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Saturday, April 21, 2012

Driving in Baku (when you're the one driving)

Two weeks ago, our car arrived finally got registered and plated.  Brandon drove it home after an interminable event, and came in at eleven at night.  He parked it in our garage, and it fit, but just barely.

Good thing we don't own a minivan.  And it's probably fine that we have no door from the house to the garage because we wouldn't be able to fit through it anyway when the car is parked in the garage.  Which it is for most of the week.

But on those times it isn't....

I'm driving it around.  And I love it.  I've always been somewhat partial to driving; if nobody else wants to drive, I'm happy to do it.  But it's not like I've got driving gloves or anything.  When we went back to the US and got our car, however, I discovered why everyone owns those big, gas-guzzling SUVs.  It's because they have big, gas-guzzling engines!  And they're really fun to use!  And it doesn't hurt to be up high able to survey everyone around you.

So when we came to Baku, I mourned the temporary absence of our car, daydreaming of the day when I could take it out and conquer the mean streets of Baku.

Over the last two weeks, I've gradually been widening the area of my vehicular wanderings.  First I took it to the grocery store a mile away.  The I took it to the grocery store and a store a little further afield.  Last week I volunteered to drive on our monthly visiting teaching visit.

And so today, with Brandon far away on a Boy Scout campout, I decided to go on An Adventure with the children.

I've heard about various parks, parks with things like playground equipment and slides and swings, from friends.  We have a 'park' here, but it is more like a landscaped green space that my children use for whatever ends they choose.  It doesn't have any playground equipment, so today we went in search of one (post to follow).

I've heard about parks closer to our house, but I decided to go to one down by the Caspian, pretty much right in the middle of downtown Baku.  Like down the street from the Four Seasons, across the street from the J.W. Marriott and on a four (or maybe five or six, depending on what you feel like) lane road.  Which is of course why I waited until Brandon was gone because I don't think he would have approved of the outing.

We arrived without much trouble, having left around nine - an hour when any decent Azeri who can is still in bed - and so not encountering too much traffic.

But when we left around eleven thirty, there were plenty of people on the road.  Coupled with missing a few turns and having a road or two closed, we really got to experience driving in downtown Baku.  We even passed by the Eurovision stadium.

The highlight of my Baku-driving skills test was when we hit an area of construction where five or six lanes of traffic turned into one or two without any warning.  At one point Kathleen probably could have stuck her arm out and touched a bus next to us (and I'm really not exaggerating.  She might have had to unbuckle and lean out, but I think she could have done it).  Some poor guy in a Lada got his tire stuck in a pothole and couldn't get the car out.  I'm not joking.  It was sunk down to the front bumper.  If I wasn't trying to avoid being run over by a bus, I would have taken a picture.  I even tried, but I would have had to look through the viewfinder, and that is unsafe driving practices.  So instead I tossed the camera to Kathleen, but she wasn't very good at getting pictures of anything useful.

So now I can say that I've driven in Baku.  And really, it's not that bad.  No, really.  I think that maybe if everyone was going forty miles an hour and trying to navigate some of the things they pull off, that would be dangerous.  But when you're going five miles an hour, pulling in front of someone unexpectedly is only going to annoy them, not cause an accident.  People drive their cars here they way you drive a shopping cart - going where you need to go and keeping an eye on the carts around you while you're doing it.  If everyone in Safeway were running at top speed while picking up diapers and pickles, it would be a problem.  But they're not, and that's why you don't hear of deadly supermarket pile-ups.

And now I have a confession to make.  The reason I like driving here most of all is because you don't have to obey the rules and being aggressive is okay.  I guess that makes me a jerk.  Because I like ignoring the rules and getting away with it.  And I like pulling out in front of people.  I always thought I was law-abiding until I started driving here.  Oh well.

And those diplomatic plates?  They're awesome.


Laura said...

Diplomatic plates on a fancy black SUV, huh? Now you're really an expat!

UnkaDave said...

OK, so the really big question is, when do you let Kathleen drive so you can take the pictures? Or would it be better to just teach her how to take photos? I dunno... Tell her those are pretty good shots for being tossed about by her mother's driving.

MamaM said...

You are braver than me! Driving in a new place with a car full of kids and bumper to bumper traffic would leave me completely stressed out!