Friday, 30 August 2013

Summer school with lessons on families.

Well, I am back.  Back to Doha, back to what these days is my normal life, my reality. Even if it feels far from normal. Because, that is what my holiday in the UK felt like, more than anything. It felt normal. And, this feeling of getting back to everything normal felt wonderful. Normal shops, with normal stuff, normal food, normal way to dress, (shoulders and knees shamelessly exposed for everyone to see), being able to walk to places, being able to buy a drink in any pub or shop...being able to watch the English TV...and, most importantly, eat an obscene amount of pork-related products.

I had an opportunity to catch up with some good friends, and spent a long time with in-laws in Wales. Which was all pretty good fun, really.


There were some things that happened that made me realise what it actually means to be in a family with siblings. You see, as the only child, I always heard that we (the kids with no siblings) are spoilt or dysfunctional. Or probably, both. That we are terribly selfish, blah blah. I, of course, never considered myself any of the above. But, as I was watching family relationships and little dramas happen around me to friends and relatives, I thought, that, the reason I often don't get something or unintentionally offend people, is possibly due to me being the only child. Because, in a way, I am, indeed, spoilt.

Take this one unfortunate episode that occurred during our visit to the village we used to live in. A friend of mine and I agreed to get our kids, who were best buddies since baby times, one last time together for a play, since we only were there for a week.  She mentioned briefly that it would have to happen in the afternoon, as in the evening,  her brother's family (with this girl's cousins) were coming for the weekend to stay over. I went shopping in the morning, since it was the only day i could fit it in. Unfortunately, due to a few reasons, we got delayed. It was more like a late afternoon by the time we got back. And this is where my judgement, being the only child, failed me. I assumed that seeing her cousins would not be as important as seeing the friend she only has one last chance to see in maybe another whole year. Especially since they would stay overnight and be there the next day. I assumed that the girl would stay for a picnic in the garden and have some pizza for dinner. However, my friend got very upset. To her, her family and the cousins and having a family dinner together was extremely important. And now, in hindsight, after having spent a few weeks with my in laws and sister in law, where family priorities often had to replace my own...I was able to see the events in a different light.

I realised that bigger families, with brothers, sisters, parents and other relatives, live in this constant state of compromise and commitments, and special times together that can not be amended, and arrangements that have to be kept. And I felt like calling my good friend back, and apologising all over again. And explaining that, being the only child, I failed to see. For me, my friends are my extended family. Because I don't have siblings, I never had to worry about their feelings. And, I never had to choose family over friends.

Also, I never had to share my parents' love. Because I had no siblings, my children now do not have to share my mother's devotion.

And this is another interesting lesson that I have learnt during the extended stay with my husband's family this summer. My mother only has my children to love. However, my in laws have two more! The ones they feel closer to, the ones they raised, babysat and saw grow up years before mine were even born! And that is not always easy to accept.

Having spoken to my Doha friends about their family relationships, and their summer breaks, a very similar picture was painted. We all felt that perhaps, because we live so far away, our children will never be as close to their grandparents as the other grandchildren who live next door. And that is just one more reality of the expat life. We are terribly missed and loved-of course!- but we all feel like we still miss out. We, and our kids miss out on family celebrations, times with grandparents, regularity and   normality of family life; hugs and kisses, and simply being a big part of our parents', aunties' and cousins' every day lives. We can Skype and Facetime, yet...we will never be as close as we wish we could be. And, coming back for a few weeks in summer will never make up for the lost minutes, days and months of all the grandparents' love and family stuff we are naturally entitled to.

Sunday, 18 August 2013

When virtual technology fails real people.

I often ask myself why I bother with blogging at all. For a while at the beginning if felt like some new, exciting, creative project. But not anymore. I don't check how many hits it gets every day, like I used to-how sad was I?! I don't check if anyone left any comments for sometimes, days-oh, where are my usual trolls? They got bored with me since I stopped insulting the glorious nation of Azerbaijan.
And I don't have much to say these days-since most of what I could say could be misinterpreted and misunderstood with potentially dodgy consequences. Even the mumsy forum I joined since we moved to Doha-Doha Mums, is heavily moderated and controlled to a ridiculous, boring extent. Not entirely due to the owner's wishes, but also because of the cultural constrains and the lack of understanding of satire across many nationalities present at the forum. Never mind, swiftly moving on...

To the recent discovery of mine. Blog related.

I am awfully ashamed and embarrassed. For a very long time, all my scary azeri emails got automatically forwarded on to my normal, personal email account. Not sure why I ever set it up, perhaps I was just lazy to log into a yet another account. And it all worked so well for so long that I even forgot there was ever a need to maintain the scary azeri email. And when for quite a few months recently I had no emails, I just assumed that, just like comments on the blog dried slowly out, so did the emails. Nobody loves me, I thought and... well, moved on with real life.

However, the problem with scary azeri account became apparent recently, when I realised that I had missed a few important emails from someone who commissioned me to write an article, and-even more worrying!-from the accounts guy, who was supposed to pay me for it!

And so last night, a dim light bulb went on in my otherwise spaced out head. Hold on, I thought. This is odd. These guys are nice and professional. They would not just ignore me like this. They never did
before? I tried logging into the scary azeri account directly, failed a few times due to forgotten password and, finally, a window opened with hundreds of emails. As I stared in shock, I realised that not only have I been rude to the agent who commissioned me, I have also been rude to my readers. Who, to my delight, are still out there!

I had the usual spam, of course, and random Twitter notifications, and biznez proposals from China....but also, some very personal, some emotional, some hopeful and some helpful messages.

A email from an American mother, who is secretly suspicious of a 20-year old Azeri student who, having dated her daughter for six months, suddenly proposed. Is he after her passport, she wanted to ask. She emailed me for advice, but sadly, I ignored her. Considering the speed the young Azeri Majnun  was moving with towards his goal, I am afraid I might be too late with any advice. The young couple are probably (happily?) married by now.

I had a few emails asking whether an obvious spam was a true love letter from a good Azeri girl...

And yet another bizarre request for help from House Hunters International....

And a letter that I really wished I knew was sitting there since April.

Dear Scary Azeri,
It's been over two weeks now since we left Baku and returned to our home. 3 long, happy and, at times, not so happy years of being on an international assignment in Azerbaijan, living an "expat" life.....

... I read your blog in "A-Z Magazine" "religiously", always starting from the "Scary Azeri" page. I loved every bit of it!

So, we are back to the Western world now. And today I couldn't sleep. I just got bad news from home. My dad passed away this morning following a diagnosis of a serious illness and giving up the battle for life after two months. As I was sleepless and utterly sad, I sat down at the computer hoping for a distraction, but honestly there was nothing I 
really wanted to read... Then I suddenly remembered your blog and opened it up. Your latest post. I started reading... I couldn't believe my eyes: on the same day that I lost my parent, you wrote about remembering your father too. I was shaking. It was touching so I got all emotional. Thank you for the words that made me realize that someone else, someone who, may I say, I nearly knew through her blog, was and still is going through the same difficult feelings of a loss.

What can I say??

I am so sorry. At the moment when you felt lonely and lost, and sad, and probably found it difficult to express how much pain you felt...and wrote such an emotional email to me, you got no response. For months. And I feel really bad about that.

I also apologise to those of you guys who kindly responded to my (Facebook) request for some information for the latest article about Baku. I did not even know so many of you offered help! Thank you for reading, thank you for responding, thank you for sharing your concerns and emotional moments...All of a sudden, after months of not even thinking about my blog and what it means, I got overwhelmed by all the attention I never knew it had. I guess it plays its' role in the virtual world after all. Because, even though it is virtual, the people out there are still real.