The "Working in Ghana" Project

Apprentice Automobile Mechanic

[Mohammed is nearly twenty years old. He has been attached to a master auto mechanic as an apprentice for the past two and a half years. Although he grew up in the suburb of Accra where he is doing his apprenticeship, he regards his father's home village in the neighboring country of Togo as his home town. He hopes to return there in late adulthood to establish an auto repair workshop. He has completed middle school. Mohammed spoke with Philip Awekeya in English and in Hausa; they conversed at the workshop.]

Being an apprentice auto mechanic, I have a lot of duties. Many of them are odd jobs which are generally uninteresting to most young men of today.

I start each day at 5:30 a.m. by joining four of my fellow apprentices in sweeping the workshop where we repair the vehicles. After cleaning the workshop and taking my bath I wait for "chop money" (money for food) from my master. When he finishes bathing at about 7:30 a.m. he sends me or one of my fellow apprentices to buy food for his breakfast. When he sends us to buy food for him, he gives us two hundred cedis (then about forty cents) each for our meals for the rest of the day. We are expected to earn money for supper through our personal effort--such as carrying out minor repairs on vehicles and taking the meager fees for our pockets.

After breakfast, I may at times be assigned to change the rings or bearings of a vehicle or adjust the alignment and suspension of some cars or help the most senior apprentices carry out major engine work such as changing brake bands, master cylinders as well as bleeding brake fluid and replacing it. As we get busy performing the assignments on the vehicles our master, who is soft spoken, comes along to supervise our work. He simply observes silently whatever tasks we are performing. Where necessary, he instructs us what to do.

Even though I am still learning I feel proud of my work. I am convinced that there is money in the job if you finish the course and own a workshop, hence control the income that flows in daily. Besides, you also get satisfaction from young men and boys learning under you and calling you not by your own name but by the title "master" which adds pride to your ego.

I enjoy working on engines and learning how the various parts of a car engine work to make it move. On the other hand, I do not like having to wash and iron not only my master's clothing but that of my senior apprentices. At times I feel too weak to wash my senior apprentices' clothes, but I dare not complain because I am supposed to be an obedient servant. If I show signs of disrespect by complaining I may be reported to my master and would likely be blamed for insubordination.

My work place is fairly pleasant. The workshop is quite large and can take up to ten vehicles. Unlike some workshops where there is no proper accommodation for the apprentices, and they resort to sleeping in vehicles, here we have a large wooden structure that serves as a sleeping hall. None of us therefore sleep in a car at night.

Apart from the workshop being large and convenient, it also has most of the basic tools we need. For instance, there are various types of spanners (wrenches) for loosening and tightening car bolts. My colleagues and I face a number of risks while we are at work each day. For instance, the workshop could catch fire at any time because most of the cars burn petrol and the least spark can cause a fire to break out. We also frequently sustain injuries from either the slip of a hammer or chisel when we have to chisel out part of a car engine to fit in some spare parts.

I interact daily with my master who is the general supervisor of the workshop. Luckily I get on well with him. He likes the way I comport myself by being submissive and hard working. As for my fellow apprentices, we like each other as though we were all from the same town, which is not the case. I even happen to be a Togolese while one of us is from northern Ghana and two are from towns in the coastal area. We even eat together from one bowl if the meal happens to be fufu (a dough-like staple eaten with bare hands) brought in our master. Apart from sharing food together we also crack and share jokes at work or whenever we are free and relaxing.

Even though I am still far from finishing, I foresee bright chances ahead of me. When I finally qualify--in about two more years--I will begin working as a self-employed auto-mechanic in my home town in rural Togo. There I will earn a handsome regular income because most vehicle owners in Togo prefer taking their cars to auto mechanics trained in Ghana. If I should stay here in Ghana I shall readily come by money because by the end of the practical training I shall be very efficient, and able to compete with older mechanics for jobs in the private sector. It is for the simple reason of gaining ground in the private sector that I pay rapt attention to my master and senior apprentices any time they instruct me on how to carry out a specific function on any part of a vehicle engine.

Presently, I am still learning the trade, so I don't belong to any workers' organization. I do not receive pay. I do not see the need to attend auto mechanics' meetings even as an observer because I have not finished the course that qualifies me as a full-fledged auto mechanic. Though there is an active auto-mechanic branch union here in town, it is my master who attends its monthly meetings. He scarcely discusses the union issues with us boys (apprentices). I do not know the aims and objectives of the auto mechanics union. I only trust that it is there to protect the interests of its members, or respectable people like my master would not attend its monthly meetings.

My parents are happy with what I am doing because I do not bother them for money for my simple needs. At times I come by money from my workshop when I fit a spare part in someone's car or when someone dashes the apprentices some money. From time to time my master gives us pocket money of about two thousand cedis (then about four dollars) each to enable us to buy simple second hand clothing. Thus, the fact that I do not disturb my parents for money added to the fact that I stand a chance of giving them financial support in a few years' time leads them to like me and wish me well in what I am doing under the supervision of my master.

As far as the community is concerned, I am loved by most of them, especially those that own and operate cars. Many of them call me to their homes to do minor repair work instead of bringing their vehicles to the workshop where they might be charged a high fee. I feel happy with the way most community members accord me respect. Their warm attitude towards me makes me feel important and leads me to take my practical training seriously so as to carve a very good future for myself in adult life.