Fixing things

When we worked in Burkina Faso we quickly noticed that people would repair things that we would have thrown away. They could repair things that we thought irreparable.

I had a little motor scooter and the blinker stopped working. I took it to my mechanic and left it with him while I went off to run an errand. I came back to find that he had removed the blinker unit. But instead of replacing it, he had peeled the outside cover off and he was fiddling with the bi-metal strip inside. It had never dawned on me that one might try to repair the blinker unit. I asked him if he would be able to repair it. “Of course” was his answer. “How long will it last?”, I asked. When he said that it would probably last a few months, I suggested that I might want to buy a new one. At this point I learned some key local vocabulary. “Well,” he replied, “you should have said right off to replace it, but you said to fix it.’

Dayle and Matthew on our Ouagadougou scooter

On another occasion the tie-downs for the battery on a vehicle broke, allowing the battery to slide over into the little fan on the alternator which ate a hole through the battery case, spewing battery acid all over. We got the vehicle back into town and to our mechanic. When we went to pick it up, the bill for the repair was very small. We were surprised because batteries cost at least three times the price in the US. So we asked about the repair. We found out that they had repaired the hole in the side of the battery using an acetylene torch and then refilled the battery with acid! When I asked how that repair would hold up, I was told that it would last the life of the battery. They never seen this repair fail. Our pocketbooks were happy for local ingenuity and the repair never did fail.

When the steering on my car got some looseness in it, I took it to that same mechanic. Again, the repair cost almost nothing. “What did it need?” I asked. “Adjustment,” was the response. Great, I thought. But a few weeks later it was loose again and needed another adjustment. The third time it happened, I asked for more details about the adjustment. The problem was the tie-rod ends which have a ball and socket. They were worn out, so to tighten them they would pound on the outside of the socket to cause it to collapse on the ball and make it tight. I thought, “No wonder I see cars beside the road broken down with one front wheel pointing at a sharp angle.” The pounding weakens the metal and it will eventually fail, liberating the wheel from the control of the steering. It is not a liberation you want. Again, the mechanic was happy to replace the parts instead of “fixing” them, but it cost quite a bit more.

One thought on “Fixing things

  1. Ah, yes we Americans have the “throw away” mentality.
    If I am not mistaken I think the photo title should be: Dayle & Mark , with Matthew on the back of the scooter. Mark may not have arrived yet, but appears to be there never the less! 🙂


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