What have I been doing for the past month?  Not writing blogs! Ha… sorry about that. (Thanks Aunt Tina for the reminder!)

That past month has been rather hectic.  I have been commuting from Shamkir to Baku almost every week.  It’s a wonderful 6-8 hour drive in a tiny vehicle with lots of other people in a horribly uncomfortable seat.  Why have I been commuting? For different reasons.  I had two Peace Corps conferences to go to such as Early Service Training (EST) and Counterpart Conference.  The rest of the time I came in to see the dentist for a root canal! It’s as fun as it sounds too.

There are several ways I could go to Baku from Shamkir.  I could take a taxi (and I wish I was rich so I could some days).  I could hop on a bus or marshrutka (like a long van).  Finally, I could take a night train.  When I take a bus or marshrutka, I am in Baku for 1 night and have 2 days of travel.  I could take the night train into Baku, have my appointment the next day, and then take it back that evening.  Although the train would be the preferred way for me to travel because it detracts less from my work, I refuse to take the night train by myself.  I have heard too many horror stories of young women waking up to unpleasant situations.  While these horror stories are probably not the norm, I’m airing on the side of caution.  Being a 24 year old woman in a place where many people think I’m either English or Russian and therefore young men harass me a bit more, I don’t trust young men on a train.  The cheaper (affordable for me) tickets are for an open cart area (no doors, no privacy).  There is no guarantee I would not be surrounded by men. Anyway, I usually take a marshrutka to Baku.

When I go to Baku, I get up at 6 am, eat, and leave by 6:30.  I then walk down to Dörd Yol (Dörd=four; yol=road; which basically means a rotary).  It is here that I pick up a marshrutka or bus that will take me to Baku.  Depending on whose marshrutka, I could have a wonderful or terrible time.  I could miss my appointment or make it there early.  I have had kind drivers and other drivers I would argue with.  I had one super kind driver once.  He spoke a little bit of English and would speak English to me.  He made sure I was comfortable and explained what was going on when we stopped (and he only stopped once!).  He even drove me all the way to the Peace Corps office with no extra charge!  Plus he gave me no creepy vibes.  On the other side, there are drivers whose vehicle I would never step into again.

Drivers and schedules here are not like they are in America.  I miss there being a consistent time schedule that everyone followed for departures.  Sometimes drivers leave when they say they will leave; other times they say they will wait for the marshrutka to fill up.  That could take anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour or more.  One particular man, who I argued with, made us wait for more than an hour.  He was waiting on someone to drive to Dörd Yol and give him a computer (which I didn’t k now until later).  Unfortunately, the other guy was late.  The driver made us wait for an hour even though all the seats in the vehicle were full.  After an hour, we departed without his computer.  After driving 20 minutes he got a hold of his friend, and we then waited on the side of the road for a good 30 minutes.  I didn’t have time to wait an hour and half because if I did I would be late for my appointment.  Plus I knew there was going to be a tea break in the middle which could last 10 to 40 minutes.  In the mean time I could have taken at least 3 other vehicles who arrived after and left before we did.  While we were waiting on the side of the road, I started to ask the driver questions and demand we leave.  “Why are we waiting?  I don’t have time to wait.  I didn’t know we were going to wait.  I have an appointment. I am going to be late now.  We need to leave.”  After having this conversation with him, the other men got out of the vehicle because we aren’t leaving without this computer.  I then get out of the vehicle and start looking for another vehicle that will take me to Baku.  The driver comes over to me and tries to calm me down.  He said he would drive me to the dentist office and asked me just to wait.  He also said that we would be there on time.  I said, “ok” and got back into the car.

The trip was fine, but I had a rude awakening when I got to Baku.  The driver drove me a few blocks from the dentist office, and I was an hour early.  When I went to pay him, he charged me 10 manat even though its 8 manat to get to Baku.  I was livid! I started going off on how it is 8 manat not 10; what could he be thinking (sometimes you have to call them out on overcharging you because I look English or Russian so they think I have more money).  Grudgingly he let me only pay 9 manat.  I was still furious for days that this man had overcharged me and tried to rip off a guest in his country.  A week later, I found out that it actually costs 10 manat.  I was wrong.  There is apparently another way you can go to Baku.  First there is a big bus which costs 8 manat.  Next there is a marshrutka which costs 8 manat.  Then there is a van with less but much comfier seats that costs 10 manat.  I had gotten into the van and not the marshrutka, but I did not know the difference at the time.

Lessons learned from my constant travels?  First, more patience.  Leave the yelling to the Xanims (older women).  Secondly, I need to ask more questions before I get into any vehicle.  I should always ask two very important questions, “When do you leave, and how much does it cost?”  Thirdly, I won’t get into a cold engine vehicle.  If the engine is not started, we are not leaving any time soon.  There might be another option out there in the mean time.