As long as a car moves, it needs no repair!
Dushanbe (Tajikistan), July 20th 2015

The Opel Zafira which we are in, stutters and rattles while we drive off the shared taxi station. "As long as the car stutters, it still works", will be the thought of our driver, as the 270 kilometre journey from Khojand to Penjikent begins. In Tajikistan, on a lot of routes there is no other public transport than the shared taxi. All cars can serve as a taxi, but the more seats the more popular. It is noteworthy that in different countries, different brands of used cars are purchased to serve as shared taxis. Japanese cars are popular in Kyrgyzstan, while the Tajiks seem to prefer Opel. Especially the Opel Zafira seven-seater is popular. These cars, which were developed for the high quality tarmac roads in the West, bump here daily on decaying mountain roads: no wonder something breaks down once in a while.

We are on the two rear seats in the Zafira. When leaving the city, we don’t only notice the stuttering sound of the car, but also that our car accelerates extremely slow. You must know that the Tajik normally drive recklessly fast. Behind the wheel the beast inside of them awakes. As a rampaging bull, they drive at full speed towards pedestrians; other road users act like a red rag on the drivers. Now, however, we are only driving 50 kilometres per hour over the most beautiful piece of asphalt in the country. Is the driver afraid that he must surrender his hard-earned money to a corrupt traffic cop, or is our feelings right and needs the car some repairing? To us, it seems as if the Opel only has 50 percent of its normal engine power.

The shared-taxi station in Khujand. The 7-seater Opel Zafira is a popular car for taxi drivers.

After a few hours, the car is put at the side of the road. "A five minutes break" says the driver to us, while he exposes his golden teeth with a big smile. Immediately, the hood is opened. One of our fellow passengers proves handy with tools and takes the lead. Tools are borrowed from other cars and within no time the spark plugs are removed to be cleaned, while some loose items are secured with electrical tape. There is a good atmosphere. Nobody complains about the delay. Helping the driver by repairing his car, while you pay him money for the ride, is a normal thing to do.

After half an hour, we fold ourselves back on the two rear seats of the Zafira. The car starts with difficulty, but the pit stop hasn’t solved anything. This doesn’t look good. The first 170 kilometres will be on good roads, but afterwards it will become a bumpy dirt road. In addition, this is only the beginning of the mountainous part of the journey and at every hill we can feel how the car has to fight against gravity. After a short while we are stranded again. To get moving from standstill is the biggest problem. On a good piece of flat road it is barely possible; on an ascending slope it can’t be done. As the car needs to be pushed regularly, we cannot imagine that our driver will start driving on the dirt track.

The motor power is partly gone. Time to clean the spark plugs.

At Anyi, just before the bad road starts, the driver stops at a small garage. Seemingly, he has no worries; his golden teeth still sparkle in the sunlight. While the local youth gathers around us, new spark plugs are placed in the car. It doesn’t have any result, but still we continue our way to Penjikent. Now, regularly pushing the car is not enough anymore. Many times, stones have to be put behind rear wheels for extra traction. The young manly passengers in our taxi, prove experienced in this kind of work. They don’t discuss about what to do, but they just do instinctively what needs to be done. When they push the car and it gets in motion to slowly climb a hill, the guys run after it to find the car waiting at the top. They clearly enjoy this active way of travelling.

After a pleasant ride, we arrive with approximately three-hour delay in Penjikent. There is a sense of togetherness in the Opel Zafira: "We have all made it together!" Maybe it is for the better that preventive maintenance is not in the vocabulary of the Tajiks. After all, a smooth ride is much more boring. A few days later, when we walk on the shared taxi station to go to Dushanbe, we see the driver with his Opel Zafira among the other taxis. "Did you repair the car?" we ask. First, the man looks sheepish at us, then, a big grin appears on his face. "Why should I fix it? The car is still moving!" For our trip to Dushanbe, however, we decide not to defy fate so we select another car.

Car wrecks are a common sight along the roads in Tajikistan
A second repair shop. Two of the spark plugs are substituted by new ones.

This is probably how also the Opel Zafira will end one day

© copyright - / 2015