Buying Gas in Uzbekistan

We drove toward Nukus, skipping gas stations that had lines and noting that many gas stations were abandoned. We figured we had plenty of gas and that we would get some more easily in Nukus. It turned out that the gas stations in Nukus had even longer lines. We stayed in one line for twenty minutes and talked to people who said it would take an hour for us to get gas if you figured 2 minutes for 30 cars. I suggested that we get lunch first, change money, and come back for the gas. Jarek said he was concerned they’d run out of gas, having seen gas lines in Communist Eastern Europe, and I thought that was unlikely. We headed into town and got pulled over by a friendly Uzbek policeman. He was curious about us and he helped us find out where to change money (bazaar, of course). We changed money at the bazaar and found a variety of street food, primarily pastries. One type of dumpling had a potato filling, not meat, so I was pleased. I paid for some tomatoes and cucumbers as well because my rice-bread-potato-pretzel diet wasn’t really working out for my digestive system.

Sated, we drove off to get into the gas line again. It wasn’t any longer than it was before, so we figured we were doing fine... until every one started pulling out of line! Since we were last in line, we drove to the next gas station first and ended up in the middle of a very long line. The people in the front of the previous line were last. We noticed that some of the men—we didn’t see any women—were siphoning gas out of their tanks into jerry cans or old water bottles. Fool that I am, I figured I’d go and try to find out why. Jarek had to come and bail me out and we discovered that the station had a 20-liter limit for each car. They were emptying their tanks so they would have more space for that quota. Of course, that led to chatting about our trip to Mongolia, where we were from, what our car was like, etc. We were told that we could get more than 20 liters since we were tourists. Everyone else would have to get back into line again if they wanted more. They also told us to skip to the front of the line since we were tourists, but we thought it’d be fair to stay in line so Jarek and Aneel tried to find the words for equal, justice, and fair in our phrasebook (and failed).

In the meantime, I shared around some American cigarettes we had purchased for bribes since no one seemed to want them for bribes and I didn’t want to have to cart them all back home. What would I do with them if I brought them home? There was a little girl, and I gave her a light-up pig key chain with our rally logo. I remembered the stick-on moustaches and put one on, then gave one to her. The men we were talking to didn’t know what I was up to, so I showed them and they all took moustaches, laughing. Only a couple men put the moustaches on, some saving them for later I guess, but it was good for some laughs and Aneel got some pictures. After a little over an hour we got to the front of the line and discovered that the car before the car before us had taken the last gas. We should have skipped the line as we were encouraged to do earlier! The cars floated away and a few remained, maybe waiting for the pumps to be turned back on? As we were about to leave, one man offered to sell us gas at 12 dollars a gallon, but we declined. He went down to 8 a gallon, but we decided to look for another gas station instead. We still had 40 liters of back-up gas in the jerry cans but we didn’t want to break into that just yet.

We found another gas station further down where someone had indicated there would be one earlier. It was obvious because of the enormous line of about 60 cars (Aneel counted). I walked (and walked and walked) to the front and found a man in camo, a policeman. I chatted with him and found that the limit was 30 liters. I asked if there’d be enough and he said there was plenty. After talking with him some more, he said he would let us take 50 liters. For the entire two hours, I wandered back and forth between chatting with the people around our car (including a 16-year-old who had taken 3 years of English in school) and the policeman. He graciously accepted another pack of cigarettes and I shared some gum around since we weren’t really eating the gum at all. They’ve had gas problems since May. The gas station manager decides how much gas each person can have. The whole of Uzbekistan has this problem, but we should find the lines slightly smaller in Tashkent. I learned that very few women drive but we’d find more female drivers in Tashkent. Only about 20% of women smoke. We chatted about our jobs, learning English, why we were going to Mongolia, etc. At one point, a taxi driver came by and he must have said another station was open because about 10 cars sped away from the line. We thought about abdicating our space but the guy behind us said his friend, who had left, would call if gas was easier to get there. He never left his place in line, so we stayed. For the next half an hour, about 10 more cars drifted off, so our wait became shorter.

Eventually, we got our gas and drove towards Khiva. Jarek never said, “I told you so.” He’s lovely.

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