Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Tents in the Street

Baku is the largest city--about half the population of the country lives there-about 4 million people. My city is the second largest in the country—about 300,000 people. We get around the city by walking, taking a few buses that are available, but mostly riding around in marshrutkas. They are vans that are outfitted with homemade seats. Each driver is an entrepreneur because the vehicle is his and he keeps the money that he makes.

All of the buses and marshrutkas in Ganja would be considered to be in appalling shape by any American standard. The buses would have been considered old in Soviet days and the majority of the marshrutkas would never pass any sort of an inspection in the US. They are likely to be liberally sprinkled with rust and dents, often list to one side , stall out at traffic lights, and some even have seriously cracked windshields. Invariably, the driver smokes and the smell wafts throughout the van.

The advantages are that they cost about 25 cents a ride and they are frequent and plentiful. They stop anywhere on the route as there are few actual bus stops. There are buses and marshrutkas that go all over the country and it is possible to get anywhere that has a road with them. When I have mentioned that some rural people in the US can’t get a job because they don’t have a car, they say “why don’t they take a marshrutka to work?” They are surprised that we don’t have a transportation system that goes throughout the country.

I take a bus to work. It takes a route that for two blocks goes the wrong way down a one-way street. Cars are not allowed to do this, but apparently the bus is allowed. The first time I rode it, I had no idea that it would go the wrong way down a one-way street. Cars come at us from the two lanes, but before a head-on collision , the car in our lane moves over.

Besides marshrutkas, another amenity that we don’t have in the US involves funeral tents. When people die, special tents can be set up on the public streets. The tents are about the size of a semi-trailer and serve as funeral homes. As Muslim custom dictates, bodies are usually buried by nightfall, but the mourning goes on for seven days in the tent.

In my community, men go the tent and women go to the home. Tea is passed, prayers are said and everyone comforts the family. After 40 days, there is another gathering.

On any day, a tent could just appear and block a lane for 7 days. Apparently, they can be put on any side street—not on major thoroughfares, though.

One day, while riding my bus to work, as we got to the place where we go the wrong way down the one- way street, I noticed that the other lane of traffic was completely blocked by one of these “funeral tents”. There was nowhere for the other cars to go, so they just came at us. It was rush hour, so there were plenty of cars. The bus driver inched forward until he blocked the street and the other cars had to back up. We went through this routine for 7 days.

No comments: