Tuesday, 25 November 2014

A Cataclysmic scenario, or what if my Facebook friends ever met each other?

I have been thinking, looking at my friends, acquaintances and relatives on Facebook, that it would be a fascinating experience to have them all in one room for a day. And when I said fascinating, what I really meant was cataclysmic.

Let's imagine, just hypothetically, that I died. Or re-married. Or whatever else people do that requires most of their friends to attend in one big bunch for a few hours. Of course, if we are practical and realistic about it, nothing, neither my death or marriage or an alien invasion would ever gather all my Facebook friends in one room, face to face.  

And thank goodness for that.

It would be, let's be honest, a total and utter disaster.

Organizing a seating plan would be an impossible task.

Let's see….

I would have to seat the Jews away from the Palestinians.

I would have to make sure my friend who had a rather unpleasant experience involving her partner and a Russian girl in the past is not sat at the same table with any reasonably attractive Russian girls. Generalizing, I know, but hey…Just to be on the safe side.

The Liberals would hate to be anywhere near the Conservatives, so maybe stick them somewhere in the opposite corner of the room.

The atheists would probably be safer somewhere outside altogether.

And, of course, let's not forget all the Armenian people, journalists and social activists of some sort, whom I met via blogging, who probably would need to be hidden away from some of my old school friends who keep posting aggressive hatred messages these days.

You see how complicated it would get?

But then…Despite being so different from each other, to the point of me not being able to ever imagine them meeting in real life, all these people are part of my life.  Whether from the exotic Soviet past, or from the suburban life in the UK, or a mixed cultural pot of Doha, they are all characters in my story, they all have a right to be in my Facebook friends list. How is that even possible? Does it mean that I lack, you know, principles? Or am I too superficial?

Or does it mean that everyone on my list is actually someone that, for whatever reason, deserved to be there? All these people must have played a role, important or trivial, in my past or current life…they must have made me laugh, or think, or learn something. Made me love them or fancy them, or want to be their friend. Each and one of them, however different from each other (and me, for that matter)  must  have been cool or interesting enough to be accepted and added to that Friends category.

Now, this is the end of the post, and the moment when some sort of a point should, in theory, be made. But I have not really got a point. I just thought it would be amazing if a social platform like Facebook would somehow have the power to magically affect real life. To help all of us become more tolerant, more accepting, less judgemental. So that I could, hypothetically, imagine inviting all of my Facebook friends into one big room together. Because, remember? If you love me, you've got to love my dog. Who was, by the way, a Rottweiler. A breed most often hated for no other reason but sheer ignorance. But, as I said to anyone who wanted to visit my home and was not sure about him…You just have to trust me when I say he is good. And, he is part of who I am.

And so are my Facebook friends.




Thursday, 6 November 2014

Too much information?




I was talking about my blog with someone last night and explaining why I don't write as much as before. I can't really be myself, I said. I can't say anything I would really want to say for the fear of accidentally offending someone- either the locals, or the expats, or neighbours…the list goes on.

In the past, my blog had always been my personal little world of free speech. An outlet to express my thoughts openly, to make an non-PC joke if I liked to, or use words that are no longer appropriate to use in the western society. Such as a retard. I can say it here, you see? I am such a retard. Yes, you might find it offensive, but so what, it is my blog, and I can do whatever I want here!

And I need this outlet. I need to be able to occasionally joke inappropriately, or be rude, or be silly, or be totally ridiculous. Because that is the real me.

I remember thinking about an old English friend of mine, that he was turning into a rude, bitter, intolerant old man. But, as I, myself, got a bit older, I realised that he had not changed as such. He just stopped caring about being proper, and started speaking out the thoughts he had probably always had but never expressed openly. He must have realised that life was too short to worry about always saying the right thing to be accepted by majority. Those who hate you for it will step aside, giving more space to those who accept you the way you are.

Last night, at my ladies only jewelry party, I relaxed for just a moment and said something that was, in hindsight, perhaps, somewhat inappropriate. But I had a drink (or two…) and I was with my girlfriends. One tends to relax a little in such situation. And so I made a joke about the reasons I had married my husband. Which involved a reference to him being able to cook really well and being good in bed.

And so a friend exclaimed  'No! No! Too much information!!!' and quickly redirected the conversation.

I paused and thought about it. To me, it was just a joke. Was it offensive? Not really. (Not to Husband, anyway.) I thought it was quite carefully phrased, really. I did not give any details of why or how he was good, which to me, would have been, indeed, too much information. For goodness sake, I thought. It was a joke! Amongst women only. Not only women, but friends, people I know for a while now. If I can't make a rude (ish?) joke with my girlfriends, then when and where can I be myself?

The incident made me think of the number of times I  judged people by something they joked about or said, momentarily slotting them into a 'Oh God, he is retarded!' or 'She is just a common tart' category. And, of course, I might have been correct. I usually am. And yes, I used the R word again.

Of course we can, and should, make assumptions about others from what they say. If only everyone was genuine! Wouldn't it be great to find out straight away that someone is racist or stupid or rude? If only were we allowed to say what we really wanted, how much easier would our relationships become? No guessing, no illusions, no disappointments later.

More importantly, it made me wonder how well I really know others around me. Because, with all these endless social restrictions placed upon us, can we ever be ourselves with each other?  As we grow older, the rules become more asphyxiating, more controlling. What topics are appropriate at this dinner party? What's okay to say in front of someone of that religion? What would someone from that country and that cultural background find offensive and what-funny?  Tiptoe very carefully around the politics until absolutely sure. Please, do be careful with disabilities! Don't even think of making any comment about those who claim to be depressed. Be very careful with vegetarians and pet lovers. And dwarfs.

Fine! Lets be polite, let's be proper. But surely, once we established that we are friends, once in a while, under the influence, you know? it might be okay to chill- just a little?, and relax and forget about the social rules and expectations.  And just share a joke or two, however inappropriate they might be. And expect not to be judged.



Friday, 17 October 2014

The language we speak deep inside.




Today, admiring one more utterly idiotic, overly enthusiastic posting from someone I know on Facebook, I once again felt my eternal gratitude for this fantastic social networking invention. Besides letting us quickly share jokes and photos and spy on our ex’s; Facebook can, in one quick stroke, paint a clear, fast picture of someone you might be just getting to know, and save you a lot of wasted time. Just something very simple that a person, unprovoked and unasked, shares online can give you a clear glimpse into their mind and, more often than not, warn you not to ever go there.

So many people, who seem completely normal face to face, suddenly become pretty weird on Facebook.  It truly is fascinating, don’t you find?

Anyway, what was I actually trying to talk about? Oh yes. About music.

The other afternoon, on the way from school, I tried to share my new favourite song with my big daughter. In my obsession with Aspire, I got into it at one of the classes, where we all, no matter where from, enjoy the stretching to this French tune. My child was not enthusiastic. ‘Nuh, I don’t like it’, she said before I even switched the song on. ‘I don’t like songs in other languages’, she added. ‘I don’t understand anything they are saying’.

‘Just try!’ I begged her. I explained to her that with music, it is simply magical. Listen to the singer’s voice, listen to the emotions, and you will enjoy it, I promise, I said. Don’t worry about the actual words, or what they mean.

And, despite being pretty determined against foreign songs, and for some peculiar reason, French ones in particular, as soon as the music stopped, she paused and said, reluctantly: ‘Again.’

It got me thinking about the amazing power the music has on all of us, no matter where we are right now, or where we come from. Just look at all those women in Aspire, I thought, from Arabic to Eastern European and Chinese, all of us affected by this one French song, asking the trainer at the end of the class to play ‘that song’. Again. Just like my 9 year old asked me. (I know you all are dying to hear it now, so here it is).

Not only has music always been my best coping mechanism for many situations in life, including long journeys- from the delayed tube commuting in London to traffic nightmares of Doha-it is also a useful tool, just like Facebook, in quickly determining whether you have anything in common with someone. Sitting in a hot Doha garden with my Spanish friend, sipping rum and coke on a Monday night- as you do…- I shared my French song with her. ‘Ver-ry nice!’ She exclaimed in her exquisite accent.

‘Have you heard of this Kizomba? Very big in Spain now!’ And she proceeded to show me a video that only a few days ago a Russian friend had sent me.


And at a party last night, admittedly drunk, she and I had a (probably rather pathetic) go at our Kizomba moves. One more amazing musical phenomenon, originated in Angola, taking Spain by storm, bringing my Russian friend and her American boyfriend together, and even making me and my Spanish friend stand up and embarrass ourselves in front of more sensible people. 

Because whatever language we all communicate in, music will always be the language we speak deep inside. The language of our emotions, the language of what we really are.  And a useful tool that helps us tune in and find those who are on the same wavelength (even if it is not so apparent at first, because of the cultural and language differences) and those who are….well, on an entirely different planet altogether. 


Wednesday, 1 October 2014

50 Shades of Aspire Ladies Club, or about my addiction.






This, of course, isn't me. I borrowed this lovely picture from Husband's favorite Facebook page- Fit Girls. 


I wanted freedom
Bound and restricted
I tried to give you up
But I'm addicted


(from Time is Running Out by Muse, who, by the way, are still and always will be, the best.)


OK. I have a confession to make. I am an addict.

I never really have been a type who is easily addicted. I used to smoke…well, quite a lot actually, but then decided to quit and I did, pretty easily. Nowadays, I can have an occasional cigarette with a glass of wine and move on without another one for months. You see what I mean? Easy!

So I did not really even see it coming.

And, as addictions often happen, it started pretty innocently. After almost a year of trying to convince me to join Aspire, the local ladies' sports club, my friend finally managed to drag me there.

At first, I could not see the point. Why would I wait for ages to register and then pay and drive somewhere early in the mornings, when I had a free gym in the compound? It seemed too much of an effort. Isn't it too busy? I did not like the idea of too many sweaty women jumping around too close to me. Just give it a try, the friend responded. You will love it.

At first, I went to one class a week. I enjoyed it. I went to two or three, and thought I was doing pretty well. I look back at that previous life of mine as the life of a free person. Someone who was allowed to do nothing if she wanted to. Sleep... Or read a book perhaps? Or blog, for that matter. Or even get a job!!

In those days, I had no idea what would become of me. There were women of all sorts of shapes, ages and level of fitness. I would look at some hardcore ones who would emerge out of one particularly exhausting class, staggering, dripping with sweat and barely breathing and go straight into another, and would think to myself secretly What lunatics, seriously!? What are they like? Have they no lives besides this place? Why are they killing themselves?

And I used to stand at the back, attempting to catch up on the routines, embarrassed of how silly and awkward I must look…and getting annoyed by the fanatics in the front row. They would stretch and jump at the start of the class, shouting out in ecstasy as the instructors took to the stage.

How little did I know.

Now, I am one of them. And I can't stop. I am not sure when or how it happened. It has been a journey. At some point I realized that my previous goal, which was to lose some weight was no longer adequate.  I wanted to get fitter.  I wanted to be able to follow and do what the trainers were showing us. From going three times a week, I moved on to four and then five.

And then you suddenly feel that you don't want to miss out on the weights class just because you did a cardio…and the addiction kicks in. Your worst nightmare is to fall sick and not be able to attend a class.

Your gym buddies become your best friends and you cancel coffee dates with everyone else, as those people don't understand why you absolutely, under no circumstances, could not meet them before 11 am. Everything else becomes secondary. No time for anyone else. Not much different to one old friend of mine's obsession with marihuana. Only mine is healthier. Unless, of course, it kills me. Which looks more and more possible as the addiction grows stronger.  I cannot stop.

And then…there are the instructors. They are not just instructors. They are Goddesses. 

Each with her own unique style but all beautiful; of different nationalities, but equally cool and funny, they are making us work harder than I ever remember working in any gym or class in my entire (admittedly, lazy) life. We are in love with them. We watch their every move, we follow every word. We pray that they never leave us. We love them and admire them.

Clearly, I must enjoy pain. Because, pushing my body this far feels great. And, as endorphins get released, I am not as stressed - even as I maneuver in the crazy Doha traffic. I used to want to kill other drivers really badly, by ripping their stupid throats out, but now? Now I just smile and wave.

It makes me happy. I know it is because I am drugged with the endless exercise, delirious and not able to think straight. Because, surely, I should be aspiring to achieve something in my life?

Yet, listening to a couple of mums at the school pick up discuss how desperate they were to find a job so they would not be so bored…I felt happy. I am not bored. I have no time or energy  to feel bored or dissatisfied with my life.

So, okay, you are probably thinking, this is all great, but what's the catch? Well, I wish I could be more relaxed about it. On the morning of my baby girl's first day at big school, I was not going to take her. I figured it was okay for daddy to take her. So I could attend my classes, you see?

And it was only when a friend of mine said to me 'I love you, but you have shit for brains! You ARE going to your daughter's first day at school!!! ' that I realized just how crazy my obsession became. I had to tell myself that some (not many) things still matter more than my new drug.

Life, I thought to myself melancholically, always gets in the way of a good addiction, doesn't it.








Monday, 8 September 2014

Has it all worn thin by now?

An old friend of mine, a long-term expat himself, asked me the other day if it has all worn a bit thin by now.  He was referring to my expat life. ‘Tell the truth’, he said.

I was thinking whether it has, and the honest answer was no, not really.

I think it is too easy to forget, after a few years of expat life, about all the aspects of it that attracted you in the first place. Of course, it can be challenging. But adult life generally is, no matter where you chose to spend yours.

I still quite like it, and here is my personal list why.

  • I was reading a children’s book to my toddler while in England, about a woman who thought her house was too small. A wise old man told her to bring a chicken in, then a goat, then a cow…until she could hardly move inside her own home for all the craziness around. Then he told her to kick them all back outside. Wow, she thought, my house is humongous! I feel a bit like that every time when I go back to the UK. Living in Doha makes me appreciate things in the UK that I took for granted. Fire and Safety regulations. Fresh air. Pork products and vino you can buy everywhere, any time of the day, in even the smallest shabbiest shops on the corner. Non-Pilipino waitresses, just because it feels odd having a white chick take your order. Other small, unnoticeable normalities that you don’t know you are lucky to have until you don’t get them anymore.

On the other hand, some things are definitely soooo much better in Doha! Maids! HUGE houses. The pool-any time of the year. My car. (I hope no neighbours witnessed me talking to it affectionately the first morning after I had got back.) Because it is so easy to have fabulous cars in Qatar. No taxes. No waiting anywhere. No walking. The list goes on, but…

Without going back to the UK, I am sure I would easily forget about all these privileges we have as expats here and focus too much on the negative aspects. And this gentle reminder about various things that are better in one country or the other is only possible if you live abroad as an expat and keep going back.

  • Friends and Family. Alright, I appreciate it is not quite a separate item as such but a sub-item of the above, but because of the crucial importance of it, I am allocating it a separate category. You, people who live all your life next door to your elderly parents probably have no idea what it feels like to be far away from them. You are so lucky to have them live next door to you; but because you don’t have a friggin’ clue just how lucky you are, you probably spend most of the time (that you have left together while they are alive) trying to get away from them. The same applies to old friendships. You might get too complacent and stop appreciating your old friends who live nearby. You don’t think they are good enough, or nice enough to you, or call you often enough, or remember your children’s birthdays…But, having lived away from them for a couple of years and only being able to see them for a few days at the most every summer you realise how special they are. With all their annoying imperfections. They are your old friends, who know you better than anyone else, and they still like you and miss you, even when you change (and we, expats, inevitably all change) and become this peculiar person with permanent tan and weird stories. So, when we do get to spend some time with old friends or family, we really enjoy and appreciate it. More than we might have done before.  


  • It is exciting. Because it is new. And we all know that everything new can be exciting, even if it is not necessarily better than the old. Just ask my friend who changes girlfriends every two months. Even after almost three years in Doha, I find some things wonderfully weird and fascinating. And because I know that I will not be here forever, I can easily put up with them, filing them into a local folklore category and not letting them bother me.

  • Uncertainty of the future. I have absolutely no idea when and where we are going to next. My friends in the UK keep asking when we are planning to come back, and give me incredulous looks when I say I don’t know.  One thing that is certain is that we have no certainty and no concrete plan ahead of us. To most people that would be scary, and to me…actually, pretty terrifying. But I can easily see the exciting side of it, too. You know? How can I get bored if I don’t know where my home will be next year?  And to someone like me, who gets bored too easily, this is not a bad thing. 


So, there you are. A long answer to my friend’s short question. Expat life can be uncertain. It can be nostalgic and sad at times. It can be dangerous. Yet…the whole package is somehow pretty good. Does it make any sense? Probably not, until you try it.


Saturday, 30 August 2014

This, here, or about parallel lives of expats.


Well, we are back. From what originally seemed like a very long summer break in the UK.

I have to say we had a fantastic holiday. Truly great. And, somehow, surreal.

This is, I guess, what happens to expats when they go home for a few weeks. It is not simply a holiday but a quick step into a parallel universe, this parallel life of yours, which you left behind a while ago, but never completely, not really. It is like playing a yearly role in a reality TV show, with the same characters and at the same set. And what lovely characters, what beautiful set.

It is difficult to explain, almost impossible to digest yourself, just how surreal it feels. Is this, here home? Or is it back there? Is this the real life? Here, where your job and things are, and the routine is established after a few years? Or is it back there, where you have not been for a whole year and yet, everything seems comfortingly unchanged, the same faces in the same shops, the same music on your favourite radio channel, and the same taste of Pimm's and Lemonade in the local pub, just like you remembered it.

You buy a ticket and get ready and then, just like in the scene of His Dark Materials, you cut a small hole in the air around you and suddenly, you are somewhere utterly different from your current home, only it is also your home and you soak in every familiar detail.

And then, there are those familiar faces. Friends who, after not having seen you for a whole year accept you right back in, and you are sitting there amongst them, like it is totally the norm for you to be there, and it feels like this, here, is your real life...but then, of course it is! And it feels like you have got forever yet- weeks!- but, suddenly you are packing again and you step back into that hole in the air and you are in your other, parallel life, leaving everything over there behind once again. And you sit in your home- your current home, with your current things around you, and you look at those pictures on Facebook and you can't help but think-Hold on a minute?! Did that actually happen? Recently? Only like, a week ago? You try and remember what it felt like to be back, the smile on your child's face when she saw her best friends, the amazing taste of food and the sound of the rain at night. But it takes just a few flying hours for it all to disappear and get shelved, once again, somewhere in your memory, as you quickly get settled into your This, Here life again. Until next summer then, my Over There parallel life. See you then, and please, please, please! Just try and keep everything unchanged for me once again.