Used Car Shopping: Middle East Edition
We were being driven out past rubble heaps and old trailers that looked like they belonged in a nuclear test site. The guy driving us, Azis, was a smooth talking, very young Baharanian car salesman---a guy who was calling me "brother" and offering us a "special too good of deal" because of how close we'd all grown in the last 10-minutes of looking at used cars.
The truth is, I'd liked the older Egyptian man Bechir we'd met at the lot prior to this one. He'd served us Turkish coffee in a lounge and chatted warmly about what we should look for in used cars (including problems). By the end of the hour we spent with him, he and I had ended up talking about divine guidance and how he coped with the loss of his wife who'd left him with three small children. However, since I tend to like people too easily and then get burned, the real Litmus test is Cheri, who is much more cautious about trusting people. But she'd also liked him. Unfortunately, he didn't end up having a vehicle we liked enough.
So, we ended up at place that didn't buzz with assuring energy. However, at least it wasn't as bad as a car shopping experience we'd had with two guys in a parking lot a week earlier in the bowels of sharjah. They'd been hustlers and had lied about multiple aspects of the beat up Nissan Pathfinder they were showing us. Their response to every issue I pointed out had been, "No problem, no problem. Cheap fix." I'd laughed bitterly and asked, "If it's so cheap, why haven't you fixed it?."
And now, we were being diven out into the middle of nowhere, and trust me when I say that expression apptly fits. The funny thing is that had we been in many other parts of the world (e.g. industrial Baltimore), I would have been envisioning the shallow graves we'd soon be forced to dig for ourselves. The United Arab Emirates, however, has a ridiculously low crime rate. There are reasons for this, but that's a different story.
So, my reaction to being blindly driven out into a desert junkyard was more a combination of annoyance and amused curiosity. Cheri must have felt the same because she started snapping photos and making jokes in Spanish.
After fifetten-minutes, we arrived at a random lot filled with cars . . . some wrecked, some looking prisitine, and everything in between. Soon, we were test driving a 2014 Misubishi Pajero, a popular budget off-roading vehicle.
I tried not to get excited about it, and kept a careful eye out for problems. Unfortunately, I'm not a "car guy," which equals: a mark. Even still, it drove smoothly and we made notes of any little issues we found to use for future bartering.
An hour later, we were back at the car souk (literally what it's called) in the midst of the bartering phase. I was lamenting to Azis about how many prorblems the vehicle had and he was weeping about how little money he was making on the sale already--"facts" he attempted to back by waving indecpherable sheets of paper with arabic lettering and rows of numbers.
At one point, we were stuck arguing about a price difference that, in Spanish, Cheri informed me amounted to roughly $40. I demanded we split the difference, and conceded $20 more than my our max limit.
Hands were shook. Papers signed. Cash counted, double counted, and stashed in a drawer.
Then, the easiest part of the experience happened. An older Egyptian man who worked for Azis (Egyptians are the heroes of this tale BTW) escorted us to multiple official buildings, including the UAE version of the DMV where he helped us get insurance, the car registered, and plates chosen (we did not opt to pay a million dollars for a single-digit plate...and no, im not making that price up). As we watched him animatedly debate details in Arabic with various government employees, I thanked God we hadnt had to figure all this out! There's no way Cheri and I would have gotten through the process on our own without extreme stress and future marriage counseling.
In the end, we drove away in the Pajero. Both of us excited. Both of us waiting for the engine to explode as soon as we left the lot. So far, our only problem is that the subwoofer won't connect. We'll see how it does dune bashing at 140km an hour with the kids riding on the roof rack.