Monday, August 30, 2010

Spare Thoughts: Marshutka Edition

Erti – So when we were given our insurance cards, there were a list of various injuries that were not covered on the plan (the biggest debate being what constitutes a dangerous hike). Then there’s the part of our contract that says we are not allowed to drive (something I keep trying to explain to Lasha, but now I’m just convinced he thinks I’m a giant pus). But basically, the biggest concern from TLG and our insurance company was getting hurt in an auto-accident. That said; they should not let us on marshutkas.

Ori – Of course they can’t do that, because it’s the only means of transportation to a majority of the country. But marshutkas are more dangerous than any other clause put in our insurance plan, including base-jumping (by the way, if you get hurt base-jumping, you're probably dead, so why bother?). If you don’t know what a marshutka is, it’s a mini-bus that is packed full of people, super cheap (very few cost more than three Lari), and borderline suicidal.

Sami – On the average marshutka there’s probably about 15 seats, but there will definitely be at least 20 people in it, probably more. The marshutka driver will not leave their starting location until it’s full (which kind of makes any schedule useless). Also, there aren’t any designated stops except the start and finish. You yell gamecheret when you want to get off, while people just flag them down like cabs to get on. It’s crazy.

The sign to Anaklia from inside our marshutka

Otkhi – So my first marshutka to Senaki, which Luka flagged down for me right outside of the road to our house, was packed to the brim. I just thought, there’s no way, but they opened up the door (there’s usually the driver and the attendant who opens the passenger side door and collects the money [you pay when you get off]) and ushered me in before I could question anything. I was bent over and squeezed in with about thirty other Georgians until we got to Bandza where a few people disembarked and I could grab a seat (a minor miracle).

Georgian Army trenches behind fellow volunteer Stephanie's house; like Vietnam all over again. 

Khuti – For the most part, there were never any issues. But if you’re claustrophobic or you’re Howie Mendel and don’t like touching people, then marshutkas are not for you. Just like any public transportation, you have to be cognizant of your surroundings and watch for pick-pockets (or just make sure you have everything with you when you get off, which I didn’t as I left my iPhone on the marshutka to Zugdidi; what a dumbass), but really, expect to be touched… a lot.

Eqvsi – And vice versa. Expect to touch people… a lot. On our marshutka back from Zugdidi, we had to stand pretty much the entire way (about an hour). Now most marshutkas have some sort of bar for the standing passengers to hold onto, but not on this one for some reason (another odd thing; the only no-smoking sign I’ve seen in Georgia was on a marshutka). Anyway, we had to hold on to anything we could get our hands on. I could have easily been arrested for groping. Add to the fact that the lady sitting next to me started breast-feeding her daughter (who seemed a bit old to be breast fed), and I definitely needed a shower to wash away the feeling of disgust after I got off.

Stray kittens, unlike pigs, are internationally cute 

Shvidi – Occasionally there can be an altercation on a marshutka. It’s only natural given the nature of the beast (heaps of people, most of them smell, the driver is usually crazy causing the passengers to be on tilt, and seats are at a premium). When we took our public marshutka to the beach from Zudidi on Saturday (another volunteer, the abominable Rick, set up a private marshutka for Friday) a seat opened up in the back row in which most of us were sitting. A middle-aged man (let us call him, the Prince) made his way back and sat down. Moments later, an older gentleman (who we nicknamed the King; because he was acting like he had royal ownership over the entire marshutka) came back and tried to squeeze in between Ian and the Prince. We had zero idea what was going on but the King came back to hassle the Prince about three other times. Finally, the Prince snapped. The look on his face was exactly how Micheal Corleone looked in Godfather II when Kaye told him about the baby: pure rage. His voice on the other hand, was exactly what I expected from an infuriated Georgian. It puts a chill down your spine. 

Rva – Even when we had the orientation talk about marshutkas, no defined etiquette was laid out for us. Do we give up our seats to women; who gets rights to the seats, etc. (I can't wait to see my Mom post something along the lines of, "Maxwell, you better give up your seat to a woman!") I’ve seen younger guys get up for older ladies, but that’s about it. But apparently, the King was disappointed that the Prince took his seat. And then apparently the Prince took exception to the King’s exception. At least that’s the best we could gather. But, man, what a crazy altercation. Later on, after the dust settled (and the driver had to stop the marshutka just to settle the Prince down), the Prince apologized profusely (bodishi, bodishi) to the girls we were with (who, obviously, were a little startled). All in all, an awesome experience from which I have learned one thing: avoid anybody and everybody on a marhsutka. You never know who could be one comment away from going all Micheal Douglas in Falling Down on you.

Five North Americans stuffed into the back of a marshutka (notice the no smoking sign)

Tskhra – The whole incident got me thinking about how much it would suck to be on a crowded marshutka when a fight broke out. Talk about claustrophobic. And then that led me to thinking about how terrible it would be to be on a marhsutka that crashed; just people on top of people. And then when I got home today we were watching the news during a report about a marshutka that crashed outside of Kutaisi... I think I’m going to take a break from the marshutkas for a few days.

Ati – So this doesn’t have much to do with marshutkas at all (in fact, I’m sick of typing it); but I wanted to say this while it’s still fresh. I am damn lucky to have such an awesome host family. I’ve been able to visit a few other people in their host homes, and I think everybody is pretty lucky (for the most part, but some people have had a few issues), but at times I’ve been too quick to lavish praise on someone else's situation. There are two reasons for this: I’m easily impressed with anything new or foreign (Oh, you’re Bebea milks the cows first thing in the morning? Awesome!), and whenever we visit a new Georgian home, they pull out all the stops for you (I’ve never had so much undeserved praise lavished on me before). So add to this my initial reaction to Bandza (there’s nothing here) and I get a little complacent in my thoughts. But I returned to my farm today and of course the first thing they do is feed me, then they grab all my dirty clothes and wash them for me, then they drive me to Martvili to try to find an adapter and a towel (which I left in Zugdidi), and then when I couldn’t find an adapter, they made me one out of a neighbor's old German adapter. Incredible. And then they fed me again. I’m one lucky bastard.

Me jumping off an old dock into the Black Sea near Anaklia

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