Thursday, March 15, 2018

Uzbekistan: Sometimes It's the Little Things... (part 2)

While there are formal taxis and local taxi-hailing apps in Uzbekistan, every car is a potential taxi.  Some drivers use their cars as taxis full-time, and others only occasionally.  Basically, though, Uzbeks have been ubering long before Uber existed.

To hail an unofficial taxi, one needs only to stand on the side of the road, arm outstretched, and wait for a friendly motorist to stop, usually in a Matiz, Lacetti, Nexia, or Spark.  After a moment to discuss the destination and agree on a price, you’re on your way.

People of all stripes use unofficial taxis, from frail grannies to desk jockeys to little kids.  In the case of the kids, they get taxi money from their parents and make their ways independently across the city.

As I was riding in an Embassy car one day, I was talking to my driver about this.

“How old are kids when they start catching street taxis alone?” I asked.

“Well,” he replied, “I think eight or nine is normal, but some even start as early as seven.”

“As for me,” he continued, “I won’t let my kids ride alone until they are 20!”

No matter the country, no matter the norm, never count out an overprotective father.


It’s an Uzbek wedding tradition to gather on the morning of the big day to eat plov, the national dish.  No one is supposed to be turned away, so the numbers often swell as friends of friends start showing up.  In the case of a VIP wedding, you might end up with literally thousands of people eating the oily mixture of rice and meat.

Back in the days when everyone woke up at the crack of dawn to work in the fields, wedding plov was served at 4:30 or 5 AM to correspond with the work day.  Now that people (at least those living in cities) tend to start working later in the morning, the timing for wedding plov has also fallen back to around 7 AM.  This often means that a wedding hall will have cars spilling out into the street right during morning rush hour.

One day when I was on the way to work, my driver and I encountered an intersection that was thrown into complete chaos by a wedding-plov gathering.  On a three-lane road, cars were parked on two of the three driving lanes, leaving only one lane through which traffic could actually flow.  Actually, flow isn’t the right word; it was more of a trickle.

I was the one on track to be late for work, but it was my driver who was fuming as we crept up the street.

“Me eat plov!” he shouted as we passed the wedding hall.  “Me park in road!  Me big man!”

I don’t like a traffic jam any more than the next guy, but this cave-man rant somehow made it worth it.


Thanks to the language barrier here, I often miss the nuances of daily life, including at the supermarket.

The procedure at the check-out counter is pretty familiar and routine, and thankfully it doesn’t require much communication.  I put my items on the belt, and the cashier scans them.  Then I flash my bonus card and pay.  At the end of the transaction, however, there is often one final step before the old “spasiba/dasvidaniya” exchange: The cashier hands me a few pieces of candy.

For weeks, I thought this was a freebie treat like getting a lollipop from a bank teller.  Then one day, my cashier was less smooth than most.  I noticed she was counting out a specific number of candies, and then it dawned on me:  Part of my change was being paid in candy.

The candy component was equivalent to only a few cents, but still I found myself singing a modified version of P!nk’s “U + Ur Hand” in my head.

“Keep your candy; just give me the money!” I sang, and when I realized what I was doing, I had to laugh.

Sometimes, you just have to say it.  "Good one, brain!"


Unknown said...

Wonderful reading Chris! All the best from Beirut!

Eleanor White said...

Chris, LOLing! Love from Boston.

Anonymous said...

Nice , as usual!!

Aldo said...

I saw some plov for sale in Alexandria at a farmer's market a few months ago, but I passed it up for some dumpling action. It looked delicious, however. Good stories Chris. Take care