A wonderful but at times horribly frustrating tool for getting around the Tashkent, Uzbekistan. Well, really they’re my only way of getting around the city besides walking, so I have to love them.
If you ever find yourself in Tashkent, remember what I’m about to tell you. I’m not sure how you are supposed to figure half the survival skills of this city out if you are a tourist just here to visit for a few days. I surely would not have made it very far past the airport if I weren’t here to work and live.
There are a few labeled taxis, but mostly a taxi means a random person and their car stopping to pick you up and take you wherever you need to go. I was horrified at first. The thought of getting into a strangers car and being at their whim to take me wherever sounded frightening, especially as a woman. After the initial shock wore off I gave in, as I really have no other way of getting around. So every day I, at times reluctantly, stick my hand out and someone stops. The local rate for a ride is very cheap, between 1000-3000 soums (about $0.50 – $1.00). As a foreigner I tend to pay between 3000-5000 soums for a ride, depending on how far it is. So far no one has made me pay more or tried to cheat me.
During these rides I’ve learned a lot. Some of the men attempt to talk to me, there’s always lots of hand motioning and awkward laughs, others remain silent as I catch them glancing back at me in their mirror, most likely wondering about who I am and what I’m doing by myself. And on a few occasions I’ve been shown what true Uzbek hospitality looks like.
A few days ago I was having a difficult day.
I was trying to run some errands and felt like no one was understanding me and instead I was being pushed from one person to another, and still never getting an answer to any of my questions. I was also feeling sick, so I gave up on errands and decided to head for home. A man stops, I get in and off I go.
After a few minutes he starts speaking in English. Clearly my few Russian phrases for getting a taxi aren’t making me appear like a local. We chat and before long I’m gushing to him about all the challenges of my day. He tells me he has an uncle who knows someone that knows someone that can help me. And so it goes. As we pull up to my apartment I thank him for helping and try to pay. He quickly stops me and says, “you are a guest in my country, guests do not pay. And you are sick, go home.” I was so taken aback by his kindness and it quickly turned my day around. I don’t think he’ll ever know how much such a small gesture meant to me.
It also showed me how important doing small things like that are. It’s easy to come to a country like this, feel frustrated, and begin over generalizing negative things about the people that live here. We are all guilty of doing that, even in our own country. It’s what I was beginning to do as my day had slowly started to deteriorate. I had to stop and remind myself that how I treat people here is very much going to influence their opinion about Americans, as much as how people treat me will influence what I begin to think. If I show kindness, like that taxi driver showed to me, even if it just changes just one persons mind, it can make an impact.
Flash forward to today.
I wanted to go to the Museum of Applied Arts, or Amaliy Sanat Muzeyi. I’d heard wonderful things about the building, wood carvings, Suzanis, and other Central Asian art. I wrote down the address in Russian, took a picture of a map to have on my phone, and left feeling adequately prepared to get a taxi there.
Four or five taxis later, no one seems to know what I’m talking about. I’m motioning painting, trying to say what I think may be museum in Russian. Nothing. Finally, a younger man stops and feels confident (I think) that he can at least drive around and figure out where it is. I start to worry when he’s pulling over to ask random people for directions. He then stops and gets out of the car to go and ask for directions. Should I just get out and start walking? Eventually he comes back laughing. The museum is apparently only a 5 minute walk behind my apartment building! I feel silly so I pay him a little extra for going so much out of his way.
As I walk through the high walls surrounding the courtyard my heart melts. The museum itself was constructed in the early 20th century and is the home of a former Russian diplomat who was a collector of national handicrafts. The wooden columns and walls are intricately carved wood that have been painted. At the bottom are colorfully lined painted tiles.