Driving Mr. Ali

Another sign of imminent departure… selling the car.

One of the problems with expat life is timing the appropriate moment to sell your vehicle. Too early, and you are doing a lot of walking. Too late, and you are at the mercy of car resellers out to make a buck on your desperation. We have had mixed results in the past. In Germany, our sad Volkswagen hatchback was in serious need of repairs. The engine would just die if we drove further than 100 km. Rain was a hazard as the floorboard was rotted and water would spray into the passenger side when we drove through a puddle. On our last day in Germany, we drove it to a junk yard and paid the owner to take the car off our hands.

In Malaysia, we had a beautiful Ford van. With two young kids we were reluctant to part with it and didn’t put it up for sale in the newspaper until a month before our departure. As the days ticked by we got more and more nervous about selling it. In the last week, we finally got an offer that was far less than expected, but we had to take it.

During the turn-down in the economy in 2008 and 2009, the Emirates were swamped with abandoned cars as departing expats were unable to sell their cars for enough to cover the loan on the vehicle. It was a good time to buy a used car (large supply), but it was  a good time to buy a new car as they were heavily discounted to compete. That was when we bought our new Toyota Fortuner.

Now a new transition to Kathmandu. Again we waited, perhaps too long we worried, to put the car up for sale. We talked about it over dinner at Vasco’s,

then I started the process by taking the car through the car wash next to our apartment. It was one of those that you drive into, the machine moves around you and out pops a clean vehicle. However, the machine was broken. It kept doing the soap cycle over and over, but not the rinse, which inspired this picture from the inside:

Finally I got hosed. Not a fortuitous beginning.

The Arab world has a great online sales site called Dubizzle.com. The site covers most of North Africa and the Middle East.

It turns out I didn’t have to worry about finding a buyer. Early Saturday morning I put up the ad on Dubizzle, then we drove to Ikea for shopping. Shortly after arriving at the store, the calls starting coming in. “What is your last price?” -“My price is firm”. Soon I was getting calls every five minutes, but not at my asking price. Finally, as we were in the kitchen section, I told a caller I was getting lots of calls. He said, in very broken English that he would buy it at full price and be in Abu Dhabi tomorrow. His name was Abu Ali. That’s when I noticed he was calling from Saudi Arabia.

We completed our shopping trip with a late lunch at the Meat Company near the Grand Mosque. The temperature was perfect and we were alone on the patio for most of the meal.

The calls kept coming, including more calls from Mr. Ali,
“Is it damaged?” “Is it working?”
“No, it’s in perfect shape.” It was!

The next day Mr. Ali flew to Sharjah and took a 200 km taxi ride to meet me and Haris that evening. Haris is the school’s driver and can speak Arabic. I drove the three of us through a rare rain shower to a garage across town where they could inspect the car for hidden damage. All along the journey I was expecting a car to come fish tailing into my beautiful car. Didn’t happen, but it was stressful.

The shop’s owner was from Damascus, so the four of us talked about war, times that were, and things lost forever. The car was deemed in perfect shape.

Early the next morning, I drove Mr. Ali and Haris through rush hour to the vehicle inspection/DMV. The process should only have taken an hour:

  • Inspection – Good! Check!
  • Temporary Insurance for Mr. Ali? – Check!
  • No traffic fines – Check!
  • Vehicle Loan Clearance Letter from the bank – WHATTTT!

Turns out I needed a clearance letter from the bank even though the loan had been paid off ages ago. We drove back into town to the bank.

Bank assistant: “No problem, it will only take seven days.”
Me: “Mr. Ali traveled from Riyadh to buy the car today.” -Note: that is like flying from Denver to LA to buy a car.
Bank assistant:: “Come back tomorrow.”
Me: “How about 1pm today?”
Bank assistant:: “I will call you at 1pm today.”

At 12:30 I went back to the bank and sat in the lobby and stared at the bank assistant with a smile of encouragement on my face. By 1pm the tension of my facial muscles was giving me a headache. 1:15pm, bank was beginning to close. Windows were darkened. Finally I saw a paper move from his desk to another desk, then another and finally back to his desk.

Bank assistant: “You have your paper.”

I again picked-up Haris and Mr. Ali for the trip to the DMV. Transactions were finished, and by 4pm Mr. Ali was happily driving back home to Riyadh, Haris had his commission, and I was a little richer for the experience.

A bookshelf tells volumes

When we first arrived in Abu Dhabi seventeen years ago, there were no bookstores. There was, and still is, “All Prints,” a rambling collection of books, magazines, and stationary. A great place to find a binder, but not a best seller. The closest bookstore was McGrudy’s in Dubai along the Beach Road. A wonderful store with lots of treasures to discover. With a nearby coffee kiosk and ice store, it was a regular part of our Dubai shopping trips. Nowadays you can find many bookstores in Abu Dhabi, including our own branch of McGrudy’s.

There is little wonder that a major part of our shipments to either the US or Nepal this June will be books. Not only do we have the accumulation of 17 years of books collected here, but I still have my copy of “Borror and Delong’s Introduction to the Study of Insects” from my university days. A handy reference when I get those requests “can you identify this?”

“Yes, that’s a bed bug.”

A lot of sifting and sorting coming up: What to toss, what to read, what can’t we give up.

The books we can’t give up tell a story. When I enter the home of a new acquaintance, their bookshelf tells volumes. With us, our collection of guide books define our life experiences:  jungles, mountains, England, New Zealand and everything in-between either chronicle our journeys or our desired destinations. As our children sped into adulthood, their authors became ours, a shared family experience going through JK Rowling and George RR Martin. It was fun to see it go the other way too as they too discovered my favorites “A Canticle for Liebowiez”, Asimov and the works of Ray Bradbury. Which of those books will grace our shelves in either California or Nepal? What story will our bookshelf tell our new neighbors and colleagues?

All of this bookshelf nostalgia is being redefined. My digital bookshelf on my iPad is not shared with casual strangers who cross my threshold though I’m sure there’s an app for that. However this book rambling was inspired by the online discovery of a bookstore in Kathmandu called the Quixote’s Cove. Here’s a description from the site:

“The building, in which Quixote’s Cove is located was built in the early 1930s and has a rich history. During the 1930s and 40s, it was used as a catholic church by the Jesuits and was a central but secret convening ground for the Praja Parishad, the first pro-democracy and anti-Rana regime revolutionary party. As a secret gathering ground, the building has witnessed clandestine meetings between some of Nepal’s most prominent political leaders and poets including Ganesh Man Singh and B.P. Koirala along with Martyrs Shukra Raj Shastri and Ganga lal Shrestha. The walls still reverberate with their spirit of freedom and the words of the poet Lekhnath Paudel, who used to recite his poem there regularly, still float in the air. The bookstore shall seek to revive its past in a more public manner and become the convening ground for today’s thinkers and doers.”

No doubt, some new (or old) books from the Quixote’s Cove will grace our bookshelves in the future. Another story to tell.