Sunday, March 27, 2011

Getting around day-to-day

Even tho' there are lots of Mercedes and BMWs and Russian Lada cars around, most people here do not have cars. Taxis seem to be the most common public transportation and is also entrepreneurial. You can see them parked morning, noon, and night near apartment buildings and housing compounds, bazars, offices - anywhere there are potential fares. 

I suspect that many men who do have cars, also probably have a magnetic "taxi" sign they put up on top when they have the time and inclination to earn money for tea.  I'm not surprised that many men who emigrate to the USA already have much experience driving taxis in their home country. 

The public transportation system here makes it possible to get just about anywhere at a low cost plus a wee bit of walking. Marsrutkas are mini-vans that travel over a specified route for the same price regardless of how far you are going, i.e. they are jitneys. You simply wave your hand when you see your route number on the street and they stop and pick you up. You pay the fare as you get off which is 20 gepik, about 25 cents. (This photo is from Sumgayit.)

Marsrutkas are also the way to get to other towns in rural Azerbaijan. Every town has an avtovagzal (bus station). Marsrutkas have signs on the front windshield with the destination and the driver usually waits until there are sufficient passengers. I've taken a 4 hour ride from Masalli to Baku for 5 manet. It helps to have along an iPod and snack, tho' there is a 15 minute rest stop. On one trip I met a young Khazikstan pediatrician who moved to Baku with her husband and spoke a bit of English.

Buses usually go to larger cities such as the route between Baku and Sumgayit or to Ganja. They also travel specified routes, but with a lot more comfort and less crazy driving. Baku has a fairly new bus station designed to look like a ship and includes a large clothing bazar. Once you arrive there, many buses are lined up that take you to different parts of the city. All PCVs know that Bus 65 will take you near to the PC office.

There is also a railway system to some parts of Azerbaijan, but it does not have current comforts - little maintenance or upgrading since the end of the soviet system - but a bit of mystic of the Orient Express.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Some sights and sounds

Thought I'd write about a few things that make life here in Masalli, Azerbaijan interesting!

Roosters crowing in the morning
Hens clucking after they've laid an egg
Geese honking when they are disturbed by stray cats, dogs, children
Shepherds shouting to their sheep grazing along the boulevards.

Small cars laden with fruits and vegetables and moving along back streets as the farmer calls out whatever he is selling to housewives hidden behind walled yards

 A car stuffed with merchandise and parked near a store while the driver convinces the clerk  to stock it
Clothing peddlers calling out their merchandise to apartment dwellers above.

Men and boys standing along country roads in late afternoon holding dressed chickens and ducks for sale for evening meals
My lovely host mom opening the kitchen window of our 5th floor apartment and blithely sliding the scraps of food off a plate saying,  "there are some cats who will like this."

Was that really a stork flying over a wildlife refuge along the Caspian Sea?

The Sound of Music played on the piano by me!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Getting Water in Masalli

Clean potable water is essential for life since we can only live about 10 days without it. Here is a bit of information about how Azerbaijanis in my town of Masalli get water for drinking and cooking as well as for laundry and bathing.

This photo shows a typical water tank which is filled from below by a large water pipe. These pipes run throughout the town and can be mistaken for speed bumps when they are partially buried across a street. Heaven only knows where that water comes from and to my knowledge it is not fluoridated. High holding tanks provide pressure for the water to flow to multiple homes. In Masalli, family compounds and apartment buildings have water tanks with much smaller capacity than the huge water towers seen in American villages and suburbs.  My host family's apartment has water faucets in our kitchen and bathroom plus a water heater, and this is the water we use for washing dishes, laundry and bathing.

Some resident also make use of a government water truck (Su is the Azeri word for water) but I'm not sure how people use this water. This truck comes around regularly, honks the horn and people (usually women) simply come out of their apartments bringing large containers. The driver uses a hose to fill whatever bucket or container they have.

My family does not use a water truck since we get most water from a holding tank. However, for drinking and cooking my host dad wrestles with 5-8 gallon plastic jugs of mountain spring water. I've seen him carry a jug up the 6 flights of stairs, but mostly he uses a pulley system for bringing the water jugs up to our 4th floor apartment balcony where it's stored until we need it. The water in these jugs is also boiled before cooking or drinking. The only cold water I drink is what I might buy in a store (Coke or Pepsi bottlers).

When I move to my own apartment in April I will need to figure out water better. PC does provide us each with a water filter and we are instructed to boil the water after it is filtered. I've been spoiled and have not had to use my filter at this family's home.

Ignore the graffiti on the brick walls. It's likely not political since it is against the law to speak ill of the president or government officials. Peace Corps assures us that our freedom of speech will be restored at COS (Close Of Service).