Tyre Change

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Footsteps, yarns and little fibs
It's funny how little things trigger the memory.

Submitted: June 27, 2017

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Submitted: June 27, 2017



We had to replace the rear tyres on or car the other day because they didn’t pass the warrant of fitness test. I know, not all countries have such tests, but they are a regulation here, for older vehicles every six months and for more modern ones annually or even longer apart. The tread depth of tyres is supposed to be six millimetres and if they don’t measure up, they must be replaced. I just left the car at the garage for the job to be done, after discussing the quality of new tyre I wanted. There was a disposal charge of three dollars for the old ones.

My thoughts took me back to back to Manjis Service Station in Arusha. In the earlier days they were about the only outfit to sell LPG and we had a gas cooker for when the electricity was off, or not paid.  So the frequency of power outages saw us heading off to Manjis on a reasonably regular basis. They were always busy! As well as the gas, they also sold a lot of tyres. A memory popped into my head about the time there was no gas available, apparently the ship ferrying it to Dar es Salaam caught fire – now that’s a situation to be avoided!  

The owners of the business were Indian, brothers or a family perhaps and like a lot of businesses in Arusha at that time, the owners were Indian while the workers were local. Having said that, the Indians were at least third generation so were also locals. At least it was employment for the African workers, though sometimes their treatment could have been better, but at Manjis they were busy and always helpful.

Manjis was one of those businesses that did not negotiate prices, a bit against the norm in business practice in Arusha at the time. The prices were fixed by the brothers, making it a take it or leave it situation. I think they were just too busy to have the time to negotiate. With plenty of workers, the transactions for gas were quick and efficient. The same went for the tyres, but tyres were a slower end of the market. You had to talk to one of the brothers and hand the money over to him, because tyres were a big ticket item.

After purchasing the tyres, there was a queue to get them fitted. They had a good balancing machine and the workers were happy, efficient Africans. The Indian boss-of-tyre-fitting had a cubbyhole of an office and did the charging. It paid to stand over they tyre fitting and balancing because in the middle of your four, someone may come in with a ‘rush job’ which either could hold you up, or end up being charged to you. Being on good terms with the fitters and balancers paid off too, so it was worth shouting them a soda. Everyone had their specific job, even the guys who undid the wheel nuts and then replaced the wheel later. Some nuts were better than others, so a eagle eye was kept.

The fun part was about the used tyres. The Agency retained the New Zealand culture of changing the tyres when there was still six millimetres of tread left on them. On the other hand, the Arusha people would wear them down to the canvas because of the cost! So there was a ready market for my used tyres. There were young men, not employed by Manjis, who hovered around the workshop hoping to make a profit. Sometimes they competed with each other. It was their way of making a living, by buying the used tyres as cheaply as possible and on-selling them for as much as they could get.

Any NGO, has to raise money to carry out its activities and the Agency was no different, but with the culture that partially worn out tyres were no longer of use, any profit that we could make could be used for things that were outside the budget. There were plenty of those, from repairs to the Agency’s equipment to extra cost in setting up a volunteer’s living space. So we were out to get the maximum for the tyres as well.

The boys knew me and I knew them, but it was the ritual to be coy. I wouldn’t approach them, so would set about loading the used tyres into the back of the vehicle. By the time I had loaded the third tyre, an approach was made that I usually fobbed off by telling them I had a sale for them in one of the villages. They would counter with a low offer and slap their pocket to show they had actual money there. I would say that they are loaded now, so I will just take them. Their counter was to ask if I had actually seen their money. They knew and I knew money out in the villages was in short supply.

So the bargaining would begin and I enjoyed the encounter, knowing that they wouldn’t go past the limit that they reckoned would realise a reasonable profit. But it’s a hard enough life for them and the Agency wasn’t all that broke, so that after we had settled on a price and the money handed over, I would usually return the amount equivalent to one tyres. At best we were only talking USD20 per tyre.

These sorts of encounters brightened a boring day watching the job being done and protecting the Agency’s investment. In life, if you can’t help a neighbour, the outlook is always going to be bleak.

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