The "Working in Ghana" Project

Automobile Mechanic

[Mr. Bonsu-Arthur is an unmarried man in his late twenties with a middle-school education. He lives in one of the workshop sheds at his auto repair business, which is located in a suburb of Accra. His eight apprentices also sleep there. Philip Awekeya interviewed Mr. Bonsu-Arthur at the business location.]

I usually wake up about six o'clock and at exactly seven-thirty I am ready for work in my working attire. The first thing I do is to inspect the workshop yard to ensure that the boys (apprentices) have swept the place and gotten things in order for work to start. After inspecting the yard, I give the boys "chop" (food) money so they can go to the lorry station for breakfast.

As soon as the boys return, I put them in work groups of two, usually with a junior boy attached to a senior one. They work on the vehicles in the shop, which are mostly petrol engine cars--Peugeot, Datsun, Mazda, Mercedes Benz and Renault.

Normally the work assigned to each group varies. It may be to repair a car's suspension, adjust an engine, or replace shock absorbers. I also supervise the senior boys' work on overhauling engines that use too much oil. I assist the apprentices in changing brake bands and master cylinders. Whenever major work is done on any of the cars, I personally test it to be sure the problem has been satisfactorily corrected. If it was a small engine problem, I have one of the senior apprentices do the testing.

To ensure that my customers' cars leave the workshop in good working condition I sometimes go to Kaneshie or Achimota to buy original replacement parts such as brake linings, bearings, cylinders and gaskets.

It gives me joy when I reflect on my work because I feel secure in it. I never fear being fired by anybody. I only pray for good health; with that I will be okay. There is always plenty of work for me to do. At one moment I am supervising the boys in overhauling a car engine, replacing rings, and at another I am supervising them to change brake bands or shock absorbers. All these activities make me happy, especially when my customers return and testify that the repairs were satisfactory.

There are some dangers in the work. I am liable to sustain finger cuts from car fan blades. I could get injured from the slip of a chisel or hammer. However, I see such isolated physical hazards as a normal part of the job.

I am equally pleased with my output because I have most of the necessary tools and equipment to facilitate my operations. I took over the workshop from my master (boss) who died about a year ago. It is among the best six car workshops in town. Many car owners like my work, as one can see from the fleet of cars brought here daily for service.

Being master of this shop, I do not have a supervisor. I supervise the boys to ensure that they follow my instructions. My relationship with them is cordial. At times I do shout at any of them who fails go by my instructions. But that does not mean that I hate them. That is the nature of the job. Sometimes you are bound to shout at these boys, otherwise they will produce shoddy work, which will take my customers away and thus affect my income.

All auto mechanics are supposed to belong to the auto mechanics union which is a subsidiary of the Ghana National Association of Garages. I belong to the local union. It brings us together and by that we get to know one another. Members also contribute to a common fund from which an individual can take a "soft" (small, low interest) loan when he is saddled with hospital bills or funeral expenses. Also, if any member of the union has a case at the police station or in the court, the local union executive will step in to assist the member in paying the fine. I do not regret being a member of this union, because no man knows tomorrow. Although it has so far not come to my aid, I believe that it can be of help to me some day.

My parents were not happy when I decided to learn auto mechanics. They wanted me to attend secondary school and then take a white collar job. Now they are beginning to change their minds. I am sure that deep within their hearts they are confessing that I made a very good decision, because only two of my primary and middle school classmates who proceeded to secondary school got jobs in offices. The rest are roaming Accra, Tema and Kumasi selling dog chains, which can not provide them a decent day's meal.

As you can see, I take care of these eight boys here in this shop, and at the same time I remit to my daddy and mum sufficient money to meet their basic needs.

Occasionally, especially during Christmas and Easter I buy clothing for my parents and two junior brothers who are currently attending secondary school. All these commitments that I am able to fulfill make me happy. I have proved to my parents that success in life does not necessarily depend on secondary school education, but on the proper use of one's talents coupled with the determination to succeed in one's chosen profession.

People in the community see me as one of the money people (a rich person) because they assume that I get lots of money from the many cars that are brought in daily for service. I am respected because money commands respect and honor in most Ghanaian societies, and my community is no exception. Occasionally, individuals from the neighborhood and even some from my hometown come to me to borrow money. Whenever I can afford it, I meet their request. Otherwise I explain why I cannot assist them instantly. Members of my community invite me regularly to child-naming ceremonies, birthday parties and funeral celebrations. All of these invitations point to the fact that I am liked by members of this community. When I reflect on the way people receive me in gatherings, I feel happy with my job because it has earned me money and fame.

My simple word of advice to all parents and guardians is that they should not force their children against their will into institutions or jobs. They should rather be flexible so that each child can take a job or vocation which he or she has aptitude for and interest in. Parents should bear in mind that people succeed in areas they have flair for. Any attempt to force children to do what interests the parents will only breed rampant failure and frustrate the youth.