Friday, 23 March 2012

The Soviet Union might have collapsed. But the posing remains.

We were at a beach today and, sitting at the back of the truck, i decided it was a good photo opportunity. Take a picture of me, i commanded, shoving my phone into husband's hands. Take a good one, so i dont look too fat or too old. I tried sitting up straight, sucking everything in and gazing at the horizon.

Honestly, husband laughed, what is it with you, the Soviets, and the posing for photographs? The Soviet Union might have collapsed years ago, but the posing surely, remained!

Of course, he is, as usual, right. We, ex-soviets, love to pose for photographs. Especially the women.

Recently, i had a good laugh looking at a picture taken in the office of an oil company in Baku. In the photo, which was taken on the international womens' day, eight beautiful young women sat at the table with a huge bouquet of flowers each. And everything about this photo was so Soviet, you could easily think it was taken sometime in the 70es in a Krasniy Oktyabr factory, where a group of young Udarnitsas were celebrating the big day. You would have never thought these were the girls working for a modern western company. How is that possible, i was wondering to myself. Why is that? Why do our women pose so artificially, in such embarassingly silly way?

It is like in Zoolander-one of those fantastic silly movies that are just great. What look was that? The Magnum. In our case it is the Soviet look. Oh, what look was that? The Soviet one again. Here is me posing on the back of the truck today...gazing into the horizon like a soviet Komsomolka. And here is me posing in front of a tree...pozing like a Soviet Kompomolka, again.

It is something that unites us, women from the ex-Soviet countries. You can spot us posing anywhere in the world, in front of beaches, buildings and trees. There are various ways we pose. We can be smiling, gazing into the distance or looking dramatic...but whatever we do, however hard we try to look natural, we all have this unmistakable Soviet look that nobody else can get even if they tried.

Tonight, looking through the photos of today, i tried to choose one of me on the beach to put up on Facebook. There was one where i looked more natural, but with a silly hat on. There was another one where I looked pretty normal, too but I did not think i looked as slim in that one. So, in the end, the Soviet-gazing at the horizon- won. I know it looks fake and a bit pathetic, but the legs and the chest looked the best.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Sifr means zero. I know that.

A while ago, back in the UK, i sat at the table with my husband, listening to him telling me about this local guy who got stuck on M25 because he ran out of petrol. Ha-ha-ha! I said. How stupid does one have to be, really?

Well, i dont really want to know the answer, because today, i managed to get stuck right in the middle of a very busy junction.

Back in the UK i drove a malenkiy Skoda fabia. In Qatar, everyone who has any sense buys as big of a car as she or he can afford. Qataris, as i have noticed, are addicted to Land Cruisers. So, i figured, that they must know what works best here, and chose a Prado- a baby Land Cruiser.

I have to say, i love my baby Prado as if she were my third child. I sing her songs and say goodnight to her. Sometimes, walking past the window, i glance out to see what she is up to. So, i still am in shock that i could have neglected her so badly. In the middle of a very busy junction, fortunately at the traffic lights, we got stuck. The car refused to move. I panicked, drivers behind me got annoyed...and only after a few helpless attempts to start the engine did i realize that there was no petrol in my baby. None.

You see, my excuse is that my old car, small as it might be, was intelligent enough to beep at me when she was running out of petrol. She would let out this unmissable, disturbing kind of noise that never failed to capture my attention. Toyota, however, is not designed that way. She never made any warning noise or flashed any warning light. Husband suggested that the problem is not that Toyota is not intelligent enough but that it might be designed for intelligent people.

He tried to scare me. The police will take away your license! They will probably fine you now! But, nothing like that happened. In fact, i have to admit, Doha road police were nice. It took them less than five minutes to arrive, and they were not even annoyed with me. Their English was not very good, and they took turns to figure out what the problem was. Very embarrassing, i tried to explain. Ran out of petrol. No petrol!

But the policemen just could not imagine anyone could be that stupid. They kept looking for a more respectable explanation to me sitting in he middle of the junction causing chaos.

Fnally, one of them laughed and used the word that sounded familiar to me (a lot of arabic words actually are the same in azeri) Ha! He said. Sifr petrol! Sifr!
Yes, yes! I shouted excitedly. Sifr petrol! Zero! Sifr!

And then, in the middle of the chaos, an even bigger car appeared at our side and Husband, like a knight in a shining armour came to rescue me. He apologized for allowing his mentally challenged wife out of the house, and went off to get me some petrol.

Cooped with the baby screaming all the way home, my older child bruising her elbow later in the afternoon, and me dripping pineapple juice from the box all over just washed floors....my day simply could not have gotten much better.

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

My father passed away.

My father passed away two days ago.

It is not something i can really blog about. What is there, really, to say?
that it was a shock? That he went too early, too fast?

They buried him before i even knew. Part of me feels like i did not get to say goodbye. Part of me is grateful for having been spared the terrible trauma of being there, seeing him dead, seeing him getting put in the ground. In my memories, he is alive and talking to me.

Not only do i feel shocked by what happened and obviously very sad, but also, it feels like a whole big chapter of my life has come to an end. My dad's family, big and friendly, with generous spread at every occassion, gathering around to drink, eat and shout at the table...all gone. My cousin and I, speaking via Skype from Canada to Qatar, discussed it last night.

Do you feel this, too, i said to her, that we are the last little pieces of that family jigsaw. Tomorrow, when we are gone, our chidldren will not sit together at a big table. They will not even be there together at our funerals. Who knows where will I be buried, or where my cousin will end up? Our children, raised in different countries all over the world, will never have what we had.

Of course, i also feel awful for having not seen my dad for three years. Money issues, babies and other commitments kept getting in the way. The last time i was in baku, my parents and i, together with my older child sat on a bench at the Boulevard. It was a sunny day, and we were just sitting there, happy, eating ice-cream and watching my girl run around. And my mother, as older people back home love to do, pointed out to me, that i must memorize this day. Imprint it in your heart, she said, because very possibly, this is the last time we sit together like this. Of course, i told her to "stop it!" then. But she turned out to be right.

It is not normal for the English people, for example, to say things like that. To be worried about not living to see each other next year. And I wonder if that is because people don't die as suddenly or as early in the UK as they do back in Azerbaijan, where medicine is so pathetic, and doctors are useless. Who knows how long my aunt would have lived in a different country. Who knows how much medical attention my father would have had in the UK. Life expectancy in Azerbaijan is one of the worst in the region. So yes, my mother was not predicting the future. She was just being realistic about life.

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Two bottles of wine and two steaming cupcakes.

I came across a posting by an anonymous member of this Doha Mums organization I have joined. (Quite useful for all sorts of things in the expat world of doha.)

She wrote that she could not make any friends and found it depressing that people did not seem to like her. Made me think of all the times I felt people were not interested. But then also, it made me think how sometimes it just takes that little bit of initial effort to get to know someone, and realise that the other person might just be shy, or unsure how to start a conversation.

The compound we live in is not as aggressively friendly as we thought it might be. Husband, describing a potential compound friendliness to me, suggested (in a cheerleader's sort of voice) that the day we landed here, there would be a knock on the door- "Hi!!! Do you want to come to my church!!???"

But guess what? Nobody knocked.

Days passed, and i met no neighbours. Every time i took a stroll with a pushchair around the compound, the only people i saw were the Phillipino maids and maintenance workers. (Also Phillipino). They all glanced at me questioningly, as their maaam did not hang outside with a baby. Their Maam was busy doing some things that maams do. Not that i would know as, in an absence of a maid, i walk my baby, and take husband's shirts to the laundrette. (which is one of these great little luxuries in Doha. It cost us-wait for it!- 70 pence per shirt to have i cleaned and pressed. We figured it would be sinful to wash and iron them ourselves) So, every day, wearing a friendly expression on my face, i kept looking around hoping to see another mother. And then, finally, i noticed one woman with children of similar age to mine, walking down the road. I said hi and she sort of nodded curtly. And walked past.

Hmm, i thought. Okay.

After a few more days i suddenly ran into her again, this time at the little playground.

A scandinavian-looking child, which I assumed belonged to her since there were no more people there, was having a great time with my daughter on the trampoline. And yet again, she barely looked at me. I parked the pram and stood there, watching our kids play, talking to my child in this voice you put on when you have an audience. You know, an approachable kind of voice. I thought she would ask if we were new...or if it was my daughter playing with hers...you now? There are so many things she cold have asked. But she did not.

And so i walked over. Hi, i said. I am such and such, we have just moved here. And she smiled, and she looked...nice. We chatted, and i asked questions, and she promised to get me details of something i wanted to find out about...And now, in a matter of two weeks, this woman:

A) took me to a wholesale plants market in her huge car while i was without any transport.
B) brought me two bottles of wine one evening, while i was without any liquor license. Nice ones, too!
C) appeared outside my door yesterday with two steaming fresh blueberry cupcakes she had just baked and wanted me to try. Delicious!

What i am trying to say is...she is one of the nicest people i have met in Doha so far. And if I had not approached her that day, i would have never known that.

Also, last week I decided to have a coffee afternoon at my place. Got tired of waiting for someone else to invite me. Following the instruction from my daughter, I just knocked on some doors and invited a few mums she said were "very nice". In the end, seven of us sat around the table. It was like an international summit with representatives from: Sweden, Belgium, UK, Azerbaijan, Palestine, Germany and Finland.

Make effort, I wrote back to the depressed anonymous member of Doha mums. Find someone you think you might like and stalk them. Like I stalked a few of my English friends back in the UK. They might have thought i was weird at first, but then you get to show them you are okay, really. (Or, in my case, they probably still think i am pretty weird but have given in, and accepted me anyway)

And they might bring you cupcakes. Or even a bottle of wine (if you are really cool, of course)