This Is Africa

Or "How to buy a used car in Uganda."

This is a guest post from my friend Thomas Crum, who recently moved to Uganda in East Africa. Drop a comment if you like it, I'll pass it on and maybe he'll write again.

Have you ever seen the acronym TIA? It's an expat catch-all for unexpected problems that arise because... This Is Africa

It was a simple plan. My driver takes me to an Ambassador from an obscure country's house. I meet the broker the Obscure Country Ambassador has hired to sell the car, and the two of us take it to Cooper Motors, the most reputable Land Rover mechanics in Kampala.  Then mechanics tell me if anything is wrong with this vehicle advertised as "mechanically perfect," we negotiate a little on the price, and I have a new 13-year-old car. I expect the whole process to take about three hours, and because I'm not a complete newbie, I confirmed twice with all the major players.

My driver and I arrive at 9 am. No broker. No car. Ambassador is strangely hostile to the idea of me taking his car anywhere and declares he will have a mechanic of his own brought to the house. Already sure of what that mechanic would tell me, I ignore the problem, and we spend an hour watching an Arabic history of France with the older Ambassador, speaking in very broken English until the broker arrives.

The broker is Ugandan, so he speaks better English, and has spent time in my home state of South Carolina, so we have an instant connection and everything is very friendly. Except he doesn't have the car. It's across town. He convinces the Ambassador to allow us to take the car to Ssesanga, a closer Land Rover mechanic. Maybe not as good, but I haven't yet read the writing on the wall.

Ever the optimist, I agree that my driver can take us across town, so my driver, the broker, the Ambassador's driver (because why not?), and I all get into my company Toyota Corolla and head out. On the way, Broker admits that he doesn't actually have the keys to the car. So we pull over and wait for a  minibus to bring the broker's associate. Associate arrives along with a friend, for whom I still have no explanation. So now my driver, Ambassador's driver, World's Most Organized Broker, broker's associate, associate's friend, and I all head out in the Corolla to find the Mechanically Perfect Car.

To be fair, the engine started just fine. My legs had a hard time reaching the pedals since the seat controls were broken on Mechanically Perfect Car, but that's alright, because I needed to be in that position to use the mirrors, which were also broken. On the road, I discovered the power steering was out, though the gas gauge was not, which is how I knew we were totally out of gas. Guess who gets to pay?

So after buying gas for someone else's car, I follow the Corolla back into Kampala traffic, as my driver leads me to the mechanic. During this automotive running of the bulls, I discovered the power brakes are also broken, which led to some moments of excitement. Fortunately, I found that if I stomped hard on the brake, even though the actual brakes wouldn't work, the engine would shut off. That stops an automatic car really quickly!

Naturally, Ssesanga the Mechanic found a few things wrong with Mechanically Perfect Car. He even wrote out a list for me, which I have attached for your viewing pleasure. 

And so, I packed everyone but my driver into Mechanically Perfect Swindle and send them on their way. The two of us stuck around to see some of the cars that Ssesanga the Mechanic had for sale. Then we discover that World's Most Organized Broker had escaped the death trap he was selling and was waiting for us to give him a ride across town.

Which we did. Because I'm a sucker.

And that's the story of my six-hour car inspection.


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