A Miracle: Dead Oil and Fante Kenkey

Sat, 26 Apr 2008 Source: Bannerman, Nii Lantey Okunka

I was conducting some business along the Accra/Nsawam road when I a couple of inquisitive kids warned me about the gracefully slow and ominously deflating front tires on my Honda Civic. Respectfully, I thanked them immensely and promised myself to get it fixed at the nearest “vulcanizer” (Tire Fix) stop. Thankfully, I made it to the nearest one. It was on the right hand side of the road when entering the village of Pokuasi on your way back to Accra. I cannot give you the numerical address because there is none. I hope this helps you to appreciate our never ending call to have all properties addressed appropriately. But as sure as daylight, the tire repair shop in there.

I pulled over into the wayside tire repair shop and asked the gentlemen if he could help with my tire situation. He confidently said yes! Well, that brought a smile to my sullen face. He asked for my car jack. I gladly unhinged by boot and showed him where it was. Within minutes, my tire was unhinged from the car. As they always do, some not so clean water was poured around the contact circle between the rim and rubber tire in an effort to finger the leak. The tire in question was the tubeless kind. Like magic, gentle air bubbles started dispensing gracefully from a particular point on the tire. The leak was between rim and rubber contact. Ok, I sighed, we know the problem! How do we fix it? The young man deflated my tire completely and proceeded to crudely disengage the rim from the tire. Next, he whipped out a longitudinally half sliced gallon, partially filled with what I can definitely and confidently pronounce to be dead oil. For those of you will don’t know, dead oil is used engine oil. It is often emptied from the engine of a vehicle before that engine is serviced with fresh oil.

The oil was pitch black and I didn’t think it had any use at all. Oh no! Not in creative Ghana! The man, with his callused bare hands, generously applied the oil around the rim of the rubber tire. Then the real surprise occurred! The tire expert whipped out a piece of Fante Kenkey, still ensconced or shelled in its dark over boiled banana leaves. Surprised by the turn of events, I watched intently. He tore part of the soft kenkey and started mashing it at the tips of his rugged fingers into a smooth paste. I yelled and said this, “you are not going to fix my tire with that Fante Kenkey, are you?” Without saying a word, the gentlemen told me by his look thus, “you damn right I am going to fix your tire with this Fante Kenkey”. “And you better shut up and witness the feat!” I said to myself, this must be a bad joke on steroids. Remember when as kids, we used to joshed that one could use Nyamoransa Fante Kenkey to mend tires? Well, I don’t know and doubt very much if this was Nyamoransa Fante Kenkey but it sure was used in mending my tire. And this unfolded in living color right before my tiring and curious eyes. Within minutes, the smooth Fante Kenkey paste was generously applied to the edge of my rim. The same was applied to the perimeter of the circular hole in my tire. This is the same place the dead oil was applied. Lastly, the rim was forced into the tire and it was time to see if this gimmick, at least from my point of view, worked.

The no nonsense tire expert boldly walked toward the tree that provided shade for his operation. Attached to the tree was a square wooden board made out of plywood. Hanging precariously on this board were two disengaged bare electrical wires. If there was ever an environment where death is dangerously alive but barely noticed, this was it. Anyone the height of that board could easily be electrocuted if he or she should brush his or her busy body against this careless and rather precarious contraption. But this is Ghana and such was treated like child’s play. Indeed, one barely even notices the contraption. The tire expert, like Houdini, pulled the wires separately and joined them effortlessly. I could see sparks flying as a result of the electric current emanating from the wires but that did not unnerve this dare devil one bit.

In a huff, the air pressure machine was bleating its guts out. As the staccato smoothed out to an unvarying shrill noise, the belly of my tire was filled with perhaps the hottest air possible. Soon after, the rather effective low tech water test was applied again and I am telling you this, not a whisper of air dare escape from that mischievous tire. Tamed, firm and secure, my tire was slapped back on the car without funfair and with the venom of a well tailored slapped meant for some truant. An indefinite curfew has been place on the priceless air compressed into the belly of the tire. The marriage between the rubber tire and iron rim was as tight as bone to flesh in the human body. Now, here I was, still stirring in wonderment. Do I leave with this kenkey and dead oil patch or seek reassurances? Errm, Errm, where did you learn this pal? The man replied confidently, “ from my master” and it works like magic. Still not sure if I wanted to take this risk, I asked again if it was safe? He said hell yeah! Hell yeah? Well, fine by me! Ok, I opened my snake skin wallet and paid the tire expert what I consider nothing. Approximately two bucks! I mean with a little tip to boot. That tire is still good as new as we speak! It works perhaps better than any of the imported tire patches! Do you still doubt the ability and potential of the Ghanaian? Don’t you dare! Not me!

Why did I tell you this story? Well, my goal is to tell you never to give up on your fellow Ghanaians. My friend, some of our folks are dirt poor and continue to suffer. The situation is terrible for a large number of our folks as the scant minority enjoy the best that we have to offer. Yet out of necessity, our people continue to find brilliant and creative ways to survive. Our folks, some of them classroom illiterates, are taking creative chances that PhDs and Masters Graduates dare not take. And while I don’t intend to discount education, I think knowledge not applied is absolutely useless. And if our educated folks cannot apply their knowledge, why are they not helping to shore up what the not so educated folks are trying to do to help the economy? For some reason, we can’t seem to see these miracles unfolding in front of us so as to build upon them as a way of locally building capacity to solve local problems. It is people like this tire expert who must inspire all of us to not give up. Our people will perform, if given the right context. They are ready for leaders at all levels who will create the right environment for them to come through. In Ghana, you will not hear such heroes being interviewed on TV or even referred to. They are seen as scum whilst the elite and royals plunder the country dry. The people that really work hard to make Ghana tick have been ignored at the expense of the clowns we have parading as leaders. Why can’t we celebrate such successes and build on them?

My friends, we have a culture that is stubborn to change and has taught our people to respect authority and look up to the higher ups. The question is this, what are those in authority doing to earn the respect of our people? Can anyone tell us? It does not matter where you are in Ghana, the teaching is the same. Those in authority worry about nothing besides their own pockets. The seek luxury while the majority of the people kiss misery. Ghana continue to be a cesspool of corruption and a haven of incompetence. Even the angels have converted to the religion of corruption. You will too if you live there! It is sad but true. So, while our people wait and trust with the hope that the elite will deliver, the situation degenerates.

Ghana is in need of creative and forward looking leadership at all levels. We need leaders that can dig the gem that lie right in front of us and polish them. We need leaders who can invest in our people and confidently trust that within a short turn around, our people will deliver massively. We cannot continue to invest in other economies while we burn the creativity of our people. Who has the responsibility of harnessing all this creativity into something much bigger? There are small miracles happening right in front of us if we care to look casually. Where is the selfless leadership going to come from? Where is the focused and prioritized leadership going to come from? Trust me, this is not a partisan issue! This is a Ghanaian issue that needs attention at all levels of society. The next time you are in Ghana, look for one of these little miracles and highlight it. Before long, we could end up opening the eyes of our folks to the wonderful things that they do and the need to multiply such. Our salvation lies at home! Not Europe, China or America! Viva Ghana!

Nii Lantey Okunka Bannerman (Also known as the double edge sword)

Email: AKYERE@aol.com

“I don’t give them hell, I just tell the truth and they think it is hell.” Harry Truman.

Columnist: Bannerman, Nii Lantey Okunka