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Monday, April 20, 2015

Living in Dushanbe: Driving

We've now been in Dushanbe for five months.  Our car has been here for three months and so I've had enough time to do a bit of driving here.  Brandon usually takes the car to work since I (by my own choice) don't go out much.  The children and I have school every morning and we have a 'park' close enough to walk to, so there's real no need to get out.  But I have driven enough in Dushanbe - I'm by no means scared of driving here, I just usually don't need to - to have gotten a feel for the local conditions.

I only ever drove once when we were in Cairo, so Baku was really first overseas driving experience, and I still remember the sweat slicking my palms the first time I climbed behind the wheel of my big back Honda Pilot (good thing my seat was electric so I could raise it enough to see over the wheel).  Thankfully we had bought a GPS map of Baku; if we hadn't I don't know if I would have had the courage to join the melee that passed for driving in Baku.  But, as with just about everything in life, I got used to it.  Sometimes I even forgot that I was driving around in a foreign country and that in some places people actually obey lane markers.

 But despite my nonchalance about driving in Baku, I was happy to get away from the crazy traffic and crazy drivers and Brandon's variable commute time - anywhere from ten minutes to an hour to travel three miles.

My time in DC made me even more excited to move to a city where there was, according to some reports, no rush hour traffic.  What would it be like to live in a city where the embassy was only fifteen minutes away, no matter the time of day?  Brandon, after talking about traffic with his Tajik teacher, tried to calm me down.  "Karim says," he patiently explained, "that there are more and more cars and the traffic is getting worse.  So don't get your hopes too high."

I did anyway, and when Brandon came home from his first day of work, I immediately questioned him about commute times.  "Well, I can't be sure because we were in a shuttle and had to drop off several people, but it didn't look like it should take any more than fifteen minutes.  We'll have to see."

After our car arrived, was registered (which went off without a hitch, thanks to an amazingly bad set of locally-made windows that we swapped out in Baku for our non-customs clearing tinted ones.  There are at least three cars in the embassy parking lot that are still not registered because of tinted windows), and got its new set of magical red plates, Brandon started driving to work.  And like clockwork, it took him fifteen minutes, no matter what time of day.

When I finally had a reason to drive myself I got to see conditions myself and saw why his times never changed - there were hardly any cars on the road.

Dushanbe is tiny for a capitol city - less than 700,00 people and only has two major roads in the central part of the city - one going north and south and the other east and west.  Both roads are only six lanes wide, with one lane on each side usually used for parking and taxis.  There are no highways in the entire country - once you get out of Dushanbe there is not a single road that is wider than four lanes and only a handful of those.  Most of the country is lucky if the roads are paved at all.

We live on a 'four lane' road major enough to show up as a yellow line on Google maps, and the children and I cross it regularly on foot to get to a friend's house - something I'd never have considered doing in Baku.  Nobody ever gets above thirty five miles an hour in the city and cars come infrequently enough that we have plenty of space to make our slow was across traffic.

Saturday night Brandon and I went to a gathering at a mission member's house.  When we were leaving, the host asked if it wouldn't be too much out of our way to drop another guest off at the Hyatt.  We just laughed as we led our fellow guest to the car - what place in Dushanbe would be out of the way?  Maybe the next town over.  Maybe.

We've heard some complaints about the driving here - but Brandon and I just have to laugh.  The driving here is the usual level of non-first world craziness - passing on double yellow lines, the occasional running of red lights, a little bit of tailgating and taking turns from the wrong lane, but there just aren't that many cars on the road so everything is pretty easy to avoid.  The most irritating thing is the marshrutkas that make up roughly one third of the cars on the road (taxis make up another third) and stop randomly in inconvenient places - like in the middle of the road - and block up traffic.  But usually you can just pull around them and if you are stuck, it takes about thirty seconds before the block is cleared up.  The other day we had to wait for an entire minute and I almost died of impatience.

If this were my first time in these driving conditions I would be appalled by the erratic driving and constant pedestrians crossing against green lights, not in cross walks, and wearing black clothes late at night, but it's not my first time and I've already seen much much worse before coming here.  The traffic here is just refreshing after Baku and DC and I know that I'll tell tales of Brandon's fifteen minute commute for years after we leave Dushanbe.

So I can put driving and traffic firmly in the 'pluses' column of Dushanbe.  Sure, it maybe not exactly what I grew up with, but who can complain about a city with no rush hour traffic?  I certainly won't, and I'm going to make sure to enjoy it for the next two years.

1 comment:

UnkaDave said...

Nice! They ignore the rules here in Peru, also, but they are mean about it, and there are LOTS of cars.