Sunday, November 9, 2008

A *new* van!

(Read the title with a game show host voice, and you'll get the emphasis I was going for.)

No, the van's not "new," but it is the newest car ML and I have ever owned, and it is truly above and beyond what I could have asked or imagined. I never dreamed I would be driving such a vehicle here in the Middle East.

A little background: we arrived in this country in May of 2003. In October of that year, we finally had enough money to purchase a vehicle. And I use that term loosely. :-P It was a 1985 Peugot 505 station wagon (and I love the fact that I found a link with great pictures and a reference to which movies the car had appeared in :-).

Okay, it was a vehicle. And it was a very strong vehicle. One that collectors groups form around, especially on the internet, and people seek out parts for to keep theirs going. It was just that ours had apparently previously been a long-distance taxi (unbeknownst to us at the time of purchase), and had been jury rigged to no end to avoid putting money into true repairs. It was not super reliable. However, it had nine seats, three in each row, and we knew we wanted that.

At the time, only gasoline vehicles (as opposed to diesel ones) could have seats for more than six passengers to keep people from running illegal taxis. Diesel was much less expensive, because it was government underwritten, and the theory was that no one in their right mind would run a taxi on expensive fuel. For the most part, that was true. We think ours was used in another country. Or between ours and another country.

Oh, and did I mention that it was the best we could afford at the time that would fit our family (with a little room for expansion/guests)? And that we were really tired of taking taxis with three small children? And the little fact that we felt strongly that we were being led to purchase this particular type of car and even this specific one, warts and all?

Slight problem, though, it was a standard, and I didn't know how to drive one. However, to get an automatic, which would have meant a newer, much more expensive car, was out of the question. I made a couple of attempts at learning, but the car was never really reliable enough for me to want to risk being out with the kids and it breaking down, so there wasn't much incentive. ML does all of the driving while I ride along, bum rides, or take taxis when I need to be somewhere while he's at work or home with the kids.

Fast forward a few years: it's 2006ish, and we're thinking we might be about ready for a larger, more reliable vehicle. We start looking into the options, and a Mitsubishi L300 or a Toyota Hiace are what meet our specifications. Again, we want ample seating, but this time we're looking for a van. The above to options were the only ones sold locally at that time without looking at the American mini-van imports, which are way out of our price range.

And even the Hiaces are a little expensive. Slight problem with the L300's: they didn't make them past 1985. Newer would have been nice. :-l

However, once again, we were led to just what we could afford, and it was being sold right in our neighborhood. So, we bought. Again, nine seats, three in each row, and a "bench" behind the front row on which children can perch in a pinch, to boot. We took six adults and four children on a road trip to Jerusalem in this van one time. Oh, the memories!

Only, once again, it's not super reliable. And it's very difficult to shift gears. For people who already know how to drive standards. Not the best car to learn to drive a manual on. Did I mention that the gear shift was on the steering column (reminds me of the Aggie joke about the brights dimmer)? ML continues to do all of the driving (riding, bumming rides, taking taxis continues).

Fast forward again to this past spring: we go through an evaluation point at which we seek to understand whether this is still where we're supposed to be. We feel like it is, but we feel like a part of staying and thriving, both for the kids and for me personally, is me being able to drive. That would either mean us buying an automatic vehicle or an easier-to-drive manual.

Originally, we toyed with the idea of getting a small automatic for me to squish the kids into for daily running around as a second car and keeping the L300. The L300 was having more and more mechanical problems, though, so we decide a newer, better van is the best idea.

In our price range, the Hyundai Santamo or the Kia Joyce seem to be the best options. Both have three rows, but only seat seven, because the front and back rows have just two seats. The Joyce is roomier, but supposedly less reliable (as in, a dealer who had both to sell told us not to buy the Joyce, even though it would have netted him more money). The Joyce is also available newer, as the Santamo's imported into this country only go up to 1997 (apparently, the demand increased in some other country, and the importers here stopped being able to find them). We were hoping for something newer.

We also looked at a Kia Carnival, but it was just flat out out of our price range, so we dismissed that option.

At this point, our plan was to transfer all of the money we'd saved/been given into the country, and then head out to the "Free Zone" where all of the imported cars go first. The advantage to shopping out here is that they are all in one place. The disadvantage is that it is huge (as in, a couple of square miles of individual dealers with a variety of vehicles each). However, we thought that this might be a good opportunity to practice learning to listen to "to the right or to the left" with the kids, so we're up for it. :-P

However, while we're waiting for the first part of the process of transferring the money, our ex-pat friend LAKG saw a mini van for sale along the route she takes back and forth to her kids' school. She wrote down the phone number and reluctantly passed it along to us (while she would love to have a new van herself, they've decided that this is not the right season).

It was a Kia Carnival. And the asking price was just above what we'd been hoping for (significantly less than the other one we'd looked at). And that was before negotiating. And it was a pretty color. :-)

We took a friend of ML's with us to look at the car. We *loved* it. The price was fair (he came down a little, but it was really a good price to begin with). It had nine seats (sensing a theme here?). And we felt like it was truly a gift. As I said, I never thought I'd be driving this kind of vehicle in the Middle East.

Then, began the arduous process of transferring the money into the country to pay. I won't bore you with the details, but the whole thing went much less smoothly than we'd hoped.

ML's parents arrived September 30th, and we still didn't have the money/car. So, we took one last trip to Petra in the old van, which was probably just as well, because at least we already knew its quirks/what to look for.

Finally, on October 8th, we took possession of our new van! What a blessing! I've enjoyed being able to take the kids to the park, drive to visit a former neighbor at her new house, run to the grocery store, etc. Yay!

Hanging out in the new wheels.

Saying goodbye to the old. We annointed it with bubbles. And we had to have at least one picture of ML where he has spent many, many hours getting us (and himself and our various paperwork, etc.) to and fro.

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