African Engineers: A New Guy Arrives At Suame Magazine, Kumasi, Ghana

Website design By BotEap.comMany young people come from the villages of rural Ghana with the intention of making their fortune in the big cities of Accra and Kumasi. For many, their first goal is to become an apprentice to a master craftsman and their first point of contact is Suame Magazine in Kumasi, Ghana’s largest informal industrial zone and home to thousands of motor mechanics and motor vehicle bodybuilders. First impressions are lasting impressions and the following is an account of a young man’s first encounter with Suame magazine.

Website design By BotEap.comKwame discovered that there were no paved roads leading into the magazine. The only access was via deeply rutted dirt roads that squeezed between the workshops, often not wide enough for two vehicles to pass. Not only the workshops bordered these roads. Abandoned vehicles, machinery and scrap materials were scattered everywhere, some in heaps overhanging the road and others lying on the road where they had been run over by a thousand vehicles and embedded as a permanent feature.

Website design By BotEap.comKwame soon realized that unlike in the village, where most of the houses were built to the same basic pattern, in the magazine all the workshops were different. Most of the larger workshops were built with cinder block walls and corrugated metal roofs and some of the smaller workshops were built in a similar fashion. Many more of the smaller workshops were built with clapboard walls, but corrugated metal roofs were standard. Many workshops were open-sided, and others were little more than a wooden workbench. Some artisans sat on the ground in the shade of a mango or neem tree with only a small toolbox next to them.

Website design By BotEap.comThe level of activity impressed Kwame. He had never seen so many people, mostly men, busy at work or moving with obvious purpose. Everywhere was the sound of hammering, the flash and crackle of electric welders, and the hum of drilling and grinding machines mingling with the constant roar and hum of vehicle engines. Kwame also noticed that there were people who seemed to have nothing to do. Some were looking at the work of others and others were sitting outside their workshops, apparently waiting for work to arrive.

Website design By BotEap.comKwame was fascinated by what he saw as he delved deeper into the Magazine. Most of the shops seemed to be involved in vehicle repair. Some claimed to be experts in repairing certain makes of vehicles: Benz, Land Rover, Toyota or Bedford. Some specialized in the repair of certain vehicle components: batteries, brakes and clutches, bodywork or diesel engines. A few had special machines to carry out precision work, such as grinding crankshafts or cylinder grinding. Each shop had a name sign proudly proclaiming the services it offered. Many of these were brightly painted and some listed services in great detail. The neatness of these signs contrasted with the chaos that surrounded the workshops and, in many cases, penetrated to the interior. Everywhere, machine parts, materials, and tools lay in apparent neglect.

Website design By BotEap.comA young man about Kwame’s age was sitting on the ground next to a bench cleaning a piece of machinery. Kwame asked him what he was doing. They told him the part was a fuel pump and the job was to give it a deep clean. For this they had given the young man some gasoline in a can and an old rag. He told Kwame that he was an apprentice to the master owner of the workshop. Being in his first year, his work was limited to cleaning. This gave him the opportunity to get acquainted with the parts in preparation to learn how to repair them in the following years. Kwame asked how long the apprenticeship would last and was surprised when he was told five years. He felt that he would not want to wait so long to become a teacher.

Website design By BotEap.comAfter wandering around the shops for a while, Kwame discovered that in addition to offering repair services, some shops made a product to sell. He saw larger workshops building the wooden bodies of trotros and cocoa trucks. Alongside these larger businesses were blacksmith shops that supplied steel bolts and nuts, hinges, and brackets to coachbuilders. Some smaller workshops were producing coal pots: coal stoves like the ones he used to cook at home. Piles of these charcoal pots waited for the market traders to collect them.

Website design By BotEap.comThere was so much going on in the Magazine that Kwame couldn’t take it all in. There were some activities that he could not understand because he lacked the necessary technical knowledge. He was so fascinated by everything he saw that he lost consciousness of the hour. To his surprise, the sun was setting and his thoughts turned to dinner and sleep. Where was he going to spend the night? He decided to return to ask for the help of the apprentice he had met. He had some difficulty finding his way, there were no signs in the Magazine, and when he arrived, the workers were going home. However, his new friend was still there.

Website design By BotEap.comKwame discovered that the apprentice came from a village far away from Kumasi. He had nowhere to stay, but his teacher allowed him to sleep in the workshop. He invited Kwame to join him. Part of the apprentice’s role was to provide security at night, and for that two men were better than one. In exchange for this kindness, Kwame financed his dinner: fufu and peanut soup purchased from one of the many food vendors who went out of business at the Magazine. Kwame’s father had often warned him about the dangers of buying street food, but this time he had no choice. The soup was very spicy with pepper, perhaps to make up for the lack of any other flavor, but Kwame liked his soup that way. He slept soundly on his first night at Suame Magazine.

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