I am sure, dear reader that if you live in Africa the fundi is an integral part of your daily existence. For you who is a non-Swahili speaker, a fundi is anybody who does repair works and includes a mechanic, tailor, bicycle repair man, electrician, carpenter, plumber, you name it. If he can repair, he is a fundi. Fundis are always freelance (a mechanic employed by Toyota Kenya is NOT a fundi). In fact, they are so adaptable that they can set up shop at any road reserve, open field, shop veranda and places of a similar nature in the time it takes you to lift an eyebrow.
Many Kenyans are currently in love-hate relationships with their fundis for they believe that they are undercover conmen. However, despite all their faults, we cannot wish them away and their existence is intricately woven into the fabric our daily lives.
And so it is with great humility that I take pen to paper with the singular motive of enlightening you about the fundi. I am no expert and have not carried out any research on what makes fundis tick. However, through close observation, frequent interaction and keen studying of these individuals, I feel competent enough to authoritatively give advice that will help you reduce your stress levels when interacting with them. The key, dear reader, is to understand their peculiarities.
The first and most important peculiarity you must understand is that for any fundi, that one repair can quickly spiral into ten repairs. And so I kept my cool (something for which I must be greatly congratulated) when last month one of my dining chairs broke. The right hind leg just snapped off. And, yes dear reader, this happened while I was sitting on it. I should admit that in the recent past my backside has expanded considerably. So in summary, all I can say is that I landed on the floor, feet up in the air and skirt over my face.
I took the offending chair to the fundi wa mbao or “Repairer of Wooden Items – Even Jesus was a Carpenter” as the sign in front of his shack pronounced. I showed the chair to him, right hind leg completely severed and he wasted no time in displaying this first peculiarity.
“Well madam,” he said. “Repairing the chair is very possible but you see the problem is with the joints. Can you see all these joints?”
I nodded, confirming that I saw the joints.
“These are mortise and tenon joints,” he declared. “Very weak joints. Such joints were brought to Africa by the European because he wanted to embarrass African women. You know when an African woman eats anything, anything, I tell you, even cabbage; it goes straight to her backside.”
He looked at me meaningfully.
“But when a European woman eats,” he continued. “The food disappears. It does not go anywhere. It is like eating air. Their bodies are not effective at food storage. That is why they invented fridges and mortise and tenon joints!”
“What is the relationship between that and my chair?” I asked eager to end the conversation.
“I am enlightening you on why your chair broke,” he said looking hurt. “The weakness is in the joints. I will have to take apart all the legs and put dovetail joints. This is an original African joint invented by a great African carpenter in Kingston to cater for his wife. She was the size of a Roto Tank, you know, the water storage tank. Anyway, his invention spread throughout Africa like wildfire and I personally went across the border to Kingston to learn it. I am an expert in the dovetail joint and I even recommend it for the making of beds. You know when you have an African wife, you need a strong bed. Hahahaha.”
“I just want you to repair the broken leg,” I insisted ignoring his distorted geography.
“That will not solve any problem,” he said. “I can’t do half a job, you see. In fact you should bring all your dining chairs here so that I can change the joints. Imagine if your mother-in-law sits on one and the leg snaps off. What embarrassment! Instant divorce! Mortise and tenon joints are not for Africa. What kind of joints does your bed have?”
Let me leave that there, dear reader, and say that I did not argue any further with the expert. I let him do his job and that was that.
The second peculiarity is that a fundi is full of big talk and false promises. He always has room for one more repair and he can have it done by any deadline you give him. Two weeks ago, I took a sandal to the cobbler. You see dear reader, I am an environmentalist at heart and a firm believer in the principles of repair, reuse and recycle. That is why I have such elaborate relationships with fundis.
The fundi had a pile of shoes in different stages of repair by his stool. He was a nomadic fundi, the kind that migrate from street to street and you risk losing your shoes if you leave them with him overnight. So I went to him with my sandal and requested him to use his skill to make it whole again.
“Ah, that is a very easy job,” he said.
Understand, dear reader, that everything is easy to a fundi; including open heart surgery and rocket science.
“Can I come back to collect it after half an hour?” I asked.
“Sure, sure,” he promised. “Even after fifteen minutes. You found me at a good time with no work at all. Because you are my first customer, I will give you a discount.”
That was not true as I found him hard at work repairing a Safari Boot.
“Why do you have this whole pile of shoes?” I asked curiously. “Are the owners also coming within the half hour?”
“No,” he said. “Don’t let this pile worry you. I put them there so that people can know that I am a fundi. You see I work on the street and have no sign announcing my skill. I have to pay the Council twenty shillings per day if I want to put up a sign. Imagine that! Twenty shillings! That would mean I charge my clients extra. A man like me who always has my client’s interests at heart can never overcharge. This old pile is simply an advertisement. That is how you knew I could repair your sandal, isn’t it?”
The man had answers to defend his position. I decided not to question him further and went on my way only to return three hours later and find my sandal lying unrepaired at the top of the pile. Incensed, I threatened to withdraw my business and suffice it to say that within fifteen minutes and under my strict supervision, my sandal was finally repaired.
The third peculiarity, in-born among all fundis, is the contempt they hold for the manufacturers of the items that are brought to them for repair. They do not care that if such items were never manufactured they would not be in need of repair.
On Saturday morning, I went to the mall to replace my husband’s aging stock of shirts. My husband is a tall lean man and consequently must buy shirts a few sizes larger to compensate for the length of his arms. The obvious result is that the shirt must land at the fundi wa nguo or tailor to take in the sides. My mission after the mall was therefore to go to the fundi wa nguo and have him reduce the sizes of the shirts. He took the shirts and went straight for the labels.
“You see the problem?” he asked.
“Besides the fact that they are too big?” I asked.
“These shirts are made in Shanghai!” he said with glow in his eye. “Only yesterday, I was watching the news and the president of Shanghai was shown speaking. The man was shorter than my son! As short as a Chinese. And do you know what? My son is in class five!”
“Well, are you able to take in the shirts?” I asked bringing him back to the subject at hand and omitting to tell him that Shanghai was in China.
“Yes, yes,” he said. “This is an easy job. But imagine buying a shirt made in Shanghai. The hands of the Shanghai man I saw on television were so short. And he was the president. How do you elect a president with short hands? I would never vote for such a president. I can’t trust a man with short hands. How does he greet ambassadors? He has to walk right up to their faces! Hehehehe! Imagine if you were his wife. How would he hug you? His hands would only go halfway round. Hahahaha!”
I did not get the joke. I simply stared at the man for, dear reader, you cannot defend the manufacturer of the item you want repaired in front of a fundi. He will destroy it before your very eyes just to prove to you that the manufacturer is mediocre.
“I hear that they eat small foods like snails and caterpillars,” he volunteered. “To prevent them from growing tall, you know. That way, they save on fabric for sewing shirts. Imagine that! Next time you should buy shirts made in America. Those people can eat a whole sufuria of food. Have you seen the men there? Tall and muscular. You will be bringing the shirt to me to tuck in the sleeves. The sleeves are made wide to accommodate the muscles. Have you seen Rambo’s arms? Or Commando’s?”
Let me not bore you with all the rumblings of this fundi for I am sure if I brought him a shirt made in the USA he would still have nothing but scorn for the person who made it.
The final peculiarity, dear reader, is that a fundi does not have a price list. He has no standard method of billing his clients. An oil change can cost anywhere from fifty shillings to five thousand shillings depending on the appearance of the client.
Therefore, to play on his psychology, dress shabbily when taking your vehicle to the mechanic. Put on your oldest faded jeans, your torn ill-fitting t-shirt and a pair of bathroom slippers. Do not comb your hair and leave all your accessories at home. No expensive watches or sunglasses for this trip. Leave your I-phone at home and carry a Nokia 3310.
The other day, a strange noise manifested itself in the hub of my right front wheel and I had to make the dreaded visit to the mechanic. He went through all the peculiarities (which I was well prepared for) and on completion of the repair, it was time to talk price.
“How much?” I asked.
“Well, this is an extensive job,” he said. Beware, dear reader, when a fundi begins describing all he has done when it is time for billing. He is about to overcharge.
“What do you mean extensive?” I asked. “I have been here for only thirty minutes. The job did not take long.”
“Extensive does not mean time taken to complete the repairs,” he said. “It means the kind of work I had to do. Working on the wheel hub is very sensitive work. Any mistake on my part and you are a dead person on the highway. If fact, it is good you came directly to me. If you had gone to a quack you might as well have booked a freezer for yourself at City Mortuary.”
“So how much do you charge for sensitive jobs?” I asked.
“These usually cost eight thousand,” he said. “But because you are my client I will give you a discount. I will charge five thousand.”
“Five thousand!” I exclaimed in shock.
“You see a Mazda is a rare vehicle in Kenya,” he explained. “If it were a Toyota, it would have cost two thousand. Toyotas are all over. In fact it is good you don’t drive a Toyota. My client Njoroge had a Toyota Probox. One day he went to town and parked it near another Probox. When he finished his business he entered his car and it is only on arrival at his house, when the watchman refused to open the gate, that he discovered he had taken the wrong Probox. The ignition key of one Probox can start all Proboxes! Your Mazda is unique and the spares are expensive. That is why the cost is so high.”
“Let me call my husband and confirm the cost of such repairs,” I said, whipping out my trusted 3310.
Now, dear lady reader, this is your key to dealing with overpricing by fundis. The four magic words that instantly drive down prices when a lady takes anything for repairs are daddy, brother, husband and boyfriend. The strategy is not to throw them out there too early but use them as a last resort.
“Don’t be too rush to call,” the mechanic said laughing sheepishly. “You see I’m in a happy mood today and so I will slash the price. Do you know I got the results of my Trade Test One this morning? I passed! I will only charge you three thousand. You are lucky you came today when I had received such good news. Next month I will take my Trade Test Two. If I pass that one, I will automatically get a job at Toyota Kenya. I will be a real mechanic. I will no longer be a fundi…”