It is going to take some getting used to. Driving it home I noticed people noticing me, it is that attractive. There were a couple of things still to do, like getting the lights operational, or installing the new Defender decal I had bought in my first Famous Four shipment but had forgotten to give to Bernard. Bernard asked me to bring the vehicle back on Monday, so Laura and I took the Subaru and the Defender by first thing Monday morning and she brought me back to the office. There were also a couple of things that had not been done quite right, for example Frances’ Sunday inspection found that the chassis painting was not very thorough. Bernard agreed and agreed with a smile to fix that too. The story does not end there, in fact it is really only there that it begins to get interesting.
I did not need the vehicle back in a hurry, and it is easy to hand over a non-registered vehicle in for work and forget about it. I learn one should never do that in Ghana. I returned the Defender to the Sikkens shop on a Monday morning and left it there Monday night. On Tuesday night I was in the neighbourhood on another errand and decided to swing by and have a look. It was dark so I would not be able to see much but maybe I could at least see if the decal had been installed or if the lights worked. I got more than I bargained for.
There was no Defender parked in front of the shop so I drove into the street behind where most of the vehicles being worked on are parked but did not see it there either. I pulled over to turn around but had to wait for another vehicle that was coming up the street from the direction of the beach before I could pull out. The passing vehicle was our Land Rover. Curious I thought, seems late to be taking it around the front to park. I started to follow and to my surprise it turned right at the corner along the main La Road, away from the Sikkens shop and heading out of town.
I followed. It is the first time I have ever driven behind this vehicle and with the fresh paint, and the white ladder and roof rack installed it looked very nice. I was also pleased to see that in fact it is not blowing any smoke. I could see the electrician had not got to it yet because there were no brake or signal lights. But where was it going?
After a couple of kilometres it turned left and proceeded through a small community market and tro-tro (bus van) station, around a couple of corners and up a hill past a small church. By this time I had noticed that there seemed to be about five people in the back, which is interesting as there are no seats in the vehicle except for the driver’s seat. Was someone using it as a tro-tro? The road became straight again and I decided we had gone far enough. A bit of flashing of brights and honking of horn got them to pull over. The driver I recognized right away as the painter I had dashed (tipped) on Saturday for doing a good job, I did not recognize any of the other four young men.
What struck me at this point was that there were no fewer than 8 or 9 twenty- gallon plastic containers, a common means of conveying water in Ghana, full of H2O and placed round the area where the back seat would normally be and in the cargo bay. Equally incredible was the story the driver tried to peddle. They were taking the Defender to a safer place to park for the night. The water was going to be used to wash the Defender the next day and they did not want to leave it at the shop because the doors don’t all lock and they did not want anything to happen to my water. At this point I wondered if maybe they had noticed I had been following them much earlier and spent the last mile or so dreaming up creative but implausible explanations as to what exactly they were up to.
I told them to head back to the shop and followed them. I tried to phone Bernard the Sikkens manager en route, but we were back at the shop by the time he picked up. He seemed to assume I was calling him to get a status on the work and started in right away giving me a sitrep on the status of the days work, apologizing that they had not finished yet and promising it would be ready the next day. When I told him my little discovery he really did seem unknowing. , which would mean he is only guilty of mismanagement, not of collusion. When I said I was taking the vehicle home he begged me not to do that, that we would square it up in the morning. I took photographs of the water jugs in the vehicle, got the boys to remove them, took the key, dashed the watchman two cedis, telling him I would break his legs if I came back and the Defender was not there, and went home.
I went by this morning (Wednesday) at 08:00, with Francis (see separate Post on Underbody). I had decided at 6 AM to phone Francis to see if he could come out with me and luckily he was at the CHC, two blocks from my home, when I called at 7:00. I wanted to have someone I could trust that spoke Twi, so any discussion that might take place between Bernard and his staff was open to me. I also thought having a Ghanaian auto maintenance shop owner present might impress upon Bernard that it was not just some random obruni (white man) he was dealing with, that his reputation within the Ghanaian automotive network was also in play.
Francis was absolutely apoplectic that a shop could be so loose with customer’s cars, and the thirty years seniority he has on Bernard, together with his knowledge of shop management served to complement my role as perturbed customer very well. He lectured Bernard, in English and Twi, on customer trust, on insurance risk, and on how to ensure keys were collected and locked at the of the day. By the end he was taking Bernard around the Defender showing him the parts where they still had to do some work, and how the interior had to be repainted because the water jugs had left marks. The best part, it turns out Francis is on a first-name basis with the owner of the Sikkens franchise that Bernard manages. In a touch of histrionics he also told Bernard that his “brother “is a senior official in the Ghana Police Service, which may or may not be true, but it was cute to hear him keep asking Bernard “Do you think I should call my brother?”
By the time we left Bernard promised to repaint the interior floor that had been damaged by the water delivery crew and do more touch-up on the chassis where Francis had noticed short-cuts I had not. I gave him back the key and I went to work. It took them two more days to finish the touch up and electrical, but I was not comfortable leaving it there overnight, Laura and I went by and picked it up Wednesday night and dropped it off again on Thursday. When we picked it up Thursday night the electrical had been finished, all the new lights I brought in from Famous Four months ago have now been installed. Opere was right, the old lights would not have worked with a new paint job, I have a bag of old chipped, broken and discoloured lenses that looked just awful. The electrician even got the brake lights to work, which Eric the electrician that Opere uses had said I would need a new part for, but was not specific about exactly what. The chassis touch-up is also done, and the floor is repainted The latter almost seems superfluous, yes it is scratched but it is l going to be covered by sound proofing and floor covering. I wanted to paint the interior in order to freshen it up and make it clean, but it is all going to get covered so a few scratches on the interior floor really do not matter. However it is all part of Bernard’s pentience for his negligence and I do not want to deny him that
The whole experience may not have been pleasant, but it was memorable. Two Ghanaian colleagues I recounted this story to said it was clearly the hand of God that took me by the shop at the very moment the borrowers were driving by, that God had wanted them to be caught for their wrongdoing. Ghanaians are very religious, and the circumstances certainly support that interpretation. I myself am feeling a combination of satisfaction from having caught them so red-handed, and regret at having had to give Bernard such a hard time. He is likely in a a difficult situation with his management. In the end, no one lost their job as a result. When I dropped the car off Thursday it was the same painter that had “stolen” the vehicle the day before that took it away to the paint bay. When I asked Bernard he simply said what the painter had said, that the individuals needed water at their house. I am not so sure it was quite that simple, there was a lot of water in the cargo bay, and a lot of people, but who knows.
I also learned an important lesson not to hold my trust in check when giving up a vehicle, any vehicle, for work here. Of course I could have monitored the odometer, but I knew the paint shop was shuttling it back and forthlet tetween the main paint bay and the “seaside” puttying and sanding place” But I also now wonder how many kilometres people at Opere’s might have put on it or more seriously, how many risks they ran, during the weeks it was in their possession. Oh well, I will just be more careful from now on.
Now that it is painted I have to start the process of putting it back together. Seats and seat belts, exterior air vent covers and wheel well arches. The next big project is the interior finish, including soundproofing, interior door panels and roof liner, carpet, etc. etc.