Saturday, July 3, 2010
Not bad for a muzungu
I love shopping for a car the way women love to shop for shoes.
However, my Ugandan friend Emmanuel is so smart and so helpful, he took most of the fun, but also all of the inconvenience, out of the process. Thanks to Emmanuel, I am now the proud owner of a 1998 Mitsubishi Challenger.
Though I’ve lived abroad before, this is the first time I’ve ever bought a car overseas. I’m living in Uganda for 11 months teaching peace journalism to radio professionals on a State Department/USAID grant, so getting a car really wasn’t optional.
When I was told that I’d need a car, I immediately thought of Emmanuel. I met him last summer, when I was in Uganda for five weeks teaching peace journalism. Emmanuel was at the time the driver for my State Department friend, and we got to know each other during some long drives on Uganda’s moonscape roads. I don’t know if I’ve ever met anyone that I genuinely liked as quickly as I liked Emmanuel. Smart, funny, and very, very humble and soft spoken, he’s the kind of man I’d like to be when I grow up. In addition, he knows everything about cars, and about Uganda, so I knew he’d be a great resource for me.
I first broached the subject of buying a car in Uganda with Emmanuel two months ago via email. He immediately volunteered to help, and started quizzing me about my vehicular preferences. Emmanuel knows more about my vehicular preferences than my wife, and I’ve been married 22 years.
As Emmanuel sent me specs on available models, I was pleasantly surprised that virtually any kind of car is available here. I thought I’d have to learn to drive a stick (yes, I am a weenie for not knowing this), but this is not the case—automatic transmission cars are widely available. I knew also that I’d have to get an SUV, since “roads” outside of Kampala are pretty awful, and sometimes impassable with anything but a big 4-wheel drive vehicle.
Three days after my arrival, Emmanuel showed up with a list of three finalists—the Mitsubishi, an Isuzu, and a Toyota. Each vehicle had been personally test driven by Emmanuel and inspected by a qualified mechanic. We looked over photos he’d taken of each vehicle, discussed the prices, and finally summoned the owner of the Mitsubishi.
I liked the vehicle as soon as I saw it, though I would’ve preferred white, since that’s the stereotype of the African 4-wheel drive safari vehicle. The Mitsubishi is in good shape, and has just 75,000 miles. It is, however, quite a heifer—even bigger than my wife’s highway patrol issue Mercury Grand Marquis. I nervously test-drove the vehicle around the block, and except for handling like a school bus, I enjoyed driving it.
Now, the seller was told I was buying the car for Emmanuel. Without this, I would’ve been charged a muzungu (white man) price. The seller named his price, which had already been pre-negotiated with Emmanuel—dang!. Still, since I love dickering as much Ugandans love stewed meats, I couldn’t resist. I gently explained to the seller that I had allocated only a certain amount for the car, and that his price exceeded my limit by about $250 dollars. He seemed flustered a bit, and offered to meet me in the middle. I’m not proud of what happened next. I told him that my first offer was firm, and as high as I could go. A small grin curled up around the edges of his mouth, and he shook my hand and agreed to my price.
I now feel guilty about talking down the seller, for whom $250 dollars obviously means more than it does to me. To assuage my guilt about this, I pledge to find a deserving charity here in Uganda, and donate $250. Perhaps this will restore my good karma. I need to let Emmanuel in on this, so that he doesn’t think I’m a total jerk.
I am eternally grateful to Emmanuel for his kind assistance. Without him, I probably would’ve been fleeced, since I know nothing about vehicle prices or car buying practices in Uganda. I guess I do know enough, however, to save $250, which is not too bad for a muzungu. ####
For more photos of my car, and my apartment and neighborhood, see my online photo album.