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Thursday, October 2, 2014

Sahara Engineering

A few years back I drove across north Africa with some friends in a pair of old Land Rovers. Along the way I developed the concept of Sahara Engineering. It goes like this ...


We were crossing the desert east of Timbuktu when the radiator in one of the Rovers developed a leak. A couple of the core tubes had split and were leaking. Continuing to drive would only damage the engine. 

We hooked a line to the other Rover which towed it to a nearby village. No electricity, no running water, little but concrete government houses and a well. Since Land Rovers are ubiquitous throughout Africa there was always a chance there might be an old one to donate a radiator. But not this time.

We were pointed to a man who, we were told, could fix our vehicle. We went over to see him and were confronted with a great pile of automotive odds and ends. A junk yard of broken and discarded parts.

We explained the problem to him and he responded, "I can fix." 

When he started assembling a pile of old car batteries I thought he had misunderstood us and I tried explaining that it was the radiator, not an electrical problem.

He just replied, "I will fix" and turned away.

So we pulled the ailing radiator out and brought it over to him. By this time he had assembled a propane burner and an old pot on top of it. With a hatchet he was dismembering the batteries and throwing pieces of each into the pot. Hmmmm

With the radiator laid out on the sand he walked over with his pot and poured a stream of molten lead over the damaged tubes. It formed a giant scab over the open splits and sealed them from further leaks. The lead was the plates from the old batteries he had hacked apart. Ahhhhh

That is Sahara Engineering, making things work when you don't have the tools or resources to do it the normal way. It's the path you find when it's a matter of survive or die.

We replaced the repaired radiator and made it on to Bamako, a thousand kilometers across Mali. I was humbled by what I had learned from this man. I regretted that I had doubted him. I wish I knew his name so I could honor him every time I tell this story.

Replacing the missing connector with shrink wrap and tape
My little fix for the missing plug so that I can continue my trip is a testament to what I learned that day.


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