Friday, March 8, 2013


I don't particularly enjoy driving and I really don't like owning a car - the cost, the effort of maintenance - but here in Conakry I can't get along without Stanley*, my trusty Toyota 4Runner. However, I have not treated Stanley with the love and respect he deserves.

Poor Stanley hasn't had an oil change since I bought him when I arrived - I've just never gotten around to it. I never wash him, which is scandalous in Conakry. Car ownership here is a major status symbol and source of pride, so even the most banged-up 30-year-old Renault is always spotless. Stanley's A/C went out like a year ago, and I still haven't gotten it fixed. It's a self-perpetuating cycle at this point: I haven't fixed the A/C because I don't drive much, but I don't drive much because I haven't fixed the A/C. Cuts down on gas expenditures. The seals on the driver's door and the sunroof leak a little, which is annoying in the rainy season, but still not quite annoying enough to make me do anything about it. Especially since it stopped raining. A few months ago the windshield wipers stopped working except on the highest setting, but like I said, it's not raining. And there's a plastic piece from one of the wheel wells that got knocked off and has been rolling around on my floor for ages. And then there was the rat incident. In short, Stanley has seen better days.

But then I started feeling this menacing shake while driving, and I started to think that maybe this time I should really get my car checked out. But things kept coming up at work, and I kept forgetting about it, and the shake slowly got less menacing and nothing happened, until last Friday when the seams on one of my tires burst and the treads split off the rest of the tire like a peel off a banana. THEN I got my car fixed. Fortunately I was in the embassy parking lot when my tire went kablooie, so it all got taken care of with a minimum of fuss. A week later the wipers work, the leak is fixed, my tire is changed, I have new brake pads, the plastic piece is reinstalled, and Stanley is as sparkling clean as I've ever seen him. I was actually a little disoriented driving him home without the usual layers of grime. The A/C will be fixed as soon as we find a filter, and then he'll get an oil change and two new tires and be the best Stanley he can be.

It wasn't actually much of a hassle to deal with and didn't cost much (except probably the tires, those might be a bit steep). Car maintenance is just one more thing to think about, and clearly I have enough of those already. Some people can't keep up with the responsibility of pets - I can't handle car ownership. But I'm only here a few more months. Then I can find a nice new family for Stanley, and once I move to Dublin with any luck I can revert to the footloose responsibility-free world of public transportation. That'll give me two more years to develop the necessary maturity to successfully feed and care for a motor vehicle. I hope that's enough time.

*Stanley is named after Henry Morton Stanley, journalist, adventurer, and architect of colonialism in the Congo. He's the guy who said "Dr. Livingstone, I presume?" upon finally finding the famous explorer after an extended search. I briefly considered naming my car Livingstone but figured that honor should go to the man who got out of Africa alive, even if he was kind of a horrible human being. It's a fascinating story though, and I highly recommend reading Into Africa by Martin Dugard and King Leopold's Ghost by Adam Hochschild for more info, if you're interested.

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