Tuesday, 29 May 2012

The unspeakable Villagio Tragedy.

I have always been very Azeri when it comes to Health and Safety. Some of you might even remember me writing about the UK regulations we had to follow at work, the extent of which was often taken to a ridiculous level. Back in London, I worked in a college and maybe because of that, or because it was the way in any British organization; working in an Estates department meant constantly worrying about fire regulations. I had to produce floor plans, I had to mark every single fire extinguisher on them, every fire exit...

The H&S manager was always such a pain in the backside! They are never fun people those guys, are they. Wherever you work, the H&S officers are always incredibly boring, only to be matched by possibly the HR officers, if that. And maybe because I am Azeri, or because I believe westerners are too crazy about their H&S stuff...I only got annoyed when the friend I was meeting yesterday called me to say there were fire alarms going off at Villagio. 'Maybe we should avoid meeting here today?', she suggested.


'Nuh', I said. 'It is probably just a fire drill. Let me park the car at the other end and call you back'

 But as I approached the mall, even from the distance, the black smoke coming through the roof made me turn the car around. I pulled over on the opposite side to call the friend: 'The smoke is huge. Maybe you should get out of there like, now'.

So we left in time. Having met in another shopping mall, we sat in a cafe with our babies, enjoying a coffee and a lunch, laughing and discussing the excitement of the day. Gosh, I joked. Where are we going to meet now, if Villagio stays shut for the whole summer?

It did not occur to us for even a split second that people might have been suffocating from the smoke just as we sat there, laughing and enjoying our little adventure. It did not even cross our minds that there was a day care nursery where small kids were dying as we spoke, trapped inside, unable to get out.

And only when something this awful happens does one think gosh, what about a fire exit? what about regulations, sprinklers, floor plans? Perhaps they do go way overboard in the UK, but when one chance in a million does come, when it is your children stuck with nowhere to escape from the black smoke, isn't it worth it? Isn't it worth spending so much time and money on making things that extra bit safe?

Reading a Villagio thread on Doha Mums and Twitter yesterday, I thought of all the different movies where a distraught mother is crying 'my baby is still in there!' but you just know that the baby will always get saved in the end. You just know the Spider man will get that baby out. So, as some people started panicking on the Doha Mums forum, asking for the nursery phone number, or somewhere to go, someone to ask....some of the others were saying stay cool. Don't panic, they said, it is probably okay, they are most probably are all evacuated in time. But life can play cruel games, and there are no most probable scenarios when it comes to freaky tragedies. And neither God Doha Mums kept praying to, nor Spider Man came to the rescue.

And there is nothing, absolutely nothing we can say or do now to make those families feel any better. No number of flowers or candles lit up today can replace the children lost. No money donated by any of us, as it has been suggested, is needed. No "lets all be there for them" talks or endless prayers offered. One terrible tragedy that has made a lot of us realise just how fragile life can be. And it is particularly disturbing, somehow, for all of us who are living away from home.  Of course, this could happen anywhere else. But it did not. It happened right here, right next door, in a glitzy shopping mall full of expensive brands, exciting play areas for kids, a huge ice rink and no proper evacuation routes. And suddenly all the silly overboard H&S rules in the UK don't seem that silly or overboard to me now. And I just can't help but think if it had been a nursery in a shopping mall in England, all these kids would have probably been saved. But then I am using this silly useless probably word again. And what's the point in that.


Friday, 25 May 2012

Mohnatie Blyadi.

There is this lovely song by ( I think?) Palestinian children called Blyadi. I believe it means a 'motherland'. Or my country. Something pure and innocent, really.

However, the song makes any Russian speaker giggle. Because the word blyadi translates as something in between a slut and a whore. Not sure, to be honest.

To be technically correct, blyadis is a plural form f a blyad, which is a single...well, blyad.

(Note: I appreciate, this is very immature. I am not sure if other people around the world do the same, but Russian speakers do- an awful lot. We giggle like idiots at road signs and shop names abroad, which sound phonetically rude in Russian.) 

Just in case you are a Russian speaker, and for some reason you have not seen this video, I feel obliged to share it with you. Enjoy.



In the meantime, with your permission, I am going to use this rather rude Russian word for the purpose of this story.

I have realized recently that blyadis, a bit like gay people, have a sort of built-in radar for each other.

We were discussing with a friend this morning how, being an expat turns you into a rather good and very quick judge of character. You simply can't afford much time wasted getting to know people  to learn what they are like. You have to move fast. You meet someone, glance at them, exchange a few words and decide if that person is worth any effort. If it is your kind of person. Also, because there are (sadly) so many weird, strange, boring or simply very, and (oh, my god) i mean painfully stupid people amongst expats-from all over the world...you really have to work hard filtering and pruning.

But... back to blyadis. One night, I happened to go out with a bunch of other mummies and expat wives on a nice dinner in a very pleasant restaurant. Everything was lovely, and the company was...well, okay I guess. And, there was this one Eastern European girl. (There are actually, quite a few Eastern Europeans and ex-soviets here.) And straight away, I felt she was definitely not my kind. Nice, yes. Pretty? Sure. Young? Very...But besides all that, there was this unmistakable cheap aura about her. Things she said, jokes she shared, men she glanced invitingly at, and the laughter, that laughter.. Nope, I thought. Sorry honey. You are not going on my Facebook friend list.

And we lost touch despite her attempting to contact me a few times. But, thanks to some mutual friends, I kept an eye on her social life in Doha- via Facebook, of course. Only to notice that, in a matter of weeks, the young lady managed to gather some friends- of a very similar kind.

Really, it gave me this warm feeling inside. Look, I thought, how blyadiness works miracles. There are no cultural boundaries, no language barriers. Check it out, I thought to myself, looking at this girl and her new girlfriends, posing in the photos, lifting their legs up, hugging each other passionately for the camera; pouting their lips.... One Oriental, with dark long hair...one blond with blue eyes...and yet, what an amazing, striking similarity! I mean- wow. Two completely different people, from totally different countries and cultures with one important element in them which brought them together. Blyadiness. 

Blyadiness is like joining a church or a club. A free ticket to instant new friends you have something in common with. Blyadiness brings you together, no matter where you are from or what language you speak.

Having a good friend is important to all of us, but for blyadis it is crucial. Especially in a country where most expat women are busy either going to work or raising children ( or supervising a maid doing so)...But a blyadi in a search for a new man needs a company to blyadi around in. It would be impossible to go out blyading by yourself, really.

In any case, I was happy to see this girl enjoying herself. I was a bit concerned that she would find it difficult to get new friends here, in Doha. But, as the photos indicate...blyadis exist everywhere. And they always find each other, no matter what.


Monday, 21 May 2012

Scary, the superwoman. NOT.

I have been so bad at blogging recently, haven't i. And i barely email friends. ( which a lot of them are probably grateful for)

Somehow, my day ends before it starts here, in Doha. Everything takes longer. Going to the shops... to school...talking to my mum....everything needs a whole day on its own. It is hard to explain unless you have experienced it yourself.

Lots of events almost happened since we moved. I hate when things almost happen, whether I wanted them to or not. Like when i got contacted by House Hunters International asking if they could film our crazy family move to Doha. Of course, i started asking too many questions ((as i might seem to you all like a person who would expose herself (not literally of course) on TV for everyone to laugh at, but really i don't like looking stupid if i can at all avoid it.))

I asked if they were going to pay me for it. They said eh, well, not really. Not much. So, i said..why would i do it then. Are you going to mention Azerbaijan at least? Not that i am known hmm...for my hmm...patriotism amongst my more aggressively patriotic brothers back home, but nevertheless, i like to do my little part for the motherland every now and again. At this point, the guy disappeared. He either got told by the Qataris the crew were not welcome to film in Doha and he forgot to tell me, or they have found someone more easily available. As we can see from above, i am available-only at a price.

 Now that we established that, lets move on to another event that almost happened. One of my readers contacted me from Baku asking if i would like to speak at the Baku TEDx event. What the heck is that? was my first thought.

I posted a question on Facebook, and was shocked to find out that a lot of people actually know what it is. I mean, don't people have anything to do?

 In any case, whatever that TED thing was, it was clear that i should be flattered to be asked. And i felt very flattered. Despite the fact that some of my friends insisted TED might be cool, but of course, an Azeri TED is very much NOT. Whether it is or isn't I never found out as, to my huge shame, I did not go.

And this is what this structure-less posting is all about. I always feel that other mothers of small children are coping so much better than I do. That they manage it all, they loose weight a lot faster, they write books, get sexy jobs and well, go on TV shows and speak at TED events...Whereas me...well, i am shagged out, guys. I am literally on my knees with this bloody motherhood. And, despite really wanting to speak at the TED Baku event, I simply could not face it.

It would mean travelling for a few days with the baby (who is still breastfed and can't be abandoned at home). It would mean driving to Azerbaijan embassy in Doha to
a) pick up an application form
b) deliver it back with some photos of me and the baby...

get the visa...blah blah blah.....plus, i was not sure my current Qatari visa was that flexible for me to come in and out of the country....so it all became too much. And I hate, absolutely hate giving something up because of small complications. So what, i asked myself, you need to fly to Baku with the baby? So what 'you need a visa'? You are just looking for excuses because you can't be ...what's the polite word for arsed?...bothered to make so much effort. And that was sort of true. I am tired. And old. And I feel worn out by the end of the day. All i want to do is get a huge glass of wine and collapse on the sofa. And i cant even do that as I am trying to loose weight. So maybe, i thought, i should just admit it. I am not a cool modern woman who can easily manage it all. I cant allow film crew into my private home for three days, telling myself "it will be fun!" because really, it wont. It would be very stressful, tiring, invasive and frankly, pathetic. And i cant be speaking at a TED event right now because i just...cant. And if this all makes me a looser then i guess i just have to live with that.

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Never mind I'll find someone like you.

I was chatting to a friend back in the UK the other day. She had recently had to go through this horrendous experience of putting a dog down. And of course, was very sad. We talked about this, and for some reason, I shared this one little thing of mine with her.

You know, I told her, the weekend before the day it happened, when I already knew there was no other way, I sat there in my living room watching telly...and there was Adele singing "Someone like you". And I just sat there, crying to it, mourning in advance for something i knew i could no longer put off.

 Now, I said, whenever I hear this song, I start crying. It is like a magic key that switches the crying machine on-every time, without fail. To me, this song is about my dog going on that last journey. It is his song, forever.

"Oh my god!' The friend replied. "You will never believe this, but the very same song played on the car radio as we drove our dying dog to the vet's. So we had to switch the radio off."

We joked that Adele, in a million years, would not imagine her beautiful love song to become some sort of a pet cemetery tune. But then i thought about it a bit more and realised, that-and maybe it is me simply getting old?- there are more and more songs that i like and enjoy, which no longer have any relevance to what the lyrics are actually meant to be about. To me, they often associate with someone i have lost. And i no longer mean a boyfriend. No, not that kind of a loss.

There is a rock song that i can't recall the name of right now, which has a beautiful piece of a classical piano music at the end. And, every time i hear it, i think of my grandmother. Perhaps, because she was a piano teacher.

And my dad..well, my dad has not got just one song at the moment. Any sad melody makes me think of him. Any angry melody does, too. Because it just seems so unfair.

So, i wonder if this is what old age does to you. You no longer think of a bad break-up or a heartache caused by a boy you could not have, or had and could not keep...whatever it all was about- those days are gone. Nowadays, I hear a love song and in my heart, different associations take place, different pain comes alive. Different memories of people-or dogs-that are forever gone, leaving this huge empty hole. And suddenly, a pretty love song becomes a requiem.

Friday, 4 May 2012

A relaxing brunch.

'What's wrong?' Husband wanted to know today as we were getting in the car coming back from a nice brunch. 'Did you not have a good time?' He asked.

There was no simple answer that he could understand. An answer that would not sound like i was blaming him, or would not demonstrate just how ungrateful or unreasonable I really was. After all, i did not exactly have a hard day. I woke up at a reasonable hour, had a coffee, a long shower, got dressed up and was taken to a brunch at Ritz Carlton, where i consumed an obscene amount of all sorts of amazing gourmet dishes. What i wanted to explain to him though, was that to me, it was not a relaxing brunch like it was to him and the other six people at our table today.

OK, to be fair, on too many occasions, husband was the one driving us around so i could enjoy a drink. (Despite many cultural similarities i find between Azerbaijan and Qatar, drink-driving isn't one of them). So today, it was finally my turn to drive. That might have set my mood from the beginning, as the idea of missing out in all that unlimited champagne was simply too painful. So yes, maybe, I was sulking about that- a little. However, that was not the real issue. What i tried to explain to husband was that being a mother of two small children was not, and i mean, absolutely not the same thing as being the father. Even a very good one.

Whether we sit at a beach, at a party or in Ritz Carlton, i can never really relax. To me, the brunch today was continuous hard work. To start with, we were meeting other people, sort of networking mixed with pleasure. The people who were all adults, with no babies. People who could afford to enjoy a cup of cappuccino and a cigarette before their brunch, without glancing at their watch wondering just how mad the baby would get about such a delay in her lunch routine.

Finally, we get downstairs and take the seats and it is me, again, who is thinking what the baby is going to eat. It is me walking around the big hall looking for miniature quiches and mashed potato, whilst everyone else is queueing at the sushi and oyster stations.

While i watched the baby feed herself, I kept an eye in case she chocked, puked or threw the plate at the waiter. Husband was engaged in a very intellectual debate with the guy on his left.

I managed to get some food for myself, but then the baby started getting bored, so i took her out and walked around the hall with her. I then found her some fruit to keep her occupied for a while longer. By then it was her breastfeeding time and i had to retire to the bathroom, where fortunately, there was a section with soft chairs i could sit on. I sat there for thirty minutes. She fell asleep. I took her back to the table where everyone was getting more tipsy on the champagne. Knowing the baby would just wake up if i tried to put her in the push-chair, I sat there, holding her in my arms. My shoulder hurt. At that time, to be fair, husband noticed us there, and kindly interrupted his exciting conversation to enquire whether i needed anything.

 The baby woke up and wanted to be entertained. Besides the baby, I remembered that I also have an older child, who is old enough to be taken care of by the hotel staff in a special children section. But, being a mother, i had to check what it was she was actually eating. Only to discover it was a large box of popcorn. I had to stop her, and go with her to choose something more substantial to eat.

And all that time, i felt that i was working. At this kind of most natural, yet demanding and not always wanted job. A job that takes your life over entirely, not allowing any break.

At the end, the biggest challenge came. I knew we had to go soon. Before the baby decides she was too good for too long. But husband, drunk on the champagne and the intellectually stimulating conversations, could not hear me. And so, there i was. A bored, tired, stroppy wife, who could not even hold a proper adult conversation. A killer of all the fun. I could easily see myself through the eyes of the people at the table, but I could not help it. Because, whether i complain about it, or feel it is unfair ...i still am a mother. And what my baby eats and whether she gets to go to bed at a reasonable time is more important to me than...well, pretty much any stimulating conversation. But maaaan...do I need a break sometimes. And a proper adult conversation i could focus on.