Sunday, February 17, 2008

Landcruiser hell

I've spent most of my time this week dealing with a near-continous series of catastrophic breakdowns in our vehicles. I discovered on Monday that the brakes in one did not work, and the drivers were using the gears to slow down. They were supposed to have been repaired several weeks ago but the work was poorly done. Then on Tuesday, the other one started overheating, and it had a leak in the radiator. The driver limped it back to the office and we called a local mechanic to have a look. The radiator needs to be removed and taken for welding. The mechanic looked at both vehicles and discovered an assortment of serious problems (one of which being that the front wheel on one was about to fall off because of some broken part inside the hub) that should have been identified by MENTOR's mechanic (Joseph, our Kikuyu driver, who we sent to Nairobi for his own safety last week). We decided to limp it back home but when they started it up it sounded like a tractor!! Clearly something VERY wrong with the engine. The driver swears he did not drive it far with the overheated engine, and we have not been able to diagnose the problem, but it seems either the oil pump or the water pump is gone and the engine has either overheated severely or run without oil for some time. Either way, it is buggered, and likely unsalvageable, so that's the end of that car, which is our "good" landcruiser.

On Wednesday we organized to have it towed the 15 km to the house. A big dump truck came and we hitched up the car with the winch. We made it to 1/4 mile from the house where there is a steep hill full of loose stones and the truck just couldn't go any further. They tried and tried and the truck was spitting big stones out from under the wheels and I was afraid it would smash the windscreen. Of course by this time I was already completely fed up with the whole thing and just wanted to be able to do some work other than deal with cars. I walked the rest of the way home after instructing the driver to get another truck that had enough power to pull the car up the hill.

I assumed everything was going fine until the driver called an hour later. The usual story: "There is a problem". My blood pressure was already sky high by this time and I was absolutely furious, so I marched down the hill to see what was the matter. The whole front end of the landcruiser was bashed in; the story I got was that the brakes in the truck "failed" and it rolled backwards and smashed into the car. Thank god we have bull bars on all our cars or it would have been even worse. I went absolutely ballistic. Why did the driver get a truck with bad brakes??? The truck driver tried to tell me that the brakes had been functioning just fine until this very moment. Right. Then the owner of the truck turned up and he changed his story to he had not been in the truck, that he engaged the handbrake and put stones behind the wheels and the handbrake failed and the stones broke. The whole story was extremely convoluted and totally dodgy and I'll never know what really happened. In any case, I thought I was going to have a heart attack and I yelled and screamed at everyone, including the crowd of bystanders that gathered to watch the whole scene.

I called the police to make a report. they turned up on their bicycles, wearing raggedy clothes (they very seldom wear their uniforms) and smoking cigarettes. They stood around for a half an hour (of course everyone is speaking swahili so I have absolutely no idea what anyone is saying) and asked me for a piece of paper to draw "the scene". The driver of the truck disappeared as soon as I called the police, but this is such a small area everyone knows everyone so they said "we will find him". We all piled into the pickup and drove to the police station, a few ramshackle buildings and round huts made of iron sheets. The other policemen at the station were sleeping on the ground outside when we arrived. We sat around for another hour while they filled in a couple of notebooks and sat around going "hmm", "ah", and nodding their heads. The owner of the truck offered to pay for the repairs, but only if his mechanic did the work. I replied thanks, but no thanks, I want my mechanic to do the work. This turned into another series of "hmmm" and "ah", myself involved, as we discussed whose mechanic should do the work. after 30 minutes I finally said we would figure it out the next day as I was exhausted, hungy and thirsty and thought I was going to lose my mind if I had to sit there for one more minute. In the end I decided we would file an insurance claim and let the insurance companies figure it out. I'm sure this will take at least six months.

So it sits, with the bull bars bent back so that the wheels cannot be turned, halfway up the hill to the house. We are down to one vehicle, the pick up, which only carries two passengers and is useless in the rain. I don't know how I'm supposed to run a massive field program with one useless car!!! Thankfully, it looks like we are going to hire a Logistician to come out and deal with all of these things so that I can do other things.

At least security is fine now, and we can move around with no worries. I haven't even had time to check the news to see what is going on with the political negotiations. On top of all of this I have two assignments due at the end of March for my Master's courses, one of which is a statistical analysis of a dataset on leprosy and writing a paper with the results. It's ridiculously complicated and I spent close to 50 hours on the "practice" assignment for this course so I'm sure I'll spend at least this much time on this one which is worth 30% of my grade. In addition I'm starting a group assignment tomorrow that will last for six weeks investigating a cholera outbreak. THere are 10 of us in the group and we are to do the work together and write a report to submit at the end of the 6 weeks. It's going to be a very busy month!!!

So I'd better get to work now, Sunday is study day, I will spend the usual 10 hours straight working. At least it's not dealing with car breakdowns!!!

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