Jun 18, 2018
“Bir kilo, bir manat” she said, pointing to the tomatoes in her bulging shopping bag.
“Chok fazla yok? I asked butchering Turkish in what has become the norm for me these past weeks.
“Bu yaksha?” I continued, asking if this was a good price.
“Bale, bale” she replied, but she continued, in August you can get two kilos for one manat. Now that is a good price.
The other women in the marshrutka nodded sagely.
Having bonded over the price of tomatoes, a close interrogation followed with their gold teeth flashing out over laughter. I was taken in hand. A couple of the women had houses close to the Caucasian Alban church and they would show me the way. We had walked perhaps fifty meters from the bus stop when a car came up the narrow lane and we squeezed to the side of the road. But instead of passing by, the car stopped and the driver yelled out greetings. He knew the women and a rapid conversation followed. The rear door popped open and I heard
“Sit down, sit down” followed by “Welcome”.
I peered inside to find the car had passengers. Two women and a young girl along with the voluble driver smiled and gestured me in. We were all whisked up to the church, jolting over the cobble stones and skimming corners with microns to spare.
Afghan lives in Sheki and apparently knows everyone in both Sheki and Kish. His guests, Elena and Natasha are from Russia, here on a visit. Afghan is showing them around with his niece, along for the ride.
Tiny in size, this Albanian church has an appeal that most other famous sights don’t. Although peddled in tourist brochures as the Mother of Alban churches, it has roots that go back much further. It was built on the foundations of an ancient pagan temple as evidenced by the excavations under the building. Buried in the crypts, are graves dating back to the 2nd and 3rd century BC, long before Christianity made its appearance. More a museum than a church, there are cases of pottery and bronze-age jewelry, tastefully displayed. There are graves with skeletons and piles of horns and animal bones that are left as they were found. Peering down the shafts feels like a peek into the distant past.
I would have happily pottered around longer but Afghan and company would have none of it. I was herded back in the car and we drove back to Sheki. A stop just outside the town at a liquor store was long enough for them to cart back two crates of vodka, wine and beer. It was party night tonight and I was invited. Having been treated to his driving before the alcohol started flowing, I had no wish to experience the post-party style and declined hastily.
Afghan’s driving style comprised of yelling out greetings and waving to every single driver and pedestrian with one hand and answering his cell phone with the other. Bone-jarring jolts over the cobble-stoned streets were followed by screeching around corners on paved streets, largely ignoring any traffic signs. He drives trucks back and forth between Sheki and Dagestan, in Russia.
Effusively welcoming to the last, he yelled out “My Dom, you Dom”, as they dropped me off in Sheki and lurched off down the road.