My Mercedes Is Not for Sale: From Amsterdam to Ouagadougou...an Auto-Misadventure Across the Sahara

Overview

“Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz?”
—Janis Joplin

A journalist’s intrepid endeavor to sell his used car abroad results in a high-spirited and revealing look at West Africa.

“Look, there’s my ...

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My Mercedes Is Not for Sale: From Amsterdam to Ouagadougou...an Auto-Misadventure Across the Sahara

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Overview

“Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz?”
—Janis Joplin

A journalist’s intrepid endeavor to sell his used car abroad results in a high-spirited and revealing look at West Africa.

“Look, there’s my car,” I say, pointing at my Mercedes in the parking lot.
“Where?” a fellow desert traveler asks.
“There, that Mercedes,” I say.
He looks at me, questioning. “You want to drive that through the Sahara?”

 
Jeroen van Bergeijk came up with what seemed like a great scheme for making a quick profit: buy a clunker of a car in his native Amsterdam and resell it in the Third World, where a market even for jalopies still thrives. His chariot of choice is a rusted-out 1988 Mercedes 190D with 220,000 kilometers on its odometer; his route will take him from Holland through Morocco, across the Sahara, and into some of the least trodden parts of Africa.
My Mercedes Is Not for Sale is a rollicking tale of an innocent abroad. The author finds himself facing a driving challenge akin to the Dakar Rally but encounters obstacles never dreamed of by race-car drivers: active minefields, occasional banditry—mostly by the border guards—and a teenage, chain-smoking desert guide with a fondness for Tupac lyrics. Food and water are scarce, sandstorms are frequent, and all he has to patch up his many car breakdowns thousands of miles from civilization is a bar of soap, some duct tape, and a pair of women’s nylons. Then there’s the coup he survived.
My Mercedes Is Not for Sale captures more than the adventure—it vividly portrays the impact of globalization on Africa through a surprise-filled journey into its thriving car culture, while asking the question: is the white man’s burden really a used car?

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

In his travel narrative, Bergeijk chronicles his three-month trip along the Trans-Sahara Highway to sell his used Mercedes 190 D. His primary goal is to turn a pretty profit, but he hopes for a little adventure in the process. And he finds it: being chased by two unknown cars in Morocco, getting his car stuck in a mine field and maneuvering through corrupt border officials. Unfortunately, while Bergeijk experiences events that would harrow the soul of any ordinary traveler, he does not fully bring the adventure to life. What propels the narrative, though, are his portrayals of desert towns where sand is everywhere-"in your bag, in your food, even in your underwear"-and where everything looks desolate. Likewise, the historical background on early explorations of Saharan Africa (by men like Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Capt. James Riley and Mungo Park) and on the attempt to build a trans-Sahara railroad add texture to his own excursion. In the end, Bergeijk provides an illuminating introduction to Saharan Africa and the economic implications of its used car trade. Photos. (July)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

Dutch journalist van Bergeijk's idea for making a nice profit-buying an old used car in Amsterdam and reselling it for profit in the Third World-turned into an adventure worth more than the few hundred dollars the transaction eventually netted him. He hatched the plot while he was attending a friend's wedding in West Africa and hailed a cab, a Mercedes 190D, sporting a Dutch soccer-team decal. Was the driver a fan? No; in fact, the cab had spent the first part of its life in the Netherlands. After purchasing a rusted-out 1988 Mercedes 190D for himself, van Bergeijk toured the Mercedes factory, sought the wisdom of drivers who had successfully crossed the Sahara, and stocked up on maps, guidebooks, and other materials-including a bar of soap and a pair of pantyhose. He was assured these were necessary for shepherding his car across the desert. This account of his adventures combines the musings of Robert M. Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, historic African travel writing, and the excitement of the Dakar rally. Recommended for medium to large public libraries.
—Susan Belsky

Kirkus Reviews
Dutch journalist van Bergeijk writes of his road trip around the Sahara and into the heart of West Africa. His mission was to drive a 17-year-old Mercedes Benz 190 Diesel with 136,400 miles on the odometer to Burkina Faso, the landlocked country old timers once called Upper Volta. Many African entrepreneurs are adept at rebuilding automobiles that would be left for dead elsewhere. A lively market exists for the Mercedes, the auto once prayed for by Janis Joplin. Van Bergeijk planned to leave his car, taking a bit of profit, for the benefit of some deserving Burkinabe cab driver. Before the trip, however, there was an educational visit to Bremen and the Benz factory and some tutelage in the art of desert motoring. (Pantyhose can serve as a filter, and don't forget the sand ladders.) Then, through searing sandstorms and shimmering heat went the intrepid, dusty desert traveler. From Cape Boujdour and Nouadhibou to Nouakchott, following the lead of French writer and aviator Antoine de Saint Exupery and innocent comic-book avatar Tintin, the author trekked through Mauritania and Senegal to the Ivory Coast and Ghana. He encountered hustling officials, fraudulent guides, happy brigands, touring druggies and some "groovy" folk. Africa seemed a land of much sand and many bribes, both quite natural and lingering, along with cell phones, an occasional Internet cafe and endemic poverty. The romance of the desert may have faded since the advent of the motor car, but the inherent native penchant for patience and the avoidance of pressure remains. Despite the cultural chasm, bad brakes and broken shocks, the car, which may actually have clocked nearly 300,000 miles, was sold to a dealer. Hard traveling,easier reading. Agent: Felicia Eth/Felicia Eth Literary Representation
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780767928694
  • Publisher: Crown Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 7/15/2008
  • Pages: 240
  • Sales rank: 1,011,322
  • Product dimensions: 7.98 (w) x 10.88 (h) x 0.61 (d)

Meet the Author

JEROEN VAN BERGEIJK is a journalist based in Amsterdam and has written for The New York Times, Wired, and many other publications in Europe and the United States.
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Table of Contents


A Mercedes in Ouagadougou     1
The Purchase     3
"Okay, That Won't Work"     7
My Father's Mercedes     15
"One Hundred Percent Quality Guarantee"     19
Trickster in the Rif     27
"Strong Like Bull"     37
An Authentic Experience     41
The Great Void     57
Tupac in the Desert     67
"I Want Nothing But Mercedes From Now on"     81
Thirst     85
Heart of Darkness     103
"All Africans Are Cheats"     119
"It was Worn Out"     135
Now I Help Myself     139
Fleeing, Searching     153
The Industrial Underbelly of Ghana     167
"I Loved Looking at That Car"     173
Depressing Banality     177
Johnnie Walker for the Secretary of Transportation     185
Cars, Money, Brothers     197
Acknowledgments     207
Bibliography     209
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