Yesterday I spent the day in the Dar es Salaam city center, the “downtown,” near an area known Karia Koo. This part of the city is set up like a giant shopping mall where, instead of stores of individual genres of goods, there are streets and blocks with all sorts of little shops all selling the same exact stuff. For example, there are a couple of parallel streets that are half a dozen blocks long that all sell housewares. The next few streets over all sell clothing, material, and the like. In the States, we go to specific stores for specific goods; we go to Lowes for DIY supplies, The Gap for clothing, and so on. Or we might go to a mall that has one of each kind of shop in one easy location. Or, if you live in Michigan, you just go to Meijer. In Karia Koo, you go to a specific block of stores, all selling the exact same goods.
Yesterday I made my way to Lumumba Street where most of the stores sold any variety of automotive parts, accessories, and services. It was packed with every inch of space monopolized. Cars on top of cars. Cars where there shouldn’t be cars. Cars pulling out in front of cars. Cars honking in anger, cars honking in permission. I was there to get my car detailed and some safety features added.
The first place I pulled into was a no-go. I drove down the street anxiously searching for an open spot in front of an auto store. There was one, sort of, next to a small store properly named “Auto Palace.” Well, it wasn’t very palatial, but the store manager, Hussein, spoke passable English. He sold high-end rims...and very little else. I immediately regretted my decision and thought I’d have to move on to the next.
I told him that I wanted tinting and etching and asked if he (or his shop) provide these services. “Of course! Of course!” Shame on me for doubting. He gave me my tinting options; I chose the cheapest one: dark black. We haggled a bit on the price and the installation fee by the time we were done, we agreed on the price: about $30 USD for two rolls of tinting and labor or about 1/10 of the price in the States for a small car tint job. I asked again about etchings. He didn’t do that so he called someone he knew. I asked about rivets. Rivets are used to bolt things to your vehicle so they can’t be...removed. That piece of foam around the windows? Riveted. Rear brake light spoiler? Riveted. Trim around the base of the van? Riveted. It was “riveting” to watch...hey-oh, bad joke! Then I asked about alarms. He had a “very nice option” from China. I asked (thanks to Gil) for the South African one. That one came from the back room, a plastic sleeve containing individual pockets of parts. “This, this I give you good price on.” He ran through the abilities of the alarm: touch the van, alarm goes off; don’t hit the secret button hidden in a location of my choosing, van shuts off completely. Yep, that’s the one I wanted. Could he install it? Yeah, he had a guy who could do that.
I surrendered my keys to four guys who came from out of nowhere and descended upon my vehicle. The etching guy worked his magic etching the vehicle identification number on all the windows, the side mirrors, the tail lights, and the head lights. The rivet guy started hand drilling holes all around the vehicle and installing metal clips on the side mirrors to prevent them from being popped off. The tint guy made himself at home in my van, crawling all over the seats installing the tinting. The alarm guy started tearing apart the console around the steering wheel. Me? I just stood there, watching it all happen, nervously pacing back and forth in the street feeling entirely out of place. In the three and half hours I was down there, I stood outside the whole time and saw one other Caucasian and didn’t here fluent English for the entire time. Fair to say I was out of my comfort zone. I probably patted my front and back pockets 100 times to make sure I had all my valuables. This was unreasonable to do it so frequently as I never had a reason to be fearful of being mugged. I didn’t even get a sideways glance from anyone. I suppose it was the nerves of the situation.
The tint guy finished first, followed a while later by the etching and riveting guys. The alarm took quite a while to put it. After it was in, I got a quick overview on the alarm function including several repeated instructions on the beeps and being sure I understood to push the secret button (otherwise, the van shuts off completely. This is to prevent our van from being hijacked). I got into my van, which was very dark, and felt a bit claustrophobic. The locks now automatically lock when the van starts. And I got it all for a very small fraction of what it would have cost my in the States.
The one caveat? In the States, this all would have been a luxury (tinting) or an exercise in paranoia (etchings, rivets). Here? It is a slight bit of overkill. But only a small bit. Not theft-proof, but certainly much more theft-deterrent. I did this as a significant safety precaution. In the States, your biggest threat is being in a vehicle and crashing; here, vehicles present a whole different set of dangers. The fastest you drive is maybe 45 mph. Maybe. There are enough speed bumps and potholes to prevent high speeds, let alone continual traffic congestion. Here the biggest fear is being stopped at red light and someone reaching into your vehicle and grabbing anything they can get. Here these things are just another layer of protection, of safety. It certainly wasn’t done for aesthetic purposes. While the tinting might look “cool,” 50+ rivets doesn’t really add to the visual appeal of a minivan. :)