One of the perks of living in a city is easy access to public transportation. In Annapolis we were too far away from either DC or Baltimore to use any of it. Trains, buses, the metro. Nothing. It was a 20 minute drive to the nearest metro stop and at that point it was just as time consuming to drive all the way into the city.
In Dushanbe, public transportation is a short five minute walk from our house. There’s everything. Taxis, shared taxis, buses, trolley buses, marshrutkas (large passenger vans bursting at the seams with people), and even the occasional horse and carriage.
A few weekends ago Sean and I decided it was time to brave the slightly crazy world of Tajik public transport. Nothing about the buses or marshrutkas is particularly orderly. You don’t walk in the front door of the bus, pay, and take a seat. You don’t pay the marshutka driver before you get in. You don’t even pay him before he roars away from the curb at break-neck speeds to the next stop.
No, in Dushanbe you jump on and worry about money later. There’s a lot of unorderly passing around of crumpled bills until it gets to the right person. Same goes for change. Oddly no one seems to worry much if they pay with a 10 somani note and don’t get a full nine back for the bus or van. Chances are it will even out in the long run.
Sean and I diligently studied our guide to public transportation before venturing out. We knew for a fact that it was 80 diram (cents) for a bus and three somani for a marshrutka.
Immediately we were wrong. No one pays for the bus with change. People just hand over a full somani and don’t expect anything back. Whoops. The bus attendant didn’t correct us but I really felt terrible once we figured out our error.
The opposite happened on the marshrutka. When we hopped on the somehow nearly empty van and tried to hand two three somani bills to the man in front of us, he kindly explained the fare was only one somani per person.
The other interesting nuance to marshrutka riding is they don’t necessarily stop at all the predesignated areas. They follow set routes along the main roads but you hail them like a taxi, and get off by yelling “остановитесь пожалуйста!” (stop please!).
As I’ve told our public transportation tale to others at the Embassy, some have said how brave we were to venture out on our own. Of all things, this didn’t scare me much. All it really takes is a bit of observation, the right amount of cash, and a single Russian phrase to make life without a car a little less unbearable.