I think my son was 4 when I first went on a holiday in a van. It was a Volkswagen Van (a T3, for the insiders) my brother owned, grass green, with flowers on the side.
You just need one summer trip to get hooked on van life, and hooked I was. I soon bought my own van, a not too hip looking brown thing, with the very fitting letters BFG in the license plate.
Since then I have had a succession of vans, getting slightly larger and more equipped each time. But my children, maybe out of nostalgia for their youth, always insist I go back to the old model, the Volkswagen van.
|Future Lebanese Van Fans (Hippies)|
In Europe, the old Volkswagen vans are hard to come by as they have become a collector’s item; you’ve got to pay top dollars to get a good one, and even more if it is equipped as a camper van. Here in Lebanon, it is a bit of a Cuban situation. Volkswagen vans are still very much in use as school buses. You see them navigating traffic at 7:00 AM with some 20 kids in them, all with school bags, and often in school uniform. I understand the uniform bit, but some schools have the odd habit to require the younger students to wear a ‘maryoul’, a type of apron, boys and girl alike. Volkswagen Vans here are not yet the hip-thing to have, there is still a bit of a stigma attached to it. I am sure this will eventually come, as there are already a few Lebanese hipsters that have discovered the benefits of a camper van.
|This is what the dashboard looked like when we bought it. It still looks this way.|
Anyway, we were driving through the Beqaa Valley one day, and stopped at a local dikkaneh (small mini-market), when my daughter and I saw this one Volkswagen van somewhere in the back, next to a pile of pallets, a discarded fridge and bits and pieces of scrap metal. Actually, it was hard to figure out it was a van. Or even a Volkswagen. There just wasn’t much left of it, but just like an old Coca Cola bottle, their design is so peculiar, you can recognize these vans from bits and pieces.
“Ooooh,” says the daughter (who aspires to become a hippie. Whatever happened to ‘doctor’, or ‘neuro surgeon’?) “That’s the van I want.” She saw obvious potential in this wreck.
|The front seats :)|
Her father, being the typical Lebanese father of a daughter, uttered the famous words “I will get it for you,” and off he went, to investigate and negotiate. One hour later, the van was hers. It was a 1969 T2, an early model. On a good day, they look like this.
Now she wouldn’t turn 18 until another 4 years, so you may think this to be a little premature, but from the state of the van, it was quite clear that it was not going to run anytime soon. If ever.
Well. He’s been dragging it (since it did not really run, it had to be transported on a tow-truck for most of the time) around from one dark and suspicious garage to another. It got stripped off everything, which was probably the easiest part as there was nothing in it anymore.
One guy did the gear box, another one knew about plate work, a third one had the spare parts for a T2 from 1969, the fourth knew about radiators and engines, the fifth had ‘some’ knowledge about upholstery and the sixth did the paint job.
Getting a license plate was an equally arduous affair, as we had changed the engine. The original engine, a T2, is air-cooled, which in our summer climate, when she is supposedly going to drive it around, will result in an overcooked engine, and – so we were told – it’s easier to replace it with a Polo engine, easier to drive, easier to maintain, better performance and no problems with overheating. However, now the number of the car and the number of the engine did not match, and so getting it through car registration also took its toll on her father’s mood. So when he finally delivered it, this month, he was totally done with this car. It ended up being more expensive than a brand new KIA.
“I do not want to hear anything anymore ever again about this car.”
“I do not want to hear anything anymore ever again about this car.”
This Saturday (daughter and some friends and I, the designated driver) took it on its maiden voyage. It took some effort to get it out of the parking garage, since I haven’t driven a stick shift in ages. The seat belts in the front, once fastened, would not unfasten anymore, and we had to wiggle our way out of them. Pretty soon, actually, at the first corner, we figured out that the upholstery guy had failed to bolt the benches to the floor. I question this rather suspiciously. Seriously now, why would you not secure a car seat? The next thing we found out is that all the in-door handles were basically inoperable. The windows wouldn’t roll down because we did not have those roll-down thingies, doors didn’t close properly, and if they closed, they most definitely did not lock. Essentially, the car has no locks. Driving around school children here obviously does not require a ‘proof-of-safety’ permit. But it did drive.
|Lovely new upholstery. Unfortunately, the seats were not bolted to the floor. Seat belts are absent as well.|
So the first stop was Bourj Hammoud, where the car part dealers live. I learned something new in Arabic. There are two type of car parts; the basic ones that are required to keep the engine running, which are called ‘parts’, or ‘ottah’, in Arabic. And then there are the not so basic ones, the pimp-your-car ones, so to speak, which are the called ‘aksesuare’, coming from the French ‘accessoires’. So the roll-up handles for the window are ‘ottah’, but the car radio is an ‘aksesuare’. And shops that sell ottah do no sell aksesuare. We got a truckers knob, because power steering had not yet been invented in 1969 (also an ‘aksesuare’).
|And then we lost a door.|
Bourj Hammoud, a small neighborhood with tiny tiny streets, dead-end alleyways, no parking space and traffic jams, is a great way for a quick lesson on changing gears, and how to get the van in reverse. Somehow the gear box shifts position now and then.
We quickly noticed that the exhaust fumes ended up in the car instead of the outside, but we fixed that problem once we discovered where the engine was and noticed that some hoses had come loose.
Eventually everything that was not loose, rattled loose, and what was loose, came off. In the end, we lost the entire sliding door, and with the help of some parking attendants, placed it in the back seat and drove home without a side door. I am eternally grateful for the rather lenient traffic rules in this country.
|Okay, we'll drive without a door. Long live the Lebanese traffic laws|
But we are going back to the drawing board. Since her father has pulled his hands off this project, I will continue this labor and will pimp up this van so that by the time my daughter is actually 18, this will be a reliable and safe car. I am driving it up this afternoon to a guy in the mountains who knows about doors. They say. I will be wearing my Artic gear, as one door is missing, and the knobs to get the heater on are gone as well. I will keep you updated on the van adventures in Lebanon.