The beast

Last week, I acquired another beast.  This one wasn’t mournfully staring at me from the side of the road and doesn’t chew on my toes.  It’s significantly larger than The Dude, though no less headache-inducing.  It’s not even very cute.  But, after almost two months here, the time had come:  I got a car.

A thing of great beauty, it is not.  It’s supposed to be white, but the paint isn’t in great condition and seems to have faded to more of a mellow cream.  The mechanic assures me that the engine is good, but that it needs about $500 worth of work, anyway.  (And labor here is cheap.)  Every little roar, whir, and rumble makes me paranoid: is everything okay?

I’ve never owned a car.  I haven’t even driven that much since graduating from high school and my parents’ 1986 Chevy Cavalier (voted, for the record, worst car in the Senior Class), so I’m a little apprehensive about this whole my-own-vehicle thing.  I read the owner’s manual and checked all the fluids.  All systems are a go, except one of the radiator hoses seems to be held together with electrical tape.  I think I’ve identified the source of my coolant leak.

I purchased the car from a departing American after talking him down to nearly 50% of the asking price.  (To be fair, the asking price was above the market rate here.)  Fortunately, because the seller was working for USAID here, I got the added bonus of assistance from an AID staff person to help transfer the title and insurance to my name.  Now, if we were in the US, I could have probably figured it out myself, but in Malawi, public information about how to make things happen is more of an oral tradition…if policies exist at all.

Knowing this, I double-checked with the assisting staff person before I met him to go to the DMV (which is actually the ROTC, but I don’t know the constituent words of the acronym).  I told him what documents I had, and asked:  is that everything I’ll need?  Having received an affirmative response, I arrived at USAID to meet him on Friday at 9 AM.  After locating him, the first question was “do you have your passport?”  Um, no.  So I went back to my house to get my passport, back to AID, and then we drove to the DMV.  At the DMV, we went upstairs, budged in line (one of the perks of being a muzungu), and promptly discovered that I didn’t have the original title.  Now, I knew going in that I didn’t have the title – I had picked up the car but not all the paperwork, which was at the AID office.  I had wrongly assumed that the staffer would bring it, as the owner has promised to give it to him.  No such luck.  So we went back to the AID office, where the paperwork could not be located.  Let’s try again Monday, he said.

This morning, I arrived bright and early.  This time, all the paperwork was in order.  The line at the DMV wasn’t even very long.  I was, however, very grateful to have someone there to guide me through the process, because I would have had no idea what to do.  The whole thing involved carrying forms and printouts from person to person (some more than once), checking the “fitness” of my vehicle, which mostly seeing if all my signals were working, and eventually forking over some cash.  In exchange for my two hours of trotting up and down the stairs at the DMV (it was on two levels), I got several papers, including my license and certificate of fitness.  These are printed on official paper, but both have circles that you cut out and affix to the windshield.  The same goes for insurance.  I do have to say, if I ever get stopped, checking these things on the windshield will be easier than digging around in the glove box.  After a trip to the insurance company to switch the third-party insurance to my name (a process that’s allowed here), I was all set, and I was back at home four hours after leaving.

I’m planning to take it to get this coolant issue fixed (tomorrow, hopefully) and a tune-up (Saturday).  Now, if only gas weren’t so absurdly expensive here (America, you have no idea), I would be completely free to travel where I wish.  At the moment, I’ll settle for mostly mobile.

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2 Responses to “The beast”

  1. Holly Says:

    Congrats on your very adult purchase!

    This post made me think of linking you this article:
    http://www.glamour.com/magazine/2007/02/things-women-should-have-and-know-by-30

    Enjoy 🙂

  2. Rachel Says:

    A car! Yay! Somehow I was suprised to hear that this was your first car purchase. It seems that I forget about the hustle and bustle of BIG city life where you don’t need a car. In Minneapolis, our transit system isn’t quite up to par going carless. Have fun with it!

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