It rained here last week. It wasn't much rain, just the usual drizzle that hangs in the sky here for a few days before deciding it's had enough and giving up. Occasionally the rain comes down harder and pools up against the granite-curbed road median, making the left lane somewhat unnavigable, but this only happens every few months. Usually it's just drizzle.
It's amazing, however, what just a little drizzle will do. Baku is not nearly as dusty as Cairo - I can get away with one dusting a week - but it's still a dusty place with the fine, silty dust coming in on the wind from arid plains to the west. Normally the dust isn't too visible, but when it rains the dust turns into mud which then coats everything in sight - including my black car.
Which means that it's time for another trip to the Car Wash Man as soon as the rain clears up.
Bakuvians love their cars. "Sometimes I think," my housekeeper once told me, "that men love their cars more than their wives." And part of loving their cars includes keeping them scrupulously clean, which can be pretty hard when it rains here. I've seen cars that are so completely covered with a thin layer of fine brown mud that their license plates are completely obscured. Last winter it snowed so much that people just started wiping down their door handles and taillights because they couldn't keep the mud off. I've always wondered why those rear windshield wipers were necessary - is it really so hard see out your back window through the rain? Now I use mine to wipe the mud off so I can see to back up.
And so dotted around all of the neighborhoods are Avto Yuyucus - a small bay with raised car ramps, a power washer, and someone to spray the mud off the paint and vacuum the mud out of the carpets.
Our car arrived after all of the snows last year, so it stayed pretty clean for awhile. After a trip to the mountains in May, it got pretty dusty, so the children and I cleaned it off ourselves. The summers here are dry and so not muddy, so the car stayed clean for awhile. But after a few months it became apparent that Cannonball needed a wash.
Normally I don't care how clean my car is, but after living in a society where every keeps their cars mud-free, I started to feel self-conscious about driving my mud-encrusted car around the city. I felt like I had food stains on my shirt.
I had noticed a garage with a power washer near the exits of our neighborhood, so one day I screwed up my courage and made a plan with my housekeeper. "Okay," I told her, "I'm going to take the car to get washed. I want it washed and vacuumed. Is ten manat okay for that?" She assured me that it was plenty. "So when I get there, I'm going to call you and hand the phone to the car wash guy. Then I need you tell him what I want and that I need it by two."
I drove up and stopped the car. The man walked up. I pointed to my phone, called my housekeeper, and handed the phone to the man. He took it and talked to my housekeeper. Then he handed the phone back to me. I handed my keys to him. Then I walked home.
As I was walking away, I tried not to look back to see if a black Honda Pilot with red dip plates was making a speedy exit out of the neighborhood. "It's okay," I reassured myself, "there's no way he's going to steal your car even though you just handed him the keys. Where would he sell it, after all? It's not like there are very many Honda Pilots of that vintage running around in this city so it would be pretty obvious. And there are cameras watching everything. And he knows that I know where he is. And he does this all of the time. If he stole cars he would be in jail." I still couldn't completely tune out, however, the visions of a black Pilot with US dip plates rampaging all over the city doing nefarious deeds.
So when I came back at two and the car was clean, vacuumed, and most importantly, still there, I gratefully handed over the ten manat. When the children saw it later, they were in awe. "Mom! It's like we have a new car! Can we have it washed again next week?!"
I've gotten over my dependence on my housekeeper by now, and when I drive up to the yuyucu, the Car Wash Man walks out, I hand him my keys, and we nod at each other. He knows that he's supposed to wash and vacuum it within the next few hours and I know that I'll pay him ten manat and the car will be clean.
But I still can't quite help from turning around to watch as I walk away.