Friday, November 1, 2019

4x4 Break Down (October 27 2019)

In this post, I narrate my vehicle breakdown and the lessons I learned from it.

On Sunday (October 27, 2019), we were driving to Diphuduhudu to meet with the chief about some concerns he had about our research (approximately 2.5 hours from Gaborone). On the way there, my 4x4 broke down on a dirt road in the middle of nowhere. The vehicle started to smell (a burnt out smell) and then the gears simply stopped working. The engine ran fine, but the vehicle did not move.

Luckily, I had arranged to meet Andy on the way, and he was about 30km ahead me at Ngware. I called him, and he went to Botlhapatlou ("Where the elephants bathe") and picked up a tow bar (tshipi) from a very nice family who he did not even know. Then he came and towed me to Botlhapatlou. We left the truck with the same family, and went to our appointment with the chief in Diphuduhudu.

The Batswana are generally very willing to help out in case of emergencies. The family lent us the towing bar and let us keep the car in their yard for four days, and did not ask for a cent. Every day they were pleasant, and provided me with a chair (without me asking). They know what it is to have a breakdown and are helpful when others have the same problems.

On Monday, my friend Eric, who is a wonderful mechanic, came down from his cattle post to Gaborone to help me with my truck. I thank Eric for his kindness in helping me out.

On Tuesday, Eric and I drove back to Botlhapatlou and Eric spent six hours removing my burnt out clutch plate (which is inconveniently sandwiched between the gearbox and the engine). He did this without an assistant and without heavy equipment. We drove to Molepolole to find a replacement, but there were none. So we went back to Mogoditshane (just outside of Gaborone), and found one.

On Wednesday, we drove back to Botlhapatlou (one hour and a half from Gaborone) and finished fixing the 4x4. This took around eight hours, because Eric had no assistant. He was working continuously. While he worked, I sat around and read the newspapers about the Botswana election, and all of the tensions between Khama and Masisi. Occasionally, I handed Eric a car part, or his cell phone if somebody called.

On Thursday, I drove Eric (and all his heavy equipment) back to his cattle post. He gave me some fresh game meat, which I look forward to eating when my wife arrives in Botswana.

So I spent a total of four days getting this car fixed, and learned valuable lessons about having a break down in the middle of nowhere in rural Botswana. So in a way, I am happy that I had this breakdown at this point.

Lesson 1:
Do not leave your vehicle abandoned on the road. It will probably be stolen or vandalized.
One person told me you can leave the vehicle for a few hours, but no more.

Lesson 2:
When possible, travel with another person.  If you have to leave the car (to find help), the other person can watch over it.

Lesson 3:
You can trust people in the nearby village to help you out. You can leave your car with a village family and it will be OK.

Lesson 4:
Towing with a rope or chain is illegal in Botswana, you need a tow bar (tshipi). And you need wire to attach the tow bar.

Lesson 5:
People in the village may be able to lend you a tow bar (and the wire needed to attach it).

Lesson 6:
If you cannot find a tow bar, make sure to have a heavy duty rope in the car for towing. This is illegal, but it may be necessary to get you to the nearest village to put your car in a safe place.

Lesson 7:
Once you have towed and secured your car in a nearby village, you can call for help in getting it fixed.

Lesson 8:
Calling a towing company can be really expensive. I have heard a quote of over 3,000 Pula (300 dollars) for 90km, which is outrageous for Botswana.

Lesson 9:
Small villages in Botswana either do not have any mechanics at all or do not have mechanics capable of major repairs (e.g., replacing the clutch plate). And small villages in Botswana will definitely not have any replacement parts. To find a mechanic and replacement parts you need to go to a big town (like Molepolole).

Lesson 10:
Your options for fixing your car are (a) to get it fixed in-situ by a mechanic that you bring to the site, (b) to tow it (from the village) to the nearest big town and get it fixed there. Both options present challenges and expenses.

Lesson 11:
Make sure you have a jack, a spanner, a spare and the key bolt for the wheel. Not only are these useful for removing the wheel (in case of a flat), but the jack is useful for other repairs.

Lesson 12:
Have a working cell phone with a fully charged battery. Make sure you have B-mobile service which works in rural areas better than Orange or Mascom.

Lesson 13:
Have several cell phone numbers of people that you can call in the case of an emergency. Try to get the cell phone numbers of mechanics in nearby towns who you can call in an emergency.

Lesson 14:
If a mechanic helps you fix your car in an emergency, make it worth their efforts. You may need them again some day.

Lesson 15:
Always carry a bottle of water in your car. It is super easy to get dehydrated in Botswana.

In the photos, you will see the tuck shop run by our hosts. Here we bought magunya (sweet fried dough) for breakfast each day, and also some bread (borotho) and cold orange Fanta for lunch.

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