Saturday, 30 June 2012

What type of bread do Irish people like?

I recently mentioned to someone that one really must filter through all the boring, weird and crazy people to find friends amongst the expats.

The woman was outraged. 'What do you mean!? I have never met anyone crazy or boring?!'

 What makes someone boring or crazy, she wanted to know, in case she was one of the above, and never realized. Well, maybe she was. Because, one thing i am slowly realizing here, is that the world of expats is absolutely full of boring and/or weird people, from all sorts of countries. And, between you and me, it is quite a sad thing for me to admit and accept. I used to think people in suburbia of London were pretty dull. And they were. It took me years to find some normal people there. Years! So, I was secretly hoping that, somewhere like this, in an exotic and wild place, i would find a lot of interesting, fascinating people, original and creative. Why, they are people who left their ordinary lives, with their lawns, commuter trains and office cubicles to live somewhere different. To experience something cool, you know? I was thinking there would be certain glamour about expats here. But, in reality, there is a very small percentage of expats I met who are, indeed, interesting and different. The rest are, sadly, what we call in Russian otbrosi or the refuse of the society.

'Oh, I despair' I said to husband the other night, after having read a bunch of absolutely ridiculous comments on a local expat forum. Why are there so many stupid women here? What the hell is the matter with them all??

 Well, husband laughed. Think about it. There probably are smart men in this world who marry stupid women-it must happen more often, to be realistic, than the other way around. Smart women would not marry stupid men, right? And let's face it. A lot of expats are here because they could not make it back home- for various reasons, but it would be safe to assume that a few of them are quite stupid. And therefore, their wives must be stupid, too.

Ok, i thought. Sadly, that makes sense. In a world of expats, you probably would not get the best of the best from each country.

I am curious whether it is an expat thing all over the world, or do certain countries attract better samples of expatriates? Since Qatar is my first proper expat destination, i am yet to find out.

 I was trying to think back to the years in Baku where i had a lot of expat friends and colleagues. Were they more exciting, or was it me who was different back then? Was it me who had lower expectations; who viewed expats in general as a superior breed back then? Is it me who is more experienced and more demanding of people these days?

 An Irish friend of mine and i went to a coffee in a nice hotel the other day. We sat on pretty sofas sipping our skinny lattes when a very tall and very odd-looking woman appeared next to us, staring at my friend and her little girl. We stopped talking and smiled politely. Sorry, the woman explained. 'My son thought your baby was someone we now'. That would have been an okay explanation, except that the boy was really not that interested.

'She followed me here from the bathroom!' my friend whispered.

As we got up to leave, the woman, who by then had explained to us that she was German, and lived in Doha for many years, proceeded to follow my friend around the coffee shop. She reached over her shoulder to grab a jar of honey we were looking at. She wanted to know where my friend was from.

Do you like honey? Do Irish people like honey? 

'I have experience with Scottish people...', she continued as my friend paused to choose a loaf of fancy bread. Do Irish people prefer brown bread? Because, Scottish people, i think, they prefer soft white bread...'

'Excuse me', i almost asked. 'Maybe you could tell us... What bread do weird people prefer?'

So yes. This is what the glamorous expat world is like, in reality. But hey, I have not given up yet. I am sure there are some truly cool people here. Somewhere.

Hmm...I wonder what type of bread they prefer?

Monday, 18 June 2012

Does a spirit need a plane ticket?

My mother and i had a good chuckle today. Really, we should not have, as the matter itself was not funny.

Clearly, there is something disturbingly wrong with my sense of humour, as earlier today i made a joke on Doha Mums forum that confused some people. Again. And I, myself, am often confused too-I have no idea why I bother with that place. It often feels like trying to have a conversation with a flock of sheep. Woolly, soft, brainless sheep.

But then, occasionally, i come across some fun women with brains. So, considering the annual membership is only forty quid, i think it was worth joining.

 Now, back to my mother's story today. One of her girlfriends lost her husband recently. To cancer. It is sad. My mother ran into her during her usual evening stroll in the park nearby. The woman complained she was very tired. She was talking about her son demanding they did this, and they did that...because his daddy would have liked it this way, or because his daddy wanted that to happen that way.

Eventually, she mentioned her sister was inviting her to take a break and visit her in Moscow.

 'Well, why not go?' my mother said. 'You need a break.'

 'But i cant leave him' replied her friend, looking sombre.

 My mother decided to clarify. It is always important to clarify. 'Leave whom?' She asked, and proposed with hope- 'Your son?'

 -No, no...not him...

 -Your dog?-My mother tried the last possible sensible option.

 -Well, i guess him, too...he would not be happy in the kennels with other dogs. They might hurt him....but no. I mean Rustam.

 I.e. the dead husband.

 'Hold on a second!' I exclaimed over the Face Time'  'Has she maybe lost it?! Does she believe he is still alive, sick in bed?' Or maybe, is it his ashes she is talking about? But then, I suppose she could take the urn with her, if she must....'

 'No' my mother laughed. 'She was talking of the dead husband's spirit.'


What do you say in such a delicate situation? 'Well...' I suggested, 'You could explain to her that his spirit could, in theory, fly along with her to Moscow?

 It must be wonderful for that woman to believe her husband' spirit stuck around, I guess. Even though, if it were me, i would rather it had not. Believing in spirits is one thing. But why, why, why would she then think that the spirit was restricted to only staying at his old apartment? Surely, if you believe in spirits, you should know-even i do!- that they can be anywhere, really. As long as she tells him, maybe...'Look, honey. I am going to go to Moscow for a little while. Do you mind flying down to see me there? If you are not too...hmm...tired?'

Anyway. It was my birthday today, people! And it was a nice one, considering I have only lived in Doha for about five months. And as I get older, I am even more convinced that life is too short to waste it on idiots. But you know what? They can sure be entertaining.

Saturday, 9 June 2012

People we trust

I witnessed a scene at the pool the other day. A bunch of small children were playing, jumping in and splashing about, with no parents to supervise them. I glanced around and noticed a few maids chatting in the shade. They were so engrossed in their conversation that none of them looked at the kids, not even once.

One of my neighbours, a woman who'd raised her own kids a while ago, but still remembers what it is like to have small children, was getting concerned. 'Look at the little one!' She pointed out. 'She stands on the edge, and keeps grabbing the tail of that inflatable dolphin her older sister is jumping on. If she falls in and bangs her head on the wall, she will drawn! Before any of those maids even get a chance to look up and check what is going on'.

Planning our trip to Doha from the UK, we kept imagining what it would be like, and one of the most popular jokes between me and Husband was the future live-in help. Everyone gets a maid there, we got told. Because it is so cheap and easy.

We imagined what it would be like. We even gave our imaginary future maid a name- Manuela. Every time i would do a chore i hated, like unloading the dishwasher, Husband would say: 'Just think! In a few months you will not have to do this! You will just say Manuela! Can you unload the dishwasher please!'

Manuela! Kids are hungry! Manuela, wash the car! The Manuela jokes became increasingly popular in our household. And, since we have arrived, I have had no doubt that, at some point, when we settle and find out more about it, we would definitely get help. But, the more i watch the maids in our compound, the more unsure I actually get. And i am not taking about problems and scary stories expat ladies like to share on local forums. And there are a lot of those! Every time I log on to one of the most popular discussion boards, i read more postings about maids. Maid is stealing from me! Maid ran away! Maid is lying! There was even one about a maid who had abused a two year old boy.

Maids are discussed like pedigree horses. They get broken down by age, price but most importantly-nationality. Phillipinas- the most popular ones in Qatar- are most expensive. Their English is better, they are more civilised, they have better personal hygiene... "Ethiopians run away, Indians constantly lie, and Phillipinas are sex mad and will end up bringing a boyfriend into your house".

You learn and read about every possible problem you might face, stories you will get fed, and things that might get stolen. But none of that turns us off. We still get help, either live in or visiting...and then, having prepared ourselves for a million and one things that could potentially go wrong with a maid in our home, we entrust them entirely with the one thing that is most precious to us all- our children.

The recent tragedy in Villagio was of course, simply sickening. 13 small children died, and 4 teachers. And, amongst all the endless questions-Why? How could this ever happen? Whose fault was it?? Was it the building design? Was it the authorities, the owners, the firemen...?... One other question kept ringing in my head. Were those teachers prepared for something like this? Were they properly trained? Having read an article in Peninsula, I felt so disturbed I needed to vent out. Things that we take for granted back home are not just the H&S standards or the fire regulations. It is also the staff we trust our children to.

They are accredited, they are checked and they are trained. What if, i thought to myself, my baby goes to a nursery and chocks on a piece of apple? No need for a big fire or an earthquake. Lets just look at something trivial. A chocking hazard. Will one of those smiley, kind Phillipino nursery teachers know how to help my baby? Will they know what to do if a child suddenly goes in an allergic shock or has an epileptic fit? Will they have the right number to dial? Will they use an initiative? Do they have the appropriate training and experience for so many things that can potentially go terribly wrong when they are left in charge of a bunch of small children all day? So, I asked on Doha mums forum. I assumed every one of us was thinking the same thing, but of course, i got told off. How dare i slam the deceased teacher.

But i was not trying to accuse anyone. I was just thinking of those maids in the compound. Smiley. Kind. Soft.

Yes, maam. Everything and anything at all- 'yes, maam'. Never arguing back, never disobeying the authority. Never daring to make their own decision whether to run from the smoke pouring out of the AC units or stay put. The soft, gentle nursery teachers, school assistants and maids...the people we put in charge of our children, every day of our expat life.

 My friend's maid was at the pool this morning. She was sent there to watch the little girl. 'It is hot maam' she told me, smiling when i said hello. She was sitting away from the pool, in the shade, earphones in her ears, listening to the music.

What if...??? I thought.