Tale of Two Taxis
On journeys from Shaartuz (120 miles south of Dushanbe) I have twice had the privilege of taking private taxis when one of our vehicles was not available. On the face of it, it appeared to be a straightforward process: Go to one the taxi stands on the road out of town, pay about $6 for a seat in the car, and when the car is full drive to Dushanbe. My first taxi experience had me in the front seat, which is generally preferred for the legroom. I had learned from previous experience to ask if the seatbelt worked, and the driver assured me it was “fine”. Three adults and two children were squeezed into the backseat of the small car and we all greeted each other with “Asalam alekkum” when I got in. As we started off and I went to put on my seatbelt, I realized there was no buckle to insert the belt. The driver noticed this and said “No problem” as he took the belt and looped it under the emergency break on the floor. Although this was creative, I realized it would probably be of little use if I needed the seatbelt to work. After considering the situation for a few moments (and not wanting to go through the process of finding another taxi), I got creative and decided to make use of the driver’s buckle which he appeared to have no intention of using. This worked and everyone was happy. Not to say that the driver never used his seatbelt – when we approached police checkpoints he would drape his belt across his body and hold the loose end with his leg to give the appearance of wearing a seatbelt. The rest of the trip went fairly quickly since this driver appeared to have grown up on a racetrack. Had to pull out the Russian phrasebook and tell him “There’s no hurry” twice to make sure he got the message.
My second taxi was even more entertaining. This time it was a station wagon, and appeared to be in better condition than the first taxi. Someone else had already paid for the front seat, so my two colleagues and I folded ourselves into the backseat and…went nowhere as he tried to locate his “patent”, a Soviet-style document that proves that he has paid his taxes and which we need to show to the government if we are reimbursed. After several minutes of calling, it was clear that neither he nor his colleagues had current patents available (they did have licenses), and we decided to set off without the “patent”. All was fine until we reached the last high ridgeline before the plains leading to Dushanbe, and the engine started coughing and died. He restarted the engine, drove for about 4 seconds and then the engine would sputter again. Soon he had to pull over, wait half a minute, then restart and drive for 50 meters before the engine died again… It did not look good for this engine, and we called ahead to try to arrange a rescue vehicle. But he persevered, and eventually we reached the crest of the ridge and the engine seemed to recover for the downhill portion, then promptly died on the next small uphill! Finally, 50 meters by 50 meters, we were able to reach a gas station and add more fuel. This was what that poor engine needed (problem was a weak fuel pump that could not do the job on a steep uphill) and we were able to rendezvous with one of our vehicles at the massive Southern Gate of the city.