Thursday, 24 February 2011

Diaspora? What Diaspora?

People often ask me if there is a big Azeri Diaspora in London. I shrug my shoulders and give a simple answer that I don’t know. 

I used to think I knew nothing of the Azeri Diaspora because I was not married to an Azeri man, and was not here on a rotation or work experience from an oil company back in Baku; thus was not connected to other fellow Azeris in any social, family or work ways. 

Maybe other Azeris do feel a part of some sort of community, I thought. And I do occasionally hear about an Azeri society, an Azeri newspaper, an Azeri club, etc etc. There used to be an Azeri restaurant which now is closed. But overall, I am not sure any of it I personally would classify as a Diaspora. Somehow, even though that is entirely my personal interpretation of the word, Diaspora always sounded too powerful to me, to associate it with the Azeris in the UK. When I hear Diaspora, I think of a strong, closely bound community with large number of people working and living together and most importantly, looking after each other. I say Diaspora and I think of a Jewish or an Armenian Diaspora.  I would not automatically think of an Azeri Diaspora, somehow.

And a few days ago I thought of why.

A friend of a friend opened a new restaurant in London. It is not as Azeri as the one I went to before. It is more of a, I would say, ex-Soviet place. The dishes range from something Azeri to a few famous Georgian and typical Russian dishes, as well as things like Chicken Kievs, which even locals would be familiar with. 

So, recently, a large group of young Azeri women booked a table for dinner at the place. There was live music that night, played by an Iranian musician, who was familiar with ex-soviet repertoire due to him being married to a Russian girl. The Azeri ladies requested a specific Azeri song, which the musician did not know. 

The owner, trying to be accommodating, offered to play the song on a CD.

No, one of the girls said, I want it played live. In the end she proposed that she played it on the synthesizer. Her friends danced and drunk and sung songs. A very typical ex-Soviet night  in a friendly, family-owned Azeri place. Sounds nice, doesn’t it? 

So the owner thought, until the next day, when the girl placed a bizarre reference about the new restaurant on her Facebook page. She said it was pro-Armenian.

I am not sure what part of the evening caused that comment. I assume it was the choice of songs played by the Musician. Or the fact that some dishes were Georgian and Russian. Who knows? Maybe the pattern on the tablecloth looked suspiciously Armenian to her. The most important fact, to me, is that an Azeri woman had a nice evening with her Azeri girlfriends in a friendly new place, owned by a fellow countryman. And all she wanted to do after that is say something that, despite sounding just moronic to me personally, in her understanding, would be damaging to the reputation of the restaurant. 

An older Azeri relative of mine, having heard the story, reminded me of an old parable. 

An Azeri man, she said, would set his boss up and say nasty things about him, so the boss would get sacked, and he could get his position. A Georgian man, in comparison, would speak highly of his boss in the hope that the boss would get promoted, and the man could then take his place. 

And even though it is an old tale, that is precisely what annoys me when I hear such silly stories. No nation can ever succeed or become great when people attack fellow countrymen behind the facade of fake patriotism. When people stab each other in the back, and when the only time they are happy to help each other is when there is an obvious reward or pressure from the more powerful above. 

The restaurant owner was upset and hurt. His friend, who told me the story, was concerned the pro-Armenian reputation would be damaging in the eyes of those Azeris for whom such a remark would be an important factor. 

I, however, suddenly had a strong desire to gather a bunch of ex-Soviet friends, travel all the way across London to Sobranie, order some ex-Soviet dishes, whether they are Georgian, Russian , Armenian or Azeri, have some vodka and toast the owner for his hard work and efforts. And who knows? Maybe the pro-Armenian reputation will bring in an open-minded, cool international crowd now that the mental nationalists and fake patriots stay away.

Monday, 21 February 2011

A typical British play date. Azeri style.

A friend called me the other day to discuss a delicate situation. 

'Look' she said 'This English mother from my son’s school is asking for him to go back to their house after school. For play and tea. Without me...'

‘Of course without you’, I told her. ‘It is totally normal. He is a big boy now, and play dates come along once a child starts school. The happy days are here! Enjoy your freedom and don’t worry! ‘

But she was worried. Her son had never been anywhere without his parents. Who is going to help him wash his hands, who is going to ensure he eats enough and who would help him if he needed toilet? 

We spoke at length, and decided it was not a big problem after all.  

Suddenly, she called me again last night, distraught.  Her (Azeri) husband, she said, was not impressed. 

‘My son is not going visiting some people we don’t know without parents like some Jindir’ ( Jindir is a very commonly used word in Azeri, meaning someone unkempt, unlooked after and basically with no money; or I presume, in this case, parents)

‘Let's invite them all to our house for some proper dinner!' he suggested.

 ‘No, no, no!’ I interrupted. ‘You don’t want to do that!’

‘I know...’ my friend sighed. ‘I explained to him that it was quite normal and it was just a play date...But he was adamant. ‘

In the end, after hours of negotiations and convincing, my Azeri friend decided it was possibly OK for his son to go to someone’s house for a play date. But, he said, on one condition.

‘My son is not going to visit someone like a Jindir. He has to take something with him.’

That was the only way he’d let him go, my friend laughed. 

So what did boy take with him to a play date, you might ask? 

Well, this, my friends, is the interesting part. He took a box of nice chocolates.   

And a bottle of expensive cognac.

I have to say, I would love to know what the English mother thought when she saw that her 4-year old son’s play mate showed up with a box of chocolates and a bottle of brandy. I wonder if inviting the whole family over for a huge Azeri dinner with plov and 15 elaborate starters would have been a less hmmmm.....unusual gesture? Who knows. 

The story made me laugh, but also made me think of many people I know, who managed to remain just the way there were back home, even after having lived in this country for years. It made me wonder how it was possible. It also made me think just how difficult it must be to build a home in this country without assimilating in the culture. On one hand, I can understand why some immigrants would try to keep their individuality and cultural values. That is what helps them to hold on to who they are, who they were and what they don’t have any more. But, building a life in this country, and most importantly, raising children who will belong here (no matter what we, as parents, might do to stop them) requires a desire to accept things the way they are done locally; and an understanding that one day, some things just have to give. Like the notion of jindir.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

The Sinner and The Saint.

Well, well, well... It is a very exciting time right now for those Azeris who think Eurovision is cool. Finally, despite the usual suspicious vote counting and some serious complaints sent to the Eurovision panel, the finalists for the next cheesy show have been chosen. 

What can I say? It is an interesting choice. I would suggest a very smart one. Because, we are now covering all angles and trying to appeal to all important groups in the audience, so to speak. 

There is a young and innocent, Justin Bieber (or some X Factor boy band contestant) type boy. He is fresh and, from what I heard, can actually sing. In some of his photos he seems to be wearing too much make-up, which makes him look strange. But that made me wonder if Eldar’s sexual orientation (do they even have a defined sexual orientation at the innocent age of twelve?) is purposely unclear enough to attract the gay votes. And the gay population forms a very large and influential audience of the Eurovision across the world. Tick!

Don’t forget that, because he is young and cute, he will also be getting the back-up of all those teenage girls, too. Tick!

What about men, you might ask, who prefer sexy, less innocent ladies? 

No worries!

For the female sex appeal we give you the other half of the duet. Sexy, good-looking and suggestive, the lady singer has not got much of a vocal talent going for her, but since when would that be a problem for this contest? 

Talking of Nigar Jamal’s looks, I was wondering if there is some First Lady Lookalike trend building up in Baku at the moment? The look to ask your plastic surgeon for, if you can afford it. In this particular photo below, Ms. Jamal looks disturbingly like the first lady. Only more approachable.

So, with a face resembling the first lady, and the Jenifer Lopez style backside, our female contestant looks pretty hot.  A few Azeris were also impressed with her ‘perfect English accent’.  Not sure what an accent has to do with singing, but it clearly impressed some fans.

Of course, no major event like this would go smoothly in Azerbaijan. People are either in love with the new representatives, or get annoyed at the way they were chosen. According to my (reliable, of course) sources, Nigar won pretty suddenly:  without the majority of votes or going through the official competition stages. ‘Shhh!’ someone told me. ‘Don’t say that on the blog, she is well protected, you know?’ So was Safura last year, as I heard. In fact, this is the sad reality of Azerbaijan. As soon as someone makes it, people assume- sadly, often correctly- that they must be well-protected.

So here we are, back to Eurovision again. Can’t wait to see the unlikely pair on the stage.  I would imagine they would do really well. Personally, I would suggest a seduction of a virgin boy scenario. The duet could be called The Sinner & The Saint. An innocent young boy, probably gay but still refusing to admit it even to himself, gets seduced by an older, experienced sexy lady. Add some drip-drop of tears, some semi-naked dancers, votes based on political and geographic location and some expensive world-known choreographers and we might stand a good chance. Again.  

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Your bones on my bones.

Honestly, why cant people write proper song lyrics anymore? What is the matter with:

a) artists and song writers;

b) fans who let them get away with moronic words, singing along and clapping like a bunch of idiots?

I have noticed recently that there are a few very bizarre songs out there, which you might not be familiar with, but as an XFM radio station listener I get to enjoy on regular basis…

Just look at these sentences.

1. You say, ‘I love you, boy’. But I know you lie. I trust you all the same. I don’t know why. Biffy Clyro. (I don’t know why, either. Maybe you are a stupid looser.)

2. I’ve got soul but I am not a soldier. The Killers. Oh, I see what you tried to do here. Very interesting. NOT.

3. Don’t you wanna feel my bones… on your bones? It’s only natural. The Killers again. (There is just something about those words that makes me cringe.)

4. Are we humans? Or are we dancers? The Killers again. No comment.

Hmm....Clearly, looking at this list, The Killers are the absolute winners of the moronic lyrics contest.

Listening to the radio this morning made me remember how beautiful some song lyrics are. Just think of Love Will Tear Us Apart by Joy Division. Or, The Mad World by Gary Jules…Or, my other old favourite The Man Who Sold the World by David Bowie...(I prefer the Nirvana version)

But, maybe? I am simply a product of a different culture, as well as the different generation. I am the girl whose musical education was based on the old Soviet rock bands. Boris Grebenshikov, Victor Tsoi…. When, in the times when nobody spoke the truth, every word in a song meant so much, and was so important.

Or maybe, I just love words, and what can be done with them. Someone recently sent me this (quite a nice one, actually) azeri food blog; and there I saw this:

For if I do not burn

And if you do not burn

And if we do not burn

who else

is here to dispel the darkness...

Nazim Hikmet

And I thought it was simply beautiful. But hey, it is all about personal opinion, isn’t it. To me, that was poetic. To someone else ‘your bones on my bones’ makes a lot more sense.

Saturday, 5 February 2011

Ligaments and anginas.

Just saw the most ridiculous advert on telly. They were explaining how many germs there are all around us at home. 

Oh, no, how terrible! Every time one of us touches the regular soap dispenser pump, we leave tons of germs all over it! So, why not use this hands free soap dispenser?

Whenever I see something like that, I am curious. How many people are actually that stupid? Because, even my 5-year old understood when I explained that there was no point worrying about the pump as the only time you would touch it is seconds before you wash your hands. 

Stupid things just wind me up, and I had to get it out of my system. 

Now, back to the subject.

I realized the other day that my English was nowhere near as good as I thought. Because, I might be able to express a lot of feelings, thoughts and emotions in it, I might communicate perfectly well and be able to read complicated books ( like Harry Potter, which is my bedtime book right now, don't ask me why)...But there is one very basic, very important area where I am still very foreign.

I have been getting an unpleasant sensation in my belly recently, whenever I walk fast or get tired. It feels muscular, and is probably because of the extra weight I am carrying around. So, trying to explain it to people, I actually was not sure what words to use. And I realized that describing pain is possibly one of the most complicated tasks you face when you are speaking in another language.

Is it a pulling sensation? A friend asked. Hmmm I thought pulling? Don’t know. Is it like a stitch? Is it like a cramp? Oh, forget it, I said. I have no idea! 

And really, how does one describe pain? How do we explain what it feels like to be able to translate it into another language?

In Russian we very often use words that make absolutely no sense in English.

Like a headache. A tense, sudden headache is often referred to as a spasm or a spasmodic pain. Yes, it comes up when I look it up online, but I have never had a native speaker understand what I mean, or use the word.

We say angina when we mean an infected sore throat (possibly coming from Vincent’s angina?), and we often complain we don’t feel quite right because we have high blood pressure. The whole blood pressure thing is  one of Husband’s favourite topics of endless heated discussions with my mother. As someone trained to be a doctor in the UK, he gets frustrated trying to prove to her that she can’t feel any symptoms of high blood pressure.Because she knows that she can.

So, it occurred to me, that this is possibly one area where I still don’t feel as comfortable as in my own language.  I can swear, joke, blog and work alongside the locals, I can communicate with my husband and child perfectly well; but when it comes to feeling unwell I am suffering alone. 

'It is the kind of pain you might feel if you run fast to a bus' I told a medical friend of mine, and she seemed to have got it. 

'Yes, it is probably your ligaments' she said. 

Liga-ments. Right. Look it up online.

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Nothing compares to you.

A friend of mine made me very happy this morning. She reminded me of the mutual friend of ours ( let’s call her Ms.K.) whom I never liked; for such an awfully long and painful time, that at some point I just sat down and asked myself-why, oh why???!!! would I be going through this absolute torture of soul and mind? So I made an effort and cut her out of my life. (I told you briefly about her here)

And, since  I have not spoken to K for many years; I, of course, forgot just how irritating she was. How selfish and how ignorant. How terribly rude.

And so, every time my friend complains about K,  I just cannot help but enjoy it. Because it just reminds me of the benefits of not having to ever deal with this person again. No matter how frustrating or unreasonable some of the things my current friends might occasionally say or do nobody can ever compare to this girl.

And today, my friend made me laugh again. She was telling me that, having never been to Ms K’s place for a dinner or lunch in the years they both lived in the UK, my friend braved a more direct approach.

'Look', she said, 'I can leave the baby with my husband, take my 4-year old girl and just come and see you, perhaps?'

'No, no, no!' MsK exclaimed. 'Children would make too much mess! They would keep grabbing things and we would never relax! We could go to a park. Or I could come to you?'

Now, there would be an obvious question if any of us were rude (or brave?) enough to ask. How come she thinks it is OK to come to my friend’s place, with her toddler and make a mess, when she can’t face to ever have anyone over at hers?

How does she do it? My friend wanted to know. How does she always do it?

But people like K. exist everywhere. I am sure you know a few. I have met them here, in the UK as well as back home. And I have been fascinated by this type of people. And why some of them manage to not just get away with it but do it in such a manner that it makes us all happy to please them.

My theory is very simple.

Once, I saw this very funny video. I am very pleased I could find it for you in case you accidentally missed it and never seen it before- that would be a huge loss!Do watch it.

Sexual Harassment At Work

Because, the advice makes a lot of sense, even though the video of course, is meant to be a joke.

Be attractive. Do not be unattractive!

My theory about the users, who get away with using their friends, is similar to the above rule. The users have to have a certain charm about them. If they are friendly, charming, good-looking and gifted in this using the others game, they often get away with it, in some instances, for years. And you will probably think you must be a very close friend of theirs if they are so comfortable using you.

The problem of Ms K however, is that she, sadly, does not possess any charm. We all see through her. Some of us, like me, see it earlier and run away...but some, like my poor friend are stuck with her for a while. I just hope she finally gets tired of being polite and tells Ms K where to go.As we say in Russian, with a feather up her a***- for a lighter and quicker journey.