Monday, 29 July 2013

Please don't tell me what to think.

Every now and again, some story keeps popping up wherever I look, and recently (besides, of course, the obsession with the Royal baby), there were two stories that got repeatedly shoved in my face on Twitter and Facebook.

A) The rape allegation by the Norwegian expat in Dubai.
B) The poor black child murdered in daylight by someone for apparently just wearing a hoodie.

If I were to simply look at the messages spread by Facebook, Twitter and links people shared everywhere I looked, this is what I could learn. A woman went on a business trip to Dubai. She got raped by her colleague and faced jail for it, because this is how unfair UAE system is towards women.
And as for the black guy murdered, the impression I got at first, before I even knew what happened, was that he was just an innocent boy who was killed because he must have just looked suspicious in his hoodie and being black.  I was led to believe that was the case from the numerous photos all over Facebook, like the one with some young medical students posing in hooded tops asking do we look dangerous to you? 

I don't know. Maybe it is just me. But I am getting somewhat annoyed at the way social media seems to dictate what I should be thinking or feeling, dragging me into campaigns, cases and petitions before I even get a chance to find out more about what actually did happen.

The rape story got big straight away, especially for those of us living in Qatar, and judging from the comments left under the Doha News article, most people started to blame Dubai and UAE, and the way women get mistreated there.

But hold on a minute. These cases happen all over the world. Especially in countries where ladies love to drink heavily. And, according to some sources, like this article here that I have found straight away as I tried to look into this subject, things might be changing in the West, but it was not always the case. It is extremely complicated to prove sex was not consensual if the victim was so drunk. Anywhere in the world. 

Also, let's just get the whole picture, or whatever we can get. A young pretty lady goes on a business trip to Dubai. She gets so drunk that, at 3am she asks her colleague to walk her to her hotel room. Now, from personal experience, i believe that most men are pretty delusional when it comes to their sex appeal. They truly believe that they are irresistible, even when sober. I am not justifying what this man did! But I am also not entirely convinced that the woman herself should not have been acting more responsibly.  I have some doubts that this colleague of Dalelv was planning to take her by force that night. He had a job I assume he would have liked to keep, and children and a wife. But that night in Dubai, a place where (despite the no-drinking-without-license rule I never heard about) expats famously tend to party hard....he probably got carried away. He was drunk, she was (sounds like very) drunk, they were possibly flirting all night-that is possible, right? Or maybe, she was not flirting. Maybe, she was just friendly, in this Western kind of way. But he misunderstood. He probably thought that her asking him to walk her to her room was more like an invitation to walk her to her room (wink-wink, you know). Easy mistake, if you think about it.

Was it a rape? Maybe. I don't know, and really, neither does anyone else. Was it that shocking that the police in Dubai would make the wrong assumptions? Not really.

I used to confidently cross the road at the pedestrian crossings, even if the approaching cars were going a bit fast. And Husband would always tell me off for being so reckless. 'Were you going to wait and see if the car stops first?!'
'But it is my right of way!' I would reply.
'Yes, it is but what good would that do to you when you lie there dead?'

And that is exactly what i thought while reading about Dalelv. Maybe, as a Western woman, she was raised believing that it was her right to get so drunk that she did not even remember what happened in that room until it was too late.  The fact remains is that she put herself in  a situation that made her vulnerable, in a country where things are very different and viewed very differently.

What, I guess, I am talking about is that we seem to get influenced by the social media enormously. We get shown a photo with a murdered boy smiling at us and we believe he was the innocent victim. And the more I look at images and shared links on Facebook, the more I feel guilty for thinking quietly to myself "hmm, I am not sure? maybe he was not so innocent". In fact, we know he was not. So how come I still see articles and photos trying to convince me otherwise? We are told a western woman was raped and accused of extramarital sex, and we follow the predicable route- we shout about the injustice, about the women's rights in Arabic countries, we rush to discuss what a terrible country Dubai must be, and we are not allowed to stop for a second and ask any questions, whatsoever. Because, that just does not fit into the popular Facebook point of view, does it.

Thursday, 18 July 2013

Back to the civilised world.

I was very much looking forward to coming back to the UK this summer. Not only was I excited to see all my friends back home (Let's face it, Azerbaijan is not really home anymore. After so many years, England feels like home now.) but also I was looking forward to a normal life. Life where you know what to expect, where to find things in shops or whom to call when you need something. Life where things happen as expected.

It is about simple pleasures. Things I never appreciated before. Like people you deal with on the daily basis that are not all Filipino. And no, I am not being racist. I don't really have a problem with Filipino people. It is just something you notice when you have lived in Doha for a while, and then come out of it. You realise that there are actually all sorts of other nationalities who can be waitresses, hairdressers and shopping assistants. You might even!!! sometimes get  English people in servicing positions. Let me tell you it is very refreshing.

The very first amazing thing happened to me even before I arrived to Heathrow. I made a call from Doha to a mini cab company in my home village in Herts. The English woman on the phone understood everything I said straight away. She asked useful, direct, relevant questions. Like the ages of my kids and the number of suitcases. It was all so professional and quick that I thought to myself something would go wrong. But nope. As i came out and walked over to the information desk, there he was, my man, holding a little white board, with my name spelled correctly. Waiting for me. Not late, not lost, not waiting somewhere else. Wow, I thought to myself. How great is it to be back!  To the land of people who understand you, where everything works and gets done!

After a week of catching up with dearest friends and eating an awful lot of salami and other wonderful pork related products,  I was ready to take a train to North Wales, to stay with my in laws.

 I called the same mini cab company and booked my car.

And then it started. Since i was determined to catch my train, and the cab was late, I decided, as I struggled to squeeze my two year old toddler into what was supposed to be a rear-facing baby seat, that there was no time to argue with the clueless driver that I had specifically requested a car seat for an older child.

The traffic was as bad as in Doha, and I started to feel the old, familiar stress of living in the UK slowly creeping back on me. Yet, I continued clinging to my illusion of the civilised world i returned to.

Surprisingly, we got to Euston in plenty of time and, remembering being told at my previous summer trip that there was nobody available at the train station to help unless I were disabled, I looked for, and managed to find myself a trolley. Pleased with my quick thinking, I made my way towards the station entrance, which as it soon transpired, was upstairs. I stared at the escalator and the steps. It is okay, I thought, glancing around. There will be a lift. What about the disabled
persons? I am in London after all, everything is about the disabled persons here.

But not this time. The lifts were, of course, there but, OUT OF ORDER. There was no point getting angry, as there was nobody there to get angry with. Nobody I could ask how the hell I was supposed to get the trolley up to the station now. Not even a bloody telephone.

And that is when, right there, standing at the bottom of the long steep staircase with two small children, a pushchair, two large heavy suitcases, a Khaleeji family toddler backpack,  and no working lifts, I felt properly at home. That is when I got reminded of the civilised ways in which this country used to drive me crazy.

Yet, the best experience was my conversation with the O2 customer service. We cant talk to you, the young girl explained in her perfect English. You are not the account holder. Yes, I know, I said. But we have always had both mobile phones registered in my husband's name. By always, I mean about
twelve years. I know the password, I said. I have been through this before. I am sorry, the rules have changed, the girl said. I can only speak to the account holder now. But he is abroad! You do realise, I said, that I have been doing this for years? I pay you every month from my bank account. You can easily check that. Moreover, your enhanced security system is stupid. You can only tell I am not my husband over the phone. But, what if I used the online chat you so badly want everyone to use instead of calling you? With all the passwords and all the details, I could easily be Mr T. Thank you, Mrs B. she said angrily. I will now make a note on your file that you are planning to do this!!!
I am not planning to do anything, I thought. I just wish I could stick your head in a public toilet.

Fuming, my face red with frustration, I hung up after half an hour of pointless arguements. I guess, the time has come to say goodbye to O2 now. It is one thing to deal with annoying things in the country you live in now, but to deal with stupidity in two countries is just way too much. Thankfully, my father in law was waiting for me in the living room with a tall glass of G&T. I took a sip and looked out to the green trees outside. Oh, it is good to be back. And to O2 customer service- FUCK YOU. And you, Euston station.

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Baku 24 hours for Qatar Airways

My latest piece for Oryx in-flight magazine is finally out. Heavily edited, but still...