Sunday, 16 June 2013

"A year full of raw honey and friends who show up"

So, guess who is turning 40 on Tuesday? Yep. I am this old. (But, I have put up this photo to demonstrate that, in the right light and in the right outfit, still looking okay.)

I think what you do on your 40th and whether you bother doing anything special is a very personal thing. Maybe somewhat cultural, too. I have been told recently by a few Russians that it was a bad luck to have a celebration of any sort. But I, despite having lived this long, have never heard of such bullshit excuse not to have a party, thus was not going to pay any attention.

As far as I always knew, 40 was a big deal. And the time to celebrate. However you fancy, or can afford to, really. But in any case, it had to be special.

A friend of mine in New York had his on a private boat and took a huge offence when I did not attend it. To him, the 40th party was big enough of a deal for me to spend a fortune jumping on an air plane and flying London-New York to be there. I wished I could have gone, but it might have been a little too extravagant for me at the time.

Another friend hired a restaurant in London and hosted a beautiful dinner party for about 20 friends. But, most of my friends who turned 40 before me went for a big party option.

So, after some deliberation (which included other options for a smaller group of friends only) I went for the big party, too. Thankfully, our villa in Doha is enormous, and there would be no issue with space. You see, one of my reasons to have it at home was  that I did not then have to restrict the numbers. I could invite people I liked but perhaps did not see that often, for whatever reasons. I felt like I should make some effort for my 40th, you know? Spend money, treat my friends, throw them a fun party!

What I know now (and I can't believe that it took me this long, i.e. till I am middle aged, to learn this) is that, if you want to know what people really think of you, invite them to your 40th party and see who shows up. 

The people who did not bother showing up split into two categories:

Category No. 1 waited till the actual day to tell me their plans have changed and they now had something more important on. Some of them had pretty good excuses, some- really lame ones. That also showed if they cared enough to come up with a decent excuse. Like someone who told me they had a car crush on their way to our house. I mean, that could have actually happened! In fact, I believe it did, because, throughout my 40 years of experience in the lying and bullshit area, I have not heard this one yet. (Also, we are in Doha and car crushes are pretty common) And even if it did not happen, I respect the guy for making up such a cool story. I mean, that shows a certain ( tiny) degree of respect, right?

Category No. 2 however, I was quite shocked with. Those were the people who said they were definitely coming only to then not show up. Without as much as a text message to apologise. "Oh, this is just so Doha!" Someone told me. "You invite 20 and can expect either 10 or 50 on the night. People will not tell you if they are not coming, neither will they tell you if they are bringing 5 friends along.'

In the end though, it was a good party, even with only 30 guests instead of the 45 I actually catered for. With a shisha man at the front of the house and a shawarma man at the back yard and some cool cake pops that I agonised over for a week or so.  And I loved my 40th party. I loved the fact that enough people cared to come. I loved the fact that they got me some lovely, thoughtful gifts. I loved the fact that they all said it was a fab party. And the icing on the cake is that now, after the party, I know who thinks what of me. You can tell that not just from what they give you for a gift (because, just like in dating a man, that is always a good clue to see if they value the relationship!) but also from whether they bothered to show up! What an easy test, really.

On the twitter, when I expressed my frustration at people not showing up at my party, a fellow blogger in Qatar wished me a "year full of raw honey and friends who show up". I guess the key word in that sentence is friends. Friends will always show up.

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

'Things have just taken a turn'

At some point last year, a new neighbour moved into our compound. Right next door to me. She knocked on my door the night she moved in, looking a bit frazzled. ‘Can I use your microwave to heat up this baby food?’ she asked, speaking fast and urgently. ‘Oh, by the way hi, I am from Australia, we’ve just moved to this compound! Bye!’

Before I could even tell whether I liked her or not, she disappeared. And that what is has been like with L, for a long time. She was always there, and I knew that, should I suddenly need an onion, or a quick advice how to find something in Doha (she has been living in Qatar for many more years than I have) I could always find her there, right next door.

I did not see a lot of her, and I never pushed for a friendship, assuming- maybe reasonably, maybe not- that having lived in Doha for so long, she already had a set of friends.

But with time, slowly, I was getting to see more of her. And I was beginning to like what I saw.

So, when she asked me a few days ago, whether I would like to talk about possibly sharing a new maid she was about to hire, I said ‘oh, pop round for a coffee and we shall talk!’ I was just coming out of the shower when I got a text message. ‘Sorry, can’t come!’, she said. ‘Things have just taken a turn, will explain later!’

I could not think of what might have happened.  Was someone sick? Did someone die? Did someone have a car crush? All sorts of thoughts came rushing into my head. Finally, a text came, clarifying everything straight away. ‘My husband just lost his job’, she said. ‘We are now going home in less than 4 weeks.’

What? How? Why? 

And I should not have been so surprised. I heard about people losing their jobs in Doha in this sudden, unexpected manner. No explanations given, no hints that it might be coming…Nothing. No longer required. Thanks very much for the last seven years. Bye.

‘Come on!’ my mother in law said, when I complained about the lack of stability here. ‘It is not any better in the UK these days, either! Nowhere is safe, nowhere is stable right now’.

Well yes, that is true. However, should your husband lose a job in the UK, you don’t have to uproot in the matter of weeks and leave the country in a rush. You don’t have to pull your child out of school, sell your car, your toys and your furniture, leave your new friends and maybe even your own job…leave everything and run. Run away, as if you did something illegal. You just don’t do that in the normal life. 

And I realized- this is the kind of stuff that never even crossed my mind when we made a decision to try this expat life. It is not something you learn from travel books or some I-heart-the- country websites, advertising the joys of life in a hot climate with a pool and maids. This is the reality, and a mean one, too.

Tomorrow someone else will be asked to leave. Just like this, out of the blue. It might be our close friends. Or it might be someone we wish we were closer friends with. Or…it might be us. And it is not necessarily a bad thing, but something that happens when we least expect it, not on our terms or in accordance with our plans. And we just have to live our lives in this suspended, who-knows-where-we-will-be-tomorrow? Kind of mode.

And when a friend wrote to me the other day, asking if they could visit us sometime between Christmas and New Year, I did not know how to explain to her that I could not plan my life this far in advance anymore.

I said…We should be here. Inshallah, as they say in Qatar.  But what I meant to say was…Who the….knows?  Definitely not us. 

Monday, 3 June 2013

Arab Pop Music

I have recently, and what also is very important to add here- unintentionally, been exposed to a very fascinating genre of music- the Arab Pop music.

You see, despite not watching much television here, in Doha ( I am not implying that I am doing something useful or intellectual. It is just that there is absolutely nothing to watch on TV in Qatar) I still get to watch the Arab music videos when (very rarely!) I go to the gym. I have a program I follow at the moment, which takes thirty minutes on the treadmill. That means thirty minutes of being stuck in one place, waiting to collapse and die. So, any distraction is very welcome. Even in a shape and form of an Arab pop video.

It fascinates me how vastly different the concept of what  is considered cool can be in various parts of the world. Because, clearly, the creators of these videos must think what they are creating is cool. Or, at the very least, beautiful. Or, romantic?

Let me just give you one example of an Arab pop song video.

There is a beautiful, in a very obviously Lebanese way, woman, walking along the beach, looking sad and lost. A man in a very sharp business suit is walking and singing, approaching a farm yard where an old man is aiming a big rifle at a black horse who is refusing to behave and therefore, is going to get shot. The man in a suit runs up and grabs the old man's arm, stopping him. Every gesture is dramatic and in a slow motion. Even the running. He then tames the horse by throwing his smart jacket over its head. In the subsequent scene the girl sneaks into the stables and gets on the horse. The horse goes crazy and takes her into a forest, where the man ( at least not wearing his office suit any longer, but still in a smart white shirt) is chopping some wood. He saves the girl and they live happily ever after.

I was curious, after having watched that video, followed by another one of a dude clad all in white, playing a piano at the sea, right at the water edge....where do these videos actually come from?
Having Googled Arab pop videos, I learnt that most of them originate from Egypt or/and Lebanon.

But! I have two Lebanese girlfriends, one here, and one back in the UK; and I can assure you that these two girls are possibly two most stylish friends of all the friends I have. Sophisticated and cool, with taste. So, I am confused. Who dares to create these appallingly bad videos, embarrassing my Lebanese friends? Because, in all honesty, I might have to say that these videos are worse than Azeri songs at Eurovision. And that is bad, guys. That is really, really bad.