Notes From Hairenik
Now that the week of reveling is over it's back to the grind. But not for everyone. I noticed that the Gomidas market is not bustling as it normally is with many vendors absent. Even some shops in the area are still closed oddly enough. Some people apparently party until the old New Year date which is January 13. But for most people including myself it was business as usual on January 7, the day after Armenian Christmas.

Since Yerevan was blanketed with snow and subsequently ice when I arrived from the States on December 29, and anticipating several days of drinking and gorging, not to mention laziness, I decided to leave my Niva where it still is--parked in my landlord's garage. He doesn't mind one bit, which is great as I hate driving this time of year in the city, since the streets are like sandy glass. Although the price of gasoline has dipped from 410 only a few months ago to now 250 dram (about 80 cents) for a liter--the lowest it's been since I moved here in 2004--I've been favoring public transportation lately.

As I have written several times on this blog, although the Yerevan transportation system is fairly reliable in terms of availability and covers the main streets and back roads of the entire city for the most part, there are both positive and negative aspects of inner city travel. You can choose from two main modes of public transportation--the single-line metro and an intricate web of minibuses. The subway system is officially not to mention monotonously called the City of Yerevan's Karen Demirchian Metropolitan of Yerevan's City Hall. Metro trains arrive at stations on average every five minutes. Both the stations and trains are spotless, free of litter. Sometimes water leaks into the stations and as a result there is a light stench of mold and must, but other than that they are clean. The only complaint I have about the trains however is that the florescent bulbs which light the train cabins seem to burn out often, and they go unchanged for long periods of time. So riders basically sit mostly in the dark as a result as was the case this morning. I don't know what the problem is exactly since the metro system seems to be generating high revenue from advertising. My guess is that inferior bulbs are being purchased from places like Iran rather than from those which produce more reputable, reliable products that cost more. The money left over from the allocated budget is then probably pocketed by the buyer. However, I cannot prove this, but that's the way things generally work here. The same form of corruption arguably occurs everywhere in the world.

A major problem with the above-ground transport system is lack of maintenance. The minibuses, which are mostly Russian-made Gazelles, are not properly maintained, both mechanically and aesthetically.  The seats are often worn out and the interior lighting is poor. The vans physically are unfit, with some of them having broken suspensions, thus being lopsided and barely able to move. Then there are issues with faulty radiators, untuned engines, and things basically falling off from underneath these mechanical beasts. Full-size buses are also in use, which are faster because they run on diesel and are able to outrun the natural gas-fueled minibuses. However, you encounter similar mechanical problems, such as loud, squeaky brakes, a clear signal that they are worn out, and faulty suspensions. I favor the buses because they are much more roomy and pass the tortoise-paced vans without difficulty, even though they may have a hard time stopping. 

The other night after waiting for a bus for over 20 minutes I jumped into the front seat of a Gazelle, which turned out to be a bad mistake. Although I vowed long ago never to ride in these things any longer because I have had bad experiences and they are usually overcrowded with passengers, I couldn't stand the cold. The thing was crawling down Gomidas Avenue and the engine wasn't exactly purring. I was suspecting that it wasn't running properly, as the driver didn't seem too confident while he clutched the wheel. Sure enough, five minutes later something snapped and was being dragged behind. The driver pulled over to the side of the road, I paid him, and then found a Lada 2107 taxi parked nearby to take me home. I didn't bother to find out what was wrong since it didn't interest me. I wanted to get home as soon as possible, and I wasn't about to get into another minibus after a 30 second wait at the bus stop regardless.

I can't understand why the owners of these routes continually endanger the safety of their passengers by failing to properly maintain their transport vehicles. Some of them when overloaded even tip over. I realize that it's a great way to make a fruitful income, but at the expense of people's lives? Also, the drivers tend to drive too fast and recklessly at that because they want to complete as many route loops as possible during the day, since they are partly paid by commission. The more fares they have, the more money they make, and it's not much. They work long, gruelling hours with short lunch breaks, and they're all miserable. But it's been this way for as long as I've been in Armenia, and the situation isn't about to change. Greed is winning out because people need to get around as cheaply as possible. The goal is to get where you want to go without worrying about your bus breaking down or worse, crashing.

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