someone from a country like Azerbaijan would find a lemon-squeezing tool miraculous. Like natives would find a lighter. Wow! Fire from a little stick comes out it does! Lemon gets squeezed by pressing two metal pieces together!

The next year things got more interesting. She received an A4 size collage of the in-laws hiking trip to the mountains. Their photos. Their diary. Their collage.

Why, why, why would anyone send their memoirs to someone as a birthday gift? Unless you are Madonna and you know that it will sell for a reasonable amount of cash, why create more recycling material?

But wait a minute! We are not done yet.

Last year, my friend had another gift from them. It was Beatrix Potter children’s stories. Part I.
At this point, my friend might have lost her manners a little. After years of bizarre gifts, she decided to point out that she was into a somewhat different genre of books in her ripe age of the late thirties. 'Well', the in-laws said 'We felt it was something of a British classic. Every home should own a copy, in our opinion' they said.

The hint she gave them last year bounced back like a tennis ball; and this year, on her birthday, she received....yes. The rest of the Beatrice Potter’s classic collection. Part II.

If you ask me, I say that was a slap in her face. An open invitation to a bare knuckle fight. You get a slap like that and it is your choice, you either swallow it and feel like a total CHMO; or you tell them where to stick their English classics, and then you are just a horrible, ungrateful daughter in law with no manners or respect for the English culture.  She chose the latter.

Sometimes, with people like that, hints don’t work. Manners get ignored. Polite requests get stepped over. You ask them not to do something and they do it anyway. It happens often with in-laws. They have their own reasons and their own agendas; and we can only try to understand. Most importantly, we must try to remember that one day, we will be in their place. One day my little girl with marry someone who will probably think I am weird. Oh, he most definitely will. So, I am just trying to accept my in-laws with all their good and bad habits, and be thankful they accept me with mine. And be hopeful that my daughter’s future family accepts me, too. But I must make a note to never send them my memoirs for their birthdays. However tempted I might be.