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.

Another Post about Eating

No, this is not an eating blog, it just looks that way. However life overseas and eating do seem to go together. It is part of the shared experience of a location. My brother’s family traveled with us in Bali. When we recall the trip, we may talk about the beaches, the rice paddies, wonderful people, or the exotic dancing, but for sure we will remember the fresh fruit drink that caused him grief for three days. If we run into people who have also lived in Malaysia, the conversation always turns to food. I was 135 pounds when we moved to Kuala Lumpur and put on 8lbs/yr during our stay. What can I say? The food was wonderful!

Today was International Day. Parents set up booths with foods representing many of the nationalities of our school.
It was appropriate to start off with mansaf, meat and rice cooked with yogurt. It is the dish of the Bedouin, the travelers of Arabia. Appropriate as we start this epicurean adventure, but also as this, our 21st year in Arabia, foreshadows our own journey from the land of the Jin in June.

Next was the falafel, a chickpea patty sandwich. A veggie dish appropriate for this time of year. According to Wikipedia, it was invented in Egypt and used as a meat substitute during Lent by the Coptic Christians. Good stuff!

The first trip Linda (Kathy, Astrid) and I took together was to Greece. We were welcomed into kitchens to see food as it was prepared. On the Isle of Corfu I helped the owner of the B&B gather in the fishing nets filled with our dinner from the bay. Warm food and warmer people. Here the Greek parents are preparing sandwiches.

Our honeymoon was in Paris. Here the French families have treats awaiting visitors.

I coached Girl’s JV basketball when we lived in Germany. When our away games took me to Vienna, I would always bring home a Sachertorte from the Sacher Hotel. Here the Austrian parents cut the first piece for Linda. They enjoyed the story!

The food in this region is incredibly good and fresh as seen at the Lebanese booth.

We will miss the food, and we will miss our friends,

as we travel to the land north of India.

However, we will no doubt have more food adventures.

Dinner on the way home

Nothing in the fridge and not in the mood for fast food, we have several choices for fine dining on the way home. One of our favorites is Jones the Grocer. Jones is a restaurant/gourmet grocery store.

We both chose the fish and chips.

We took dessert home with us.

Then across the driveway to our favorite coffee shop….

Our Eight Dollar Dinner

We typically enjoy one of Linda’s fine casseroles, or perhaps pesto salmon encrusted with fine slivers of almonds. On rarer occasions I make a spagetti with spicy Italian sausage.

However there are those days when we’ve been busy in the early evening and fast food beckons. Tonight was such a time as we had our first moving company visit to do a survey of our goods and it went longer than expected. By the time it was finished we were ready to eat.

Our building is between the American fast food staples Burger King and KFC, two very busy establishments. However in our twenty years in the Middle East (Saudi Arabia and the UAE), we’ve become fond of the local fast food, the shwarma.

The skewer of meat is prepared by stacking slices of seasoned meat and fat. The meat in the picture is chicken and beef. The meat is slow roasted and the well done pieces are cut off and mixed with the veggies in the pan. Very hot work. The cooks can often be seen outside cooling off. The meat and veggies (tomatoes under the beef and fries under the chicken) are mixed with sauces and green veggies and wrapped in bread. In addition to these delicious sandwiches, we also order fattoush, a green salad mixed with toasted pieces of pita bread.

Dinner is served!