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Nation & World

How Not To Sell A Mercedes In Africa

A few years back, Dutch journalist Jeroen van Bergeijk had an impulse to sell a car — the hard way. He bought a rusted-out 1988 Mercedes 190D in his native Amsterdam and drove it all the way to West Africa — where the vehicle is beyond popular.

"You would suppose that people in the poorest parts of the world wouldn't have a need for a Mercedes-Benz," he tells Alex Chadwick. "But what I found when I went there, I could sell it to almost anybody. Everyone wanted to get into a Mercedes."

In fact, within a few minutes of crossing African soil, van Bergeijk had an offer.

"The border guy tried to persuade me to sell the car to him," he recounts. But van Bergeijk wasn't ready to part with his vehicle just yet — or anytime soon.

Throughout his journey — through desert and quirky communities, while crossing borders and getting stuck in the sand — he became attached to his vehicle and the possibilities it held.

"Really, I could sell the car almost anywhere," he admits, "but then I wouldn't have a book, would I?"

The book that emerged through the journey, My Mercedes Is Not for Sale, recounts an Africa different from how van Bergeijk expected it to be.

"I had all these visions of spending nights among camels under the stars," he recalls.

But instead of a stunning, natural camp spot, he found a "guide" who set him up next to a smelly diesel tank.

Ultimately, though, more good than bad emerged from what he calls a "hate-love relationship with Africa."

"What I find so attractive about Africa is the realization that all that stuff that in the Western world you worry about --your mortgage, your home, your car, your job — it really just doesn't matter."

And unlike in America or Holland, he says, people generally don't complain — even when he repeatedly refused to sell them his car.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.