Muda Mrefu

The fundi and the gari.

First off, let me introduce some vocabulary. Since there were no cars in Tanzania before the white man arrived (or anywhere else in the world at that time, for that matter), the car related vocabulary that developed in Kiswahili is all taken from English.


Gari – Car
Mota – Motor
Pancha – (you can start to fill these in yourself)
Egzosti –
Betri –
Gia –
and on and on, finally arriving at the very best of them all,

Fanbelti –

Coming to Arusha meant investing quite a lot in a car. Many of the roads are simply dirt trails that have been expanded by cars travelling them. People who trade or live along these roads make their own speed-bumps (that I am thankful for) by piling huge mounds of dirt in the middle of the road overnight. Effective, although at times surprising. A dirt speed-bump on a dirt road is sometimes hard to spot at 6:50 in the morning whilst swerving to avoid a somnambulant stray dog. Then there are the roads as John Loudon McAdam might have imagined them, a smooth tarmac surface that is a pleasure to drive on. These range from superb (the highway that leads to the gates of Ngorongoro Crater) to appalling (most of the sidestreets of Arusha). The latter are jarring to drive on, as they are a patchwork of dirt, potholes, and random patches of old tarmac that appear out of the dust (or mud) and cause your car to pitch and shudder, all at 4 miles an hour. Taking all of the conditions of Arusha’s roads into account, as well as my own dreams of driving around Africa in a Land Rover and my wife’s desire to be in the biggest, safest car we could afford, we decided to buy a used Land Rover. The second reason carried far more weight than the other two reasons, this much I have to admit. We bought the Land Rover from a safari company that was changing to Toyota Land Cruisers. I think that there must be entire websites dedicated to the Land Cruiser/Land Rover discussion, so I won’t touch it…for now. In one swell $7000 USD swoop, my testosterone driven dreams were realised. I can picture myself at a cocktail party in twenty years, boring someone to tears with my story of living in Africa, pulling a creased photograph of the Land Rover out of my wallet and leaning towards my tormented guest and whispering, “They don’t make these any more, you know…”

Land Rover

That is where this story really begins. Having a car means having a fundi. In East Africa a fundi is any kind of craftsman, expert, worker, jack of all trades. Here fundis can repair anything, literally anything. Car mechanics tend to be the upper echelon of fundis. We were lucky to have Exaud recommended to us. He is the Land Rover fundi par excellence of Arusha, and is reliable and honest. These are both qualities seldom associated with mechanics in any part of the world. One day, after we had handed over our monthly quota to Exaud after he had finished working on the car, he broke the news to us. “Your Land Rover needs a …” I can’t remember the term that Exaud used, but essentially he meant that the whole engine needed to be rebuilt. I resisted as long as I could, belching clouds of white smoke all the way to school and back every day. Then a sequence of events sparked me into having a frank conversation with my wife. Firstly, we watched An Inconvenient Truth, and all through the film the image of cyclists and pedestrians disappearing into our apocalyptic cloud of exhaust haunted my conscience. Soon after that, one morning we were late for school and noticed that kids we taught were appearing from our trail of exhaust, and shaking their fists at us as the spluttered past us. So we got on-line and checked our bank balance, and after some simple calculations we called Exaud and gave him the go-ahead to do what he had to do.

lifting the engine block

And he did. Three days later Exaud and some of his friends were hoisting a completely rebuilt engine (all new except for the engine block and the cylinder head) back into the safety of the Land Rover’s chassis. I am about to take it out for a drive, so when I get back perhaps I will add a couple lines about the experience. Samantha and I are many, many Tanzanian shillings poorer, but Arusha’s air quality and our consciences are unfathomably richer.


April 1, 2007 - Posted by | Arusha


  1. Marcello! From what I can see in the photo, I think your problem with the engine is that big branch. You might want to remove that pronto.

    Comment by Matt | April 1, 2007 | Reply

  2. Believe me,auto mechanics haven’t changed much in the last 30 years in Tanzania.
    Matt, the branch is absolutely necessary. Who knows when it might be needed again?

    Comment by Mama | April 2, 2007 | Reply

  3. You are right, Kay. A broken axle and that branch will surely come in handy once again!

    Comment by Matt | April 2, 2007 | Reply

  4. You guys are so confused! That photo shows the old, “dead” engine tied to a branch (like any other dead item) about to be taken to the roasting pit. Obviously, Marcello didn’t post a photo of the shiny, new engine for fear someone might “poach” it.

    Comment by Rachel | April 10, 2007 | Reply

  5. Both unrelated and directly relevant, all two hours and eighteen minutes of a 1966 Italian documentary on the ‘decolonization’ of Africa —

    Comment by noodnik | April 16, 2007 | Reply

  6. Caro Marcello,

    I am happy Al Gore’s inconveniently untruthful documentary has had at least one positive result! The moral of the story is anyway that whether you are in Africa or Montefabbri without a fundi you do not go very far. You were I would assume the niapara in during the refurbishment!

    Ciao Giorgio

    Comment by Giorgio | April 20, 2007 | Reply

  7. I didn’t get far reading this post because I got stuck on the word “Gari”. While I’m not sure of the context of the word where you are, I know in Farsi, Gari means a large wagon drawn by horse/mule/donkey.

    I will get back to reading the rest of your post now.

    Comment by PGS | April 30, 2007 | Reply

  8. […] (photo credit: Muda Mrefu) […]

    Pingback by The Razor » Blog Archive » How a 2006 Nissan Xterra Became a Lawn Ornament | August 9, 2014 | Reply

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