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Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Who is afraid of a call centre guy?

- Hello Madam. My name is Hashish. I am not trying to sell you anything, do not worry.

My mind is racing now. Do I know somebody called Hashish? Has my husband’s recent trip to the Middle East got anything to do with it? What does he want, anyway? Of course I am worried, I wasn’t expecting a call, or to talk. Let alone answer any questions. It’s the end of a day and I am contemplating what’s for tea.

- Our call is for research purposes only. It will only take 5 minutes of your time.
Is anyone in your household aged between 25 and ..4? Yes or No?

Where did they get my number and how dare they interfere with my freedom of doing fuck all on this balmy evening in May?

The silence on the other end of the line reminds me it’s my turn to speak. What was it again? Without waiting for a repeat I answer “No” and feel guilty. How predictable, how Western. Did I sound stupid? It was something about the age bracket, right? 25 – 34? Maybe 94?

He carries on with the question in a strong accent, making it hard to understand him. Will it be impolite to ask him to repeat what he was saying? Yet my resentment to cooperate is growing stronger.
Perhaps the questionnaire was to help stem research or something just as important, and yes, at a push and good persuasion I could've listened to the end of the question and give it a half-honest answer, but my adopted Western obsession with privacy kicks in and the foreign accent on the other end of the phone is just that – a foreign accent from a faraway place, asking me some detached from my reality and interests questions.

I am not a xenophobe who doesn’t care about the way other countries develop and is being a mere obstacle on their way to a brighter future. After all, I used to be that foreign voice on the other end of a line, speaking with a strong Russian accent and annoying the hell out of Scottish, Irish, Welsh, Liverpodlian, Manculian, Lancashire, West country, Northern and all other call centre customers who happened to live in Britain outside (on the "wrong" side) the M25.

The voice is blowing silently into the receiver at the familiar signs of the inevitable rejection.

- What age are you, Madam? – He’s nailed it now.
- I am sorry, but I really haven’t got the time for this - I snap.
- You haven’t got 5 minutes?
- No, I bloody well haven’t. I’m putting my kids to bed! (read: I’m washing my hair/drinking wine/contemplating the next few hours of kids-free time/none or all of the above)

He’s stoically silent. I am increasingly uncomfortable.

Maybe, the more suave way out of this would have been in the lines of “Sorry, Hashish. I understand this somehow is important to your next career move, but you’ve caught me at the end of my functioning day. I’ve just put my kids to bed (yes, they do exist) and got a chilled glass of very good Chablis waiting for me outside in my newly discovered garden. Winters are so shittily long in this country, mate, it’s a crime to waste this unexpectedly long spell of hot summery days stuck inside my kitchen, answering your questions"

He waits patiently. I hang up awkwardly.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Russkiye in town!

It all started with Layla's promise to me on the way to a theatre "Ok, mama. I'll speak Russian for today."
We paced outside the theatre hall, Alex in the pram munching on rice crackers, Layla clutching her ballet suitcase and dancing in front of the glass entrance doors, looking at herself in the reflection. In few minutes she was going to meet Russian ballerinas, who were performing at the theatre that night. It's was Layla's big treat - meeting real ballerinas with her best friend Emily.

Minutes later we were escorted inside the theatre, where the ballet dancers were rehearsing on stage.
It was a truly spectacular view: A dozen or two of young dancers dressed in bright rehearsal gear stood in tidy rows, swaying their arms and stretching perfectly straight legs while holding on to the metal bars set up on stage. They were accompanied by a pianist, playing in the far corner of the stage. It reminded me of my childhood, getting ready for school in early mornings to the same kind of music on the radio where a voice commanded “Arms stretched. Legs apart. One, two, three, four and one, two, three, four...”

Jane (Emily's mum) and I pushed our boys in the prams to the front row, while Layla and Emily skipped along, holding hands. Enchanted, the girls watched the rehearsal in silence for the first ten minutes. The boys moaned, so we silenced them with more rice cakes and fruit juice.

The dancers threw squinted looks at us from the stage and carried on waving and swaying their arms and legs. Their coach glanced at us lazily too and continued to growl onto the stage: “Masha, Masha! Higher that leg, throw it higher! You are not in kindergarden anymore!” or “More enthusiasm, kids, more energy! We are not children, are we?!” I found it amusing to hear and understand everything the coach yelled and him not knowing that I did.

The dancers squinted and shielded their eyes with their hands. The very bright lights above them lit the stage and iluminated the sweat beads streaking down their faces.

“Alexander Ivanovich! Is it possible to reduce the light please, it is very difficult to rehearse in this heat!” they moaned to their coach

“I don’t know. We’ll see... Now, Katya, remember your left hand, for goodness sake! Don’t let it hang so lose, we talked about it, didn’t we?!” The coach continued to growl.

“Mama, I want to dance! “ Layla whispered to me. “Can I dance please? Can I put my ballet tapochki on please? Please?”

My heart filled with joy as I dressed Layla's little feet in ballet slippers. And as if by magic, she tiptowed very convincingly in her little ballet dress and satin pink slippers, holding on to a chair and imitating the moves of the ballet dancers on stage.

At this point the dancers began to notice the little girls in the front row. Suppressed titter shuffled across the stage. Some of them began to point towards the two toddlers holding on to the chairs, swaying their arms and falling over themselves.

As the first part of rehearsal finished, the dancers cleared the stage, moving away the bars and other supporting equipment. The music became louder and the dancers, some sitting, some standing, formed a circle. Now they were practising turning, twisting and leaping forward.

Excited by the sudden change, the toddlers desperately tried to follow suit. They gladly leaped and twirled in the auditorium's walk ways. This in turn sent further ripples of suppressed laughter on stage.

Unable to focus now, the dancers decided to take a small break. With the music still playing in the background, Layla and Emily carried on practising.

“Look at them, Alexander Ivanovich! Aren’t they adorable!” a slight girl, with a wide blue hairband and even wider blue eyes pointed at the toddlers.

“Hmm, yes. Particularly the one in pink dress. So tiny, but look how she moves! Very flexible, she’s natural!” The coach exclaimed smiling and watching Layla twirl.

“We’ll have to take her in!” the girl with blue hairband replied.

It all came to an end when the boys decided enough was enough and fidgeted loudly in their prams and no amounts of chocolate buttons and biscuits in shape of a bunny rabbit could buy their silence.

The girls were beginning to run havoc by now too, imagining it was a running competition. Untimely as it was, we had to make our way to the exit, where we were awarded with two rolls of “Sleeping Beauty” posters for tonight’s performance. This was a little token of Layla’s first encounter with a magical world of ballet. Tomorrow it will take the place it deserves - above Layla’s bed.

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

best intentions

- I have invited our friends for dinner this Friday. I'm going to make my own pizzas! - I exclaimed excitedly with my head up high, wind in the hair and sparkle in the eyes. Jamie's and Nigella's best student (I've got all their books!) I considered my skills in stone-baked-effect pizza making from scratch to be a high achievement and expected a stroke on a head or at least a pat on a shoulder any minute now. From my mother. She's from Azerbaijan and is the world's best critic.

She rolled her eyes instead. Stirring her four-sugar black extra strong coffee ever so vigorously. As I held my breath, she opted for a silent treatment.

- Well? - I spat out.
Silently, she shrugged her shoulders and tapped the mug with a spoon.

By now I was busy building the emotional shield from any commentary acidity that was clearly brewing in my mother's head and which she was preparing to deliver to me. For a moment it looked like she was turning round to walk out of the kitchen.

- What do you want me to say? - Maybe not...

And then again:

-... A minute ago you told me your two-year old daughter knows better what she wants to eat. Now you want me to get excited about your snack food? When I see you and your guests standing up in the kitchen, crunching and munching on snacks I feel almost embarrassed for your rabbit food, which you call starters.

I could hear the familiar hissing noise of my deflating confidence.

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Summer prelude

26 July. 2009. Baku.
8.30 am. Both my children are awake and have soiled nappies. Horror of all horrors, no clean nappies left. Emergency dash to a Baku supermarket. Unusual for this time of year hazy morning, ladas and Lexus RX "tanks" dart along empty streets. Like lazy teenager, this city is up all night and doesn’t wake up properly till the noon sun is piercing through the cloudless sky.
Street vendors and tea houses wash off the ever present dust with hose pipes, sprucing up the seldom greenery and greying whites of plastic chairs and tables.
As I walk towards the supermarket, I notice the delay in the sliding doors. They remain closed as I walk into them, where the sticker sign clearly states "IN". After my second attempt to crash-open the supermarket doors, a dozy security guy shuffles lazily towards me from inside of the shop and with the obvious annoyance forms his hands in the sign of a cross. "What do you mean closed? It's nearly 9am, for f***s sake!" But there is no one to hear my ranting, everybody is too busy drinking tea. Defeated, I shuffle back, wondering what is one to do with smelly children and what the world did before Pampers were invented.

A woman on a street in black and white polka-dot dress seems to enjoy her al-fresco breakfast, as she reaches for heavy-laded branches of a white mulberry tree. Her head and back arching backwards in search of the ripest fruit, holding the tip of the branch in one hand and picking the berries with the other.
I catch myself gazing at her ease and total ignorance of the hustle and bustle of the morning city, surrounding her.
Growing up amongst the orchids of varieties of mulberry trees and being so used to their sight, smell and taste, I never thought they will symbolise summer for me as much as the Caspian sea or dachas.
When Layla and I went out for a walk hours after we arrived in our Baku flat, we passed an old mulberry tree on our way. Keen to introduce my 2-year old daughter to all the delights of my childhood, I picked few juicy berries from the tree for her. She munches on the berries happily and I close my eyes with delight. As I look up and open my eyes, I see again this pain-stakingly familiar sight of the innocent blue sky scattered in between the green spread of mulberry leaves and their ink-coloured jewels of berries. This was the moment when summer officially started for me.