When I was in Middle school, Christa McAuliffe was selected to be the first teacher in space. She would send letters to her students which were, in turn, printed in weekly readers that we read in our English class. In one message she wrote about her daily routine. She told her students to lay their chair on the ground and then lay back in it. Then they had to stay there for five hours. They could talk. But they could not move. They could not write or draw or do any activity. They had to sit there and wait. She wrote about the anticipation. Would this be the day they launched? Would this be the day that all the training was put to use?
Five hours later she would be us trapped from her seat in the cockpit of the shuttle and go back to her room for the night. The next day would be a repeat of the day, with all the stress, anticipation, and tension. While my situation does to have nearly the importance and consequence of her’s, the general principle holds true: each day in the port of Baku is full of tension, stress, and anticipation with no progress.
The Rally vehicles and participants are housed in a small parking lot just inside the main gate of the port. There is a low, modular building that serves as the waiting room. It has air conditioning and two filthy toilets. The waiting room is full of families trying to get on the ferry. There is little room for us, so we stake our claim to the parking lot. Each morning we gather outside in the parking lot and share the little scraps of information we have gathered over night. Weather conditions. Ferry locations. Number of vehicles registered for the ferry. All of it is passed with the importance of fact before being eventually dismissed as rumor as new “information” is reported.
The sun rises quickly and the heat rises accordingly. By 11 o’clock the last vestiges of shadows have disappeared and the temperatures continue to rise. We Custer under trees, take turns in the air conditioning, and head to the local Starbucks, nervous that something will happen while we are gone and all the spaces on the ferry will be gone.
While that may seem like an irrational fear, it is the reality of the ferry “system” in Baku. When I arrived Friday night the information at the port was that the ferry was under capacity. Saturday morning we were in line with our cash and paperwork. Fifteen minutes later we were told the ferry was over-full and we would not be able to get on. Nothing happens for an eternity and then things change in the blink of an eye. It gives one the discordant feeling of believing that there is no point to waiting around in the hot sun while simultaneous feeling that you cannot take your eyes off the ticket office.
We play rugby in the parking lot. We play cards. We discuss the one thing we wish we had right now (mine: soft serve ice cream machine). We wonder about the other teams. And we wonder if we are going to leave today.