Friday, 25 August 2017

The day I discovered I was just like Frodo.

It is official. My summer is over. I am back in Doha after a lot of eating and drinking and relaxing first in the UK and then, in Azerbaijan. The usual. A friend has noticed the lack of Facebook activity on my part and commented to my husband that I was probably so fat these days after all the eating that I no longer posted any photos of myself. I sent him this latest picture to reassure him I was still alive and well in shape.

I have not written here for so long not because I had nothing to say. Quite the opposite: My head is full of thoughts, memories and experiences that I would love to share, I simply don't know where to start. I want to tell you how I met a wonderful gay couple and what philosophical thoughts that meeting raised in my head. I want to tell you about my almost trip to Georgia, my almost staying there forever when I realized I had no return visa for Azerbaijan, and almost not drinking at all while in Baku.
Yes, so lots of thoughts. But, I will start with the most domineering of them all. The one that rules them all, so to speak. The one to bring them all and in the darkness bind them…got carried away a little here.
I would like to name this particular funny feeling the Frodo syndrome.
You see I was on the airplane going to England when, admittedly under the influence of a couple of extremely strong G&T’s the pretty stewardess prepared for me (she did apologise in advance, saying she was new, and asking if they were any good and I, having watched her fill the plastic cup half full with gin, assured her it was just perfect) and having realized, as usual that there was nothing decent to watch, decided I actually quite fancied the Lord of the Rings, the very last one, you know? I just love the battle scene where Legolas jumps on the oliphaunt, and when the dead dudes emerge from the ship from behind Aragorn...



Sorry. Anyway. So, I thought I would fast forward the film to my favourite parts and enjoy them again. But, as I continued to the end of the movie, to my astonishment and embarrassment, I realized I was extremely affected by it all. I felt Frodo’s pain and confusion as he described returning to his beloved shire. Fuck, Frodo… I thought. We are the same! We are of one blood, Frodo (like Kaa said to Mowgli) you and I.
Yes. I am just like Frodo.
That thought almost sent me to tears. I only resisted crying because nobody seriously cries at LOTR do they? OK, I also got all teary at that moment when what’s her face? Princess Eowyn tears her helmet off to face the black rider on Nazgรปl and says I am no man! And stabs the shit out of him. 
That was amazing with my strong G&T, let me tell you. Sent shivers down my spine.
But, still. Seriously. Nobody cries at LOTR. Especially not at the end when all the painful stuff is over, everything ended well, the world has been saved, the best looking people all alive and Aragorn marries the elf princess? You will of course say I was just being silly, but listen. You just don’t know how it feels to suddenly realise you don’t actually have a home where you belong anymore. I felt Frodo’s pain when he, having spent all that time missing the lovely shire, returns to it only to discover that, having experienced everything he had experienced, he cannot ever possibly be the same. The shire, the normal hobbits, with their normal hobbit business would never seem the same to Frodo.
Okay, I appreciate that living in Qatar as a western expat is not quite the same as going through all the shit poor Frodo had to go through. Me, going to Aspire to work out in my air conditioned car in the mornings is not quite the same as Frodo barely surviving in Shelob’s cave, even on a very bad driving day. Still, I am a writer, so allow me some allegoric connection here. Frodo said, and he definitely knew what he was talking about, that he could not really stay in the shire, not after everything he had lived through, not after what he had seen in the world. And I realised, as I was looking forward to seeing my lovely Hertford-shire that I could never really return there and settle back into my previous suburban life. Not after I Iived as an expat for all these years.
I don’t know how others do it. I have met people who spent years here only to suddenly announce they are going back, to the same little village they came from. I just want to wear shorts again, they say, cook dinner for my kids and walk to the local pub. Well, really if you want to bring normality to your life in Doha, I thought, just fire your maid and do all the cleaning and cooking yourself, as well as go to work and then, if you still have any energy left, get a raincoat and wellies on, not shorts, and walk to that pub. Where you could probably afford one pint of beer since you probably wont have much money.
But that is a personal choice, and we, expats are all very different.
I myself am just like Frodo when it comes to returning to the shire. I have definitely changed and there is no going back to the old suburban myself.
Yes,visiting felt nice. I love it, don’t take me wrong. I miss those enormous green trees and the smell of rain in the air, wearing warm clothes and the normality of it all. But, as I sat in my friend’s car on the way from the airport, I kept thinking this feels wonderful but it is not my home anymore. It is a peculiar feeling, let me tell you. Because, you know that place. It is familiar. It is comforting and relaxing. But, knowing myself, I know that I no longer could fit right back in. It wouldn’t be easy.
Now, perhaps it is more obvious for someone like me for whom England was already a second home. I know all about emigrating, I had been there before. Still, having lived as an expat, how do you go back and continue your old life?
My friends…I missed them so much. I loved seeing them but I also noticed how by now, they had moved on with their lives. They were excited about me visiting, of course, but they were also very busy with their own schedules. Schools, events to attend, paperwork to fill in, family routines. I was grateful they still found time to see me.
If, after just a year or two of being abroad it all felt temporary, now after this many years it was different. They probably realized I was no longer going to be a proper part of their circle. They mostly stopped asking when I was coming back. I was someone who used to live there, who used to have the same concerns and issues. Now I was just a visitor from abroad, someone with a completely different life, whose visits they enjoy but there are more important things going on. I am different. I wear different clothes, I talk about different politics. I definitely drive differently. I worry about different future. The topics I come up with to discuss and my jokes are all different now…Well, those were always different, some might correct me here, but hey, at least I tried to control them a little better before, trying to fit in, adjusting the volume to the level of appropriateness of the English suburbs. Nowadays, I have moved on, too.
Which brings us of course to a question where to next? But, as Scarlett O’Hara would say…
I can’t think about that right now. If I do, I’ll go crazy. I’ll think about that tomorrow.
So yes, Frodo. I know exactly how you felt.

Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Baku? Why not?

A friend complained the other night that I had been too lazy and had not blogged for too long. He made that comment straight after a discussion about people's intimate parts and what was considered ugly… or simply different, perhaps, as I really do think it is a matter of personal opinion (and thank goodness for that). I had, you see, once asked my Filipino waxing lady beautician, as you do, and she had shared some fascinating info with me, which I thought was hilarious. I mean, when I asked her if she had seen really ugly…parts...I did not quite expect her to give me an analysis by nationalities.So look, I said to this friend, sometimes what I want to talk or joke about is probably- well, most definitely!- is going to get me in trouble if I put it on the blog. So I am, sadly, a little limited in what I can publish these days. And I strongly dislike being limited when it comes to writing. It smothers my mojo!

Anyhow, he had a good point. I have been very lazy and distracted. But, I did promise to blog about my recent trip to Baku, which is a totally acceptable, as in is not about intimate body parts, and is a good, decent topic so here we are. I can totally talk about this.

So… guess what?I went to Baku! A few weeks ago. With six other girls. The fact itself is nothing unusual of course, but what you have to understand is that going to your home country with people who had never been there before is a totally different experience. In addition to that, going with someone who has a lot more money than you and is used to having things done her own, princess way, is also a totally different- and pretty awesome! - experience.

I have a girlfriend here, in Doha, who loves to celebrate her birthdays abroad. It is just something she always does, and can afford to, so why the hell not, right? She loves to celebrate it somewhere like London or Dubai, in style and with best girlfriends around. This year, she decided she wanted to go somewhere more exotic and different. Why not Baku, she exclaimed? Why not indeed!

When you fly with Princess, which is what I am going to refer to the birthday girl from now on, you learn how princesses live. You and your suitcases get picked up by her driver and taken straight to the separate, VIP building at the airport in advance. You in the meantime relax at her house with an early dinner. You then get driven to that VIP building (which I never even knew existed until then) where you relax in a private room, while everything gets done for you and then, like movie stars, you get taken right to the air plane in a BMW. (Yeah, take that, all you common lot!)

In Baku, we jumped in a white minibus provided by the hotel and the fun started immediately. Baku air is wild. It intoxicates you. With the windows wide open, no seat belts, wide roads empty in the night, Lambada (Really? Lambada?) blasting from the car radio, we get driven fast into town, cackling loudly like a bunch of witches.

When you only have a weekend to show your friends your hometown, where do you go? What will they like? I took them to the Icheri Sheher. I really wanted to show them the Shirvanshakhs Palace but the place was closed that day for a ‘function’. So, instead, we just wandered around the old cobbled streets and drank an awful lot of chai. The girls messed with sheep wool hats and bought strange, completely not ethnic? enormous bead necklaces, which I of course, made rude comments about.  An old owner of a carpet shop was not impressed by our silliness and told us to get losted. The knowledge of English is definitely improving in Baku.

For our first dinner I took them to the good old Mugham club. It was just as I remembered it. The music, the little courtyard with the old trees, the food…Just beautiful. Of course, we had to struggle to get to it on high heels, since our van was not allowed to drive up to the restaurant. Even Princess with her whole powerful presence and attitude could not influence the policemen guarding the old city.  But isn’t all this just part of the local charm?

The next day, I took them to a Georgian restaurant to eat khingeli and drink Tarkhun- a bright green, most likely carcinogenic, lemonade of my childhood. One of us really wanted some whiskey. Yes, I know, it was a lunchtime but hey, we were witches on a holiday, so why not? As we walked in the Georgian place, I saw a selection of impressive drinks displayed on top of a large wooden cabinet. Right in the middle, a bottle of J&B stood tall and proud. Look, I said to the friend, you can actually have it here! Check it out! We have everything in Baku now!

Sorry, the waiter explained, those bottles are for decoration only. I know, it is difficult to understand but you are somewhere different, just remember that. File the decorative whiskey under the local charm, too.

The most disappointing thing, and surprisingly so, was the nightlife. I remembered it being pretty good, in my young Baku days, but perhaps my standards and my understanding of what was cool were somewhat different. I thought clubbing would be better now, or the same but not worse. We were told that Energi was good. But Energi was just wrong, and if you asked me why I would not be able to really explain. The music was good, and the venue was impressive. However something was lacking and that something was significant. I think it was the crowd. When we eventually ended up on the Saturday night in Buddha-Bar it was a totally different story. The people were like I wanted them to be- that bit more sophisticated. Even the hookers looked classier somehow.

What amused me the most from this trip was that waiters (and I don’t know why I am so surprised) simply smelled money on my friend. She would walk in a crowded bar, like Buddha-bar that Saturday night when the girl on the phone had already told me there were absolutely NO tables available, not even at the bar…and request a table, nicely, politely, yet in a tone that made it clear that this lady was not used to being told 'no'. Look honey, she said, what is your name? Irina! What a pretty name. Please, Irina we so need your help here.. My friends and I…My name is (and here she tells you her name in a way that immediately fills you with a terrifying thought that she is someone very famous, and you are just a major uneducated idiot for not recognising her)…and we need you to find us a nice table straight away please darling. And of course, a table (‘no, I don’t like this one Irina, darling, please can we have a better one?’) appears almost immediately.

And on the last night, when we sat in a beautiful garden of Channaq Gala, one of my favourite local places, I laughed and pointed out to my mother that only last summer we had struggled to get a waiter to not only order anything but even to pay the bill! However, as we sat there with my friend, there were, I swear, possibly about twelve people constantly waiting around in case we needed something. It was truly an amazing experience.

It might sound like we focused our trip around food, and well, that is very true. And the food is so good, so why wouldn’t we? My friends all loved Marivanna, one of my personal favourites, as well as Narsharab, the seafront restaurant where we drank a lot of beer and ate sturgeon fish kebab.

We ate and we drank and we danced and we ate some more. The weather was beautiful, the people were friendly, and small children dancing national dances on the stage at the Bulevard almost made me cry.

All in all, it was a fantastic trip and made me feel all proud of my hometown, which was an unusual kind of feeling for me, really. All those years ago all I wanted to do was to run away from there, and now I go back regularly and take friends to show them just how nice it is? Madness. True madness.

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Looking good as a full-time job?

An old friend of mine has a very busy life. She works full time, and has a small business of her own, teaching art to kids. I admire her a lot. I keep thinking how on earth does she actually have time for all that, and getting old? Because, as I am thinking these days, getting old for a woman who wants to continue looking decent, is a full time job.

Of course, there is always an easy option of just letting yourself go. It is very tempting. Not only is it easy, and cheap…It also gets approval from other middle-aged ladies. They will never openly admit that they are just loving the fact that someone looks worse than them, they will just say’ Oh, I admire how little attention Sarah pays to her looks! Sarah is not vain at all! She has more important things in life to worry about!' Yeah, yeah....that's just great. 

In the meantime, Sarah looks like this:

My grandmother used to say in Azeri, while applying lipstick on her way out to a food market, Dost var, dushman da var. There are friends, and there are enemies out there. A woman should always try to look her best.

The problem is…if I wanted to look my best right now, there would be endless things to get, apply and/or do that would basically, take all my time. And all my money. 

I am not exaggerating. Let’s just look at this.


There are of course, obvious things, like trying to stay slim and working out. Trying to stay slim does not only mean hours of exercise, but of course balanced diet which means looking into what you cook, what you eat, which for some of us can take a while. It is calculating your fats, protein and carbs...Drink water! 

And back to the exercises...It is not simple. The best idea, really, is to do weight training AS WELL as cardio. Great! No problem. But, don’t forget you have to stretch. So, chuck in a couple of hours of yoga or pilates in your weekly routine.

You start loosing weight, great. But then...omg, your face! 


The more weight you loose, the worse it looks on your aging face. So, you either need to invest in fillers, threads and botox or do some facial workouts. There are plenty of videos on Youtube, most claim to transform your sagging double chin and other problem areas in as little as 15 minutes per day. That’s nothing, right?

Don’t forget about the skin. As you age, facemasks and facials are a must. Feed the skin often. 

Drink water! 

Your hair will need more attention, too. You will probably need to have regular colour treatment. As you kill the hair roots with chemicals, balance it out with keratin or argan oil hair masks and treatments to keep it healthy.

Then, I read somewhere recently that, after childbirth, doing your regular pelvic floor exercises might not be enough if you want to tone up, you know, down below. Right, I thought. Tight muscles everywhere- wouldn’t that be nice? A special machine can be purchased, as I discovered, with various programs, depending on your desired goal. Each program is about 20 to 40 minutes and in order to achieve noticeable results (to feel like a virgin again!) you need to stick to your program daily for 12!!! Weeks. 12 weeks of spending 40 minutes every day doing this bizarre exercise I am not even going to describe here. Thereafter, you could just do it every now and again. 

Drink more water.

OK, so let’s summarize. Hours of working out. Stretch. Some tummy flattening exercises, like vacuum.... Pelvic floor exercise. Some facial exercises. That’s it, right? Right? 

Then I see this.

 7 Super Effective Yoga Poses for Beautiful Breasts

Mother ffff….OK, I should try and do them! Maybe, to use my time in a more efficient manner, I could combine the beautiful breast exercises with the stretching for overall body’s benefit yoga time I already have allocated above.

I hear you scream "enough already!' and cover your ears, but no, of course we have not finished yet. You must not forget about the brain! Last but not the least. The brain, as we get older, needs exercising just like any other muscle of our older body. It needs a program too. Like Lumosity. Probably another 30 minutes a day. Then, as we taken care of all the muscles- facial, vaginal, body and brain, it is time to think about the rest of it, deep inside. We need to take supplements. A lot of various supplements! Vitamin D3. Fish oil. Probiotics. Protein shakes, and CLA for weight loss.

Now, unless I am forgetting something-due to lack of brain exercise, which I simply don't have the time for- we are finally done

Oh, yes and drink more water.