I’ll leave by 9:30am, I told myself, I’ll get to the university right at 10, maybe a little later, but that’ll be okay. I briefly reviewed my route: 28 May metro to İnşaatçılar. I had gone from the station near Azerbaijan State Economic University to the one near my flat the other day with one of my colleagues. Just backtrack. Piece of cake.
I left on time, made my way over to 28 May metro, one of the major stations in Baku because it’s the point in the system where the red and green lines meet and separate, so I knew I had to be careful about getting on the right line.
İnşaatçılar, green line – got it. Followed some signs, got on a train, got off at a different stop. Hmmm, turns out this is the section of the green line that branches out and ends. I knew I had to go back, but wasn’t sure where to walk to do that. I gingerly made my way to a little help booth, hopefully the nice lady can indicate where I should go.
She was actually very sweet, but couldn’t do much with my limited linguistic knowledge. We were conveniently talking by the escalator that led down into the stop, it wasn’t very busy except for one middle-age man. She noted him half-way down and asked if he was going to İnşaatçılar. He nodded yes, and both indicated for me to follow.
Wait, what – did that just happen? Stop wondering – start following, Hayley! Back on the train, back to the 28 May stop, walk around to a different part of the metro, wait a few seconds. He didn’t speak to me during this whole time, but he had made sure I got a seat on the train and didn’t seem to mind my presence too much.
It was crowded at this stop and when the train got around, no one got off so we packed ourselves inside the car like sardines. Ugh, so uncomfortable. Worse, I couldn’t reach over to grab a bar that ran along the ceiling of the car. Well, maybe I could have, but I happened to be the only woman sandwiched in that portion of the car, and I didn’t feel that it would have been appropriate for me to force my way. I’d also noted earlier that I seemed to attract more attention than usual wearing a skirt and patterned tights; so this was uncomfortable on multiple levels. The train lurched to a start – almost fell. Almost fell again when it made the first sharp turn. My helper calmly got ahold of my left hand to steady me, and held it like a perfect gentleman until our stop.
We exited the train and I breathed again. He asked if I was from Paris, the first time he spoke to me directly. At least I think I heard “Paris.” He seemed impressed when I told him where I’m actually from, and made a comment or two. I could only cluelessly smile.
By this time we had climbed the stairs and emerged from the depths of the metro station. Awesome, here I am – off for a day of learning and helping….noooooo. It looks different from the other day. My helper seemed to ask if I knew where I was going, and I pulled up the picture of the sign of the university (which is in my last post); I figured he could point me in the right direction, I figured I was just a little turned around.
He took my phone and walked to a taxi driver. They chatted and I observed my surroundings; this looks a little more ghetto than I remember….He came back, gave me my phone, and indicated me to follow. We started to walk down a hill. No, no, this doesn’t look right at all. Where am I? Gusts of wind whipped up dust and debris, getting into my contacts while I peered into Google Maps on my phone and saw where it found me…
Suddenly, it clicked. To my utter horror, it all clicked. “Allahallah!” [Turkish: Oh my Lord/I can’t believe it!] I exclaimed. The man stopped dead in his tracks and shot me a look that said, “You can barely tell me where you’re from, yet you know this phrase?”
I could have killed myself. I had completely mixed up two metro stations. Not only were the stations completely different by name, but they were on totally different lines. I ended up in İnşaatçılar on the GREEN line, and I needed to be in İçərişəhər on the RED line. Wrong metro, wrong line, complete opposite directions.
AAAAHHHAHAHAHAHAAHHHHHH!!!!! WHY DOES MY BRAIN BETRAY ME AT THE WORST POSSIBLE TIMES?!?!?!?!?!?!? And Baku only has two metro lines – compared to Paris, New York, London, this should have been a breeze.
I felt so awful; just so, so bad. I have wasted this poor man’s time – he helped me, a painfully obvious clueless foreigner, to get to a place that was completely wrong because I can’t keep metro names straight. That’s it – admit defeat, call someone!
At that exact moment Mamed, one of my contacts called me, “Hi….”
“Where are you? It’s past 10:30–”
“Uhh, well, I’m in İnşaatçılar,” I stuttered over the name.
“Hahaha – you’re where?? That’s not the right place, you want İçərişəhər.”
“Yeah, I’m fully aware of that now – they sound the same. I got them confused.”
“Get back on that metro, go back to 28 May and then connect toward Sahil….”
Those instructions and names swam over my head, and at that moment trying to backtrack and fix my mistake seemed like the most daunting task anyone could undertake….. “I’m so sorry, but can you just come and get me?” I think Mamed left literally at that second, but how was I going to inform this nice gentleman that he doesn’t have to worry about me anymore?
Well, he clearly saw that I talked with someone on the phone. I pointed to it, “Dost [friend]. Dost və mən…metro [Friend and me, metro],” I pointed back up the hill toward the metro entrance.
He had a lengthy reply in Azeri – I can imagine a couple comments he might have said – but he concluded simply and with obvious hand gestures, “Sən və dost, metro. [You and friend, metro.]” I nodded with a big smile.
We headed back the way we came. Still feeling awful (and very, very stupid), I knew I had to explain myself. The thing, though, was that he didn’t seem angry, upset, or frustrated by any means. He was so decent and kind, which almost made this fiasco more deplorable. What if he’s trying to meet someone and when they demand why he’s late, he can’t really give an answer and he can only say, “Well, you see, I met this dumb blonde from America and she dragged me around half of Baku in order to find this university….” No, I needed to justify my stupidity. I turned toward him:
“Mən…Azərbaycan…dörd gün.” [Me…Azerbaijan…four days.]
He smiled slightly and nodded with full understanding, “Dörd gün?” [Four days?]
“Bəli, mən çok yeni.” [Yes, I am very new.]
His smile grew, I think he found my poorly-composed sentences amusing but appreciated the effort. He escorted me back into the metro. “Sən vey dost?” he repeated with the same hand motions. “Bəli, bəli. Çok sağ ol,” I thanked him, hoping that my gratitude of his time and help was sensed more with my tone and body language than my basic vocabulary. He left (with an amusing story to tell his friends, I’m sure!) and we waved goodbye.
Needless to say, I learned several important lessons from my metro mishap:
- For those of you back home who admit that you pray for me, it seems they’re working – thank you! (:
- Always leave at least twice the amount of time for something if you’re doing it for the first time (I actually covered this in my Turkish blog, you’d think I learned!).
- It doesn’t hurt to quadruple-clarify your final destination point with your peers when using public transportation.
- My Turkish language skills suck, and my Azeri ones even more so. Sure, knowing basic words is fine in a different country, but there comes a point when baby-talk just doesn’t cut it. I need more fluency – I don’t need be as eloquent as I am in English, or speak perfectly all the time – but I need to express gratitude sincerely after someone like that gentleman helps me. It’s time to get serious about learning this language….but how can I make that happen when everyone needs me to speak English?
Better get creative!
Until next time… (: