Thursday, December 3, 2009

Ghanaian Efficiency Strikes Back

I would like to apologize for the recent decline in new updates. It's not because I have not been writing them. On the contrary, I have not had internet at my work for this past week to enable me to post them.

I wrote this entry before my office lost internet for the week, so the irony of this entry being about Ghanaian efficiency is certainly not lost on me...but it's still a good story.

I love efficiency of all kinds. Whether it’s small-scale (plotting out the errands you need to do on a Saturday morning in order to travel the shortest distance) or large-scale (re-orienting the divisions of your business to open internal lines of communication that did not previously exist), the economist in me (yes, it was one of my majors in college) really enjoys it. Now, I realize that my work experience thus far tallies more than a few non-profits, not exactly representing private sector, profit-driven efficiency at its best, but I have worked with several MBAs and PhD economists, and it doesn’t stop me from liking it!

A few of my previous posts have described how inefficient things can be here, or in any developing country, when compared to the “Western World.” So, I wanted to share a nice little anecdote regarding something that was MUCH easier and faster to do here than it would have been in the latter. And it all starts with me being an idiot.

As I mentioned when I got off the plane, Dennis drives a nice silver VW sedan that he takes good care of. The model is called a “Bora,” which hasn’t made it to the US, but it is very much like a Jetta or Passat. When I arrived, the rear, driver’s-side door had the child lock engaged, not enabling the passenger to open it from the inside. As that is the only back seat with a seatbelt, I usually sit there (with Dennis driving and Patricia sitting shotgun), and it has proved to be very annoying. After a while, I asked Dennis why it was engaged, and he said no reason. He didn’t even know how it had happened, but he would like it to be disengaged as well. Upon hearing that, I took matters into my own hands: a big mistake.

Dennis' VW Bora

Last Sunday, Patricia and I were waiting for Dennis in the parking lot after church, and I thought it was a perfect time to put my mechanical engineering skills to use. What mechanical engineering skills, you say? Well, that is a very appropriate question, because I have none. But that didn’t stop me from opening the door and playing around with the lock mechanism, trying to undo the child lock. I rotated the hinge on the inside of the door, and then tried to close it. The only problem was that now it wouldn’t close. I tried to undo what I had done, and the door was having none of it. I had completely broken the door’s lock. I told Dennis what I’d done, and he said we would take a look at it when we got home. We had to drive home with me holding the door as closed as it could get from the handle on the inside. Whenever we would go over a bump or make a sharp right turn, the door would open slightly, and I would close it quickly. It was ridiculous, and I felt terrible.

When we got home, I told Dennis I would pay for the repairs, as we examined the bad door and the other good ones. We saw why it wouldn’t close and what needed to be done, but the hinge would not rotate back into its original position. We played with the automatic keyless remote, the automatic lock inside the driver’s door, and the manual lock on the door itself. I even got a few screwdrivers and a wrench I brought with me to make our trials seem more official, but nothing was working. As Dennis looked at the other rear door (passenger’s-side), he began playing with it, and before I could stop him, he had done the exact same thing to that one. So now, both rear doors would not close. Luckily, it was Sunday, we weren’t going anywhere before work the next day, and Dennis said that his good car shop was on the way. Knowing all too well how much fixing a German car can cost, I fell asleep thinking the worst.

When Dennis and I drove to work in the morning, I had to be in the ridiculous position of the middle rear seat, with both arms extended holding each door closed from the inside. As we pulled up to the Dennis’ “good car guys,” the shop consisted of an air pump, dozens of tires stacked in piles of different heights, tools strewn about seemingly at random on the ground, and a few cars outside in various states of rundown. There was no building, but rather a covered dugout of sorts where 4 men in their late teens or early twenties sat chatting on a triangle of benches. As we pulled up, one of the men pivoted off of his bench and walked over to us, as Dennis got out to meet him. Needless to say, I did not think we would have any luck here.

The best shot I could get of the car "shop" from my passenger seat

Dennis and the man spoke is rapid Twi, as I remained in the rear middle seat looking over at them. The man opened the rear passenger-side door, examined the lock, and began playing with the door handle. After 10 seconds, he called over to one of his partner, who brought him a screwdriver, and in another 10 seconds, he had fixed the first door. He opened it and closed it to make sure, and then went around to the driver’s side and fixed the other one in no time. A feeling of combined relief, stupidity and awe came over me. The man walked away, as Dennis handed him 2 Cedis (less than $2) as a thank you.

The rest of the way to work, I couldn’t stop telling Dennis how cool that was. They had fixed both doors in under 30 seconds, and we payed less than $1 per door. In the US, I assured him, if you took a VW to the dealer to fix the same problem, they would tell you it would be ready in a few hours minimum and then charge you at least $50 for the labor alone. He just laughed.

PS: I am happy to say that when we were fidgeting with the two doors, trying to fix them, I figured out how to actually disengage the child lock. So, it all worked out in the end, and now I can ride with a seat belt and open the door for myself when we stop!


  1. Actually laughed out loud picturing you hold both doors closed from the middle of the backseat. This is a good version of one of those "how many college grads does it take to..." jokes. = )

  2. What a funny entry....hope all is well. Lindsay misses you sooo much!