Thursday, 26 May 2016

About one burrito. And Soviet bananas. And happiness.

A few years ago, we were talking about a holiday that our friends had gone on with some other friends. 'They were disappointed', they said, laughing, 'as they just could not understand why every day had to be planned around where we were going for lunch and dinner!'

Ah, I said, next time you should go with us.

I don't ever underestimate the importance of food in my life. Food can make me happy. (and so can wine, but I will just focus on food for today...) But these days, with my obsession with getting fit, and trying to eat clean and healthy, low-carb food, I somehow forget how important it is to sometimes relax and just enjoy it- whatever you fancy eating at that moment in time.

Tuesday started badly. You see, the night before, because 5 years ago I had given birth to my wonderful baby girl, I decided that, despite it being a Monday night, I deserved to have a few drinks. I had to celebrate the whole nightmare  miracle of giving birth; as well as surviving the pool party with fifteen 5-year olds earlier that day.

So you imagine how painful Tuesday was, with waking up at 5:30 followed by school run and two hours of exercise classes. Being good, I had a protein shake straight after the weights class, as recommended. I then had two eggs. Still feeling pretty depressed, I thought I was going to cheer myself up with tofu crisps that my friend taught me how to make in the microwave. I had the whole pack of tofu. Some fruit. Some coffee. An awful lot of water. I could barely keep my eyes open. The day was dragging painfully slowly. At around 5:30pm my big girl was playing a flute solo at her summer recital at school.  I loved it, but in a melancholic way a very lethargic zombie would. 

' What’s for dinner? Husband whispered during a short break in the string concert performance, not much hope in his voice. He could see the state I was in.

Ha, I said. 'You probably did not expect this, but I have two nice sea breams that I am planning to bake with some vegetables'.

'OK', husband said, 'sounds good. But let’s take the kids to fast food place in Dar Salam (our local mall) as it will be pretty late by the time we are done here.'

Fast food.

Immediately, panic filled my brain. The fast food place to me in my then current state, suffering from hangover, exhausted from working out and still tasting tofu crisps in my mouth would be like a mug of steaming blood to a new vampire.

Of course, I thought to myself I did not have to eat. I could just feed the kids, and wait till we get home. And cook my healthy fish. 

On the way there, husband pointed out that my favourite Mexican place was, coincidentally, located just there, next to McDonald's. And that precise moment was the very moment my will power left me. I saw it go, I begged it to stay. But it just walked right out.

You have no idea, simply no idea what effect a burrito had on me that Tuesday evening. Have you ever seen sci-fi movies, where there is a robot, or an alien, or some other creature is lying there dead on the table; and then they pump some blue liquid in its veins and you can see it moving fast inside its body; and within seconds the eyes pop open? That was me.

Almost immediately I felt rejuvenated. Revived. Awake and so alive! And, most importantly, happy. Oh so deliriously happy! 'Nachos!' I growled, 'We need a plate of nachos, too! Now, now!!! '

Wow, I thought, looking around. Isn't life beautiful? Look at the crazy coloured pants on that woman's humongous arse! Hear that little spoilt brat driving his mother insane whining for a doughnut!  So much going on around me! So wonderful to be awake for it. 

Thinking about food and happiness, I also remembered the day my mother took me to Moscow. It was in the old Soviet times when we did not get any bananas in Baku. Difficult to imagine now, when bananas are everywhere. But in those days, we had to queue for a while to buy a couple of kilos of bananas. I came back to the hotel, and lay there on my bed, reading Sherlock Holmes novels, eating bananas. And you know what. I still think of that day as of one of the happiest days of my life.

Sunday, 15 May 2016

About sexual harassment. When you are in your 40's

Teacher: Explain the word 'harassment', please
Student: I once dated a girl. Her-ass-meant a lot to me.

I have had a fascinating couple of days. Which made me think about harassment. And before I continue, I want to clarify. I am not talking about any sort of serious sexual harassment. I am talking about the kind that we girls ( ladies?) all experience at some point in our lives. You know, getting hit on, getting chatted up by strangers, that kind of harassment.

You have got to trust me when I tell you that, growing up in Baku, in my days, we girls had to learn about harassment pretty early, and fast.

There were some basic rules. Don't smile at strangers or they follow you home. Don't let any man stand behind you in a over-crowded bus. Ideally, don't take an over-crowded bus at all. Don't look at any strangers, don't make eye contact. Don't enter elevators with strangers. Learn how to say NO! many, many many times, over and over again. Azeri men are relentless, always horny and never give up hope. Even when they look like apes. Especially, if they look like apes, I guess.

It was everywhere, and I meant everywhere. Being a young girl in Baku was stressful. Not only did you get harassed on the street, in a bus or by a taxi driver, I once had to change a dentist. Which was a shame, as finding a good dentist in Baku those days was hugely problematic, and this guy was great. Until he decided to put his hand on my thigh and ask seductively how my day was. To which I had to get up and leave, saying 'well, it was pretty good until now, asshole'.

Sadly, my maths teacher in high school- isn't life cruel and unfair??- never made any attempt to harass me. And oh, how I would have loved him to! Now, many years later, he found me on Facebook and sent a few flirty messages. Dude! I wanted to tell him….That train left your station about 20 years ago.  Isn't it ironic, as Alanis Morissette would point out.

Generally, I always managed OK and only had two properly unpleasant moments when I had to hit someone to send the message. Once with an elbow in the stomach,  and once with…hmm…a badminton racket. Which I strongly recommend, by the way, as a weapon. It works really well swung backwards, with the wooden edge across the face, should someone approach you and try to grab you from behind, uninvited.

Now, in my respectable middle age, I look back at what I thought was a peaceful childhood and teenage years and think wait a moment! That was kind of nasty, really.

So, as you probably imagine, I am well equipped by my what I thought was quite a sheltered growing up experience, to handle any basic form or harassment. And, isn't it ironic, how different your reaction is to people hitting on you when you are hmm…middle aged, as opposed to very young?

I used to be terrified when a stranger approached me and tried to chat me up! Terrified. Repulsed. Disturbed at the very least. Nowadays, I just find it hilarious.

At a big drunken expats party last weekend, a stranger tried to approach me. OMG, he said, are you real? You are too beautiful to be real! See what I mean? Hilarious.

And today, I had a funny episode with three local youths in an elevator. And I thought, oh wow. How cute are you? Babies. Just babies.

At first, I did not even realize they were addressing me, as one of them said "Hello! How are you?" But, nobody was actually looking at me. All three of them were staring intently into their mobile phones. I glanced up and thought I must have misheard and looked into my own phone-I had to look somewhere, too. It was a very small space with three young guys in thobes and myself.

'Excuse me?...' the other one suddenly said as his friends giggled nervously. 'Are you a student? '

Ha, I thought. That filler was money well spent after all.

We were in a lift of a medical centre, so perhaps he thought I was a student, which by the look of them, they might have been themselves. 'No', I said, laughing.
-Are you a teacher then?
-No, I said, getting bored.
-What are you???

What am I? I chose the easiest answer. 'I am a wife.' I said.

'You married?!!!!'! The braver youth slapped himself on the thighs in comic disappointment and addressed the skies: 'Ya Allah!'

And we all laughed, as the doors of the elevator opened and we walked out, in different directions.

Bless them, I thought. How different was that, compared to my young days when Azeri guys would try to make a pass at me. Is it simply my older age that makes me see these attempts as funny and not threatening or particularly offensive? Do these local guys, with their polite, funny, clumsy attempts at flirting appear so innocent to me because I am older and wiser now? Or are they indeed just much more polite than Azeri youths used to be in my days?

I guess, I will never know.