Our family of four was preparing to leave Kenya on furlough for the U.S. To help pay for the air tickets we sold our car and upon our return, shopped for a replacement in 1982. It had to be a used one, on the lower end of the price scale. Cars in Kenya were expensive because of an import duty of up to 150%. To increase one’s prospect of getting anything reliable, it was imperative to buy one from a departing expatriate. That limited the choice considerably, even more so because the cars of foreigners were typically of the higher-end variety. I scoured the papers. We could only aﬀord to spend a max of $4000, but there wasn’t much in that price range. However, wishful thinking made me linger longer on an ad for a Fiat that was decidedly beyond our means. Hoping against hope, I contacted the owner.
It turned out to be the manager of Pepsi Cola, East Africa. It was his wife’s car, and they were relocating to Greece. I met him for a test drive of the yellow 1976 Fiat 124, 5-speed with only 34,000 miles on it. It had a powerful engine and had large, comfortable, white, faux leather seats. It was in good shape and drove like a race car. Its value had been set at $5500 by the Kenyan Automobile Association. I informed him that our budget did not allow us to exceed $4000, but he was not prepared to accept that – not yet, anyway. We exchanged business cards, and he told me that the car would be ours if he hadn’t sold it in nine days, the day before their departure. The possibility of that happening was remote, as he was running ads in two papers, and his asking price was reasonable. I was hesitant to wait that long, given the distinct possibility of being disappointed nine days hence and having to start to look all over again.
That evening in our living room I had an idea. Our son, Karsten, was four-and-a-half years old, and I decided to tap into his child-like faith. Sitting on the couch together, the seller’s card in my hand, I explained the situation to him. Then, with my arm around him, we both prayed. I remember the scene clearly, but I don’t remember where Debbie and our daughter, Misha, were at the time. Must’ve been a guy-thing. An hour or so later we put the children to bed, too early for Karsten to learn about the telephone call that came later that evening – nine days earlier than had been conditionally promised.
Photo by Eb Roell