Flat Tires

A couple weeks ago I was traveling with a fellow volunteer on some back country roads in a bush taxi (read about bush taxis.) During the course of driving we blew out our front right tire (not an uncommon thing on dirt roads with pot holes you could get lost in.) After it blew our driver got out and changed it with the spare he had in the trunk. I am always amazed watching taxi drivers change tires here. They can honestly get the old one off and the new one on in less than 5 minutes. The speed comes from all the practice they have.

After a long day traveling we finally decided to head home (about 45 miles or 3 hours of driving.) Everything was going fine until the same front right side tire blew again. The hard thing was that we were so far in the middle of nowhere that we had no option for finding a new one. The driver drove the popped tire a good 5 or 6 miles until the thing was nothing but rim, shredded metal, and peaces of torn rubber. We finally reached a small village and stopped the now exhausted car.

My friend and I got out of the car along with the driver to survey the damage; it was bad. With our only spare tire already flat and no hope of finding a new one (the people in this village could probably not replace a bike tire let alone a car tire) we were fairly hopeless. The driver said he was going to look for a mechanic and took off down the dirt road.

After 10 minutes he came back with another guy caring a metal spike and a bike pump held together by electrical tape. By this time a couple other people had wandered out to the road to say hi and see if there was anything they could do. Our driver said a few words in local language and started hammering to separate the rim from the rubber tire. I wasn’t sure if he was planning on trying to patch the inner tube or what.

After a few minutes of hammering and good progress being made separating the tire from the rim a woman walked up with a bowl of a white pasty substance. I looked at my fellow volunteer and said, “Is that some sort of adhesive?” She looked at me and said, “I think it smells like pate.” (NOTE: Pate is one of the main staples of the Togolese diet and I think of West Africa as a whole. It is ground cassava and ground corn boiled into a hard grits like ball. It is usually eaten with a sauce.)

The driver took the now separated rim and tire and began spreading pate in the space between. He then took the bike pump and started pumping. I couldn’t believe it. Was he actually hoping to pressurize the entire tire with nothing but ground corn and cassava as a sealant? Everyone there took turns pumping. When a section of the pate seal would blow out and release air the driver would expertly apply more of the sticky substance. The entire time they were pumping I kept shaking my head and saying to myself, “This will never work! How could this work?”

Finally the tire started expanding. It got to the point where the pate was beginning to get squeezed out of the now closing crevice. Finally the last excess pate was squeezed out leaving only enough to seal the tire shut.

I could not believe it. The driver stood the tire up, bounced it one time to check its solidity and walked over to where it needed to go on the car. He put the tire in place, screwed everything in, and with a gasp of disbelief from me, lowered the car on the pressurized, pate sealed tire. I could hardly believe my eyes. Here was an entire car being help up by nothing but water, corn, and cassava! How was this possible?

With reluctance my friend and I slowly lowered ourselves into the car, fearing any added weight would blow the seal. The driver started the car, and with one final wave to our new friends, we headed out with nothing between us and the road except old rubber and someone’s dinner.

The driver stepped on the gas getting up to 65 mph. As we flew down the road every bump, every pothole sent images of the front tire violently blowing and all of us flying through the air. We drove a good 15 miles to where we were within site of the lights from the bigger town we were headed. All of a sudden the sound of rushing air and flapping rubber started coming from our once hard tire. Our driver slowed to a stop and let his exhausted head fall onto the steering wheel.

I looked down at my cellphone and realized that we were now close enough to town to get reception. We called a friend who brought another tire and we all went home.

Ps. I apologize for not posting in such a long time. I have been very busy getting back into the swing of things after the Christmas break. I also just got engaged to an amazing women who is also a Peace Corps Volunteer. We will be getting married when we get back to the US in September. I can hardly wait. :)

Thank you all for your support. Please feel free to get in touch with me if you have any questions or just want to say hi.

Until next time…


L.Bo Marie said...

!!! engaged????

Love your posts, they make me feel like I'm there again.

iris said...

I am a Rural Development student, and reading your blog gives me an impression of what this actually means. Nice stories!
Congratualations on your engagement :)

@LargoL said...

I was waiting for a post since a long time ago !!

Good story as always !!

Good Luck and congratuations for the engagement !

Stormdrane said...

Haha, great story. =)

Anonymous said...

Congrats on the engagement. I want to hear more about the proposal.

Jess B said...

Wow. What great stories!

Congrats on your engagement!!

RJO said...

Your blog is amazing! It's so much fun to read :) When I was 16 I spent a week with a Peace Corps volunteer in Sierra Leone and I was transformed!! I never understood why more kids didn't want to join the Peace Corp. One day I will! I believe that the work you're doing is the only way to solve the conflicts we are facing in the world so thank you for volunteering your time and talents, Aaron, and for sharing them with all of us!

CHLOE said...

wow. You're blog gives such insite to a sheltered high school girl. I enjoy reading your blog!

Adrian Whitsett said...

Hi...I am working on a project to find new ways to communicate in West/Sahel Africa. I am wondering what kinds of insight you have into the culture and social aspect of life in Africa after being there for such a long time. ANy kinds of information would be awesome. I am still new to this whole blogging thing but I really enjoy reading your posts about what is going on. Thanks

steph said...

These are great stories, what an experience.

Congrats on your engagement! My husband and I just attended a wedding in September for two Peace Corps volunteers who met in Uganda. Good times!

John H. Goodell said...

Hello from Romania,

I am a fellow PC Volunteer and came across your blog through the Blogger Dashboard page. Congratulations on getting such a large viewing audience on that one.

It is awesome to hear about the experiences others are encountering in the service and I wish you the best of luck with your project. I will be looking forward to hearing how it all turns out.


Gatlin Education Services said...

I was almost sent to Togo 25 years ago but I was went to the Philippines instead. It used to take four days to get a telegram to my site from the U.S. how times have changed. Keep blogging and enjoy your time as a volunteer.

Daryl Clark

Traveler said...

This story takes me back. I was a volunteer in Ghana in 91 to 93. Here are some of my boring to you but exciting to me stories. Thanks


Unknown said...

what a great blog! i loved this story. i hope you've found the woman of your dreams!!!

Elena said...

thanks for your stories! and congratulations on your engagement! =)

William said...

I've been reading your blog for a while and this is my first time to comment. I've recently started my own blog at williamtravels.blogspot.com

I really enjoy your stories and videos. I am in the midst of my PC application process and will be headed to Africa (don't know what country yet) in the spring. I couldn't be more excited and reading your blog increases my excitement and look forward to reading more.

And, congratulations on your engagement.

Meredith said...

congratulations on the engagement!

the Sneaker Beater said...

your blog makes me email my parents saying "yes, see, the Peace Corps IS amazing!" I've always wanted to join and I even went to Poland as an exchange student for a sort of pre-PC year. Thanks for giving me a real example of life in the Peace Corps! I am def. joining up post college. Where and what did you study and what are you going to do when your 2 years are up? (if you've already written this somewhere I apologize for not having yet read all your posts)

Jessica said...

I just wanted to say hello. I only found your blog about a month ago through the blogger website, but I enjoyed reading all the archived posts. I love getting to hear about your experiences. I've thought about joining PC after college, but still haven't decided, so I'm loving getting to hear a first hand account of what PC is like.

I also wanted to say congrats on your engagement!

Don Thieme said...

Great story! It was worth the wait.

Unknown said...

What wonderful things you go through, thank you for sharing with us. :)
Congratulations on your engagement!

shallow monkey said...

"Pate time!" (Well, Party Time anyway.)

Congratulations on the pending nuptials and thanks for the entry. Cassava paste--who knew?

KT said...

Oh, congratulations, Aaron! That's fantastic!

The pate story sound /very/ much like something that would happen in Egypt...only, instead of pate, they'd use duct-tape or something equally ineffectual. The cars around here are ancient and half-broken-down, but something keeps them going. About once every few days I pass someone pushing their car to the side of the road because it's broken down.

Congratulations again!

pilgrimchick said...

No kidding on the tire--that was one hell of a good story. Goes to show that manufactured doesn't always equate to clever quality.

Anonymous said...

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Steve said...

Hey Aaron, your tire repair reminds me of a similar story in Uganda in 1970 on my way home from Peace Corps Thailand. (Just came back from the 45th Anniversary of PC Thailand in Bangkok)

Anyway, our gas tank, under the car got a hole in it. We didn't know this until we ran out of gas in the middle of nowhere. A gasoline tanker came by. The guys stopped. Found out the problem. The pulled out a little stove, boiled some water, and stuck in a bar of soap. When the soap got soft, they molded it to fit the hole. Then they gave us what gas was still in the hose on their tanker - about a gallon. Through carefully turning off the engine when we coasted down hills, we made it almost 50 miles to a town where they could do a more permanent repair.

While some of your commenters seem to think this a sign of primitive life, I see it as ingenuity beyond what most of us Westerners have. These folks take our worn out stuff and give it new life through ingenuity. They aren't dumb, just economically poor.

Anonymous said...

Dear Aaron,

Congrats on your engagement and in your triumph over a scary taxi experience!

Though not in Africa, I had a short period of elevated anxiety surrounding a Taxi incident at the airport in Moscow. I found that if I yelled a lot and pretended to call the police by making sounds with my cell phone, that the driver suddenly realized that he remembered how to get me to my hostel.

A side note: I don't think you are allowed to bring your cell phone into Moscow, or the Russian Federation more generally for that matter, but I never had a problem.


william wray said...

Great little slice of life story-- almost enough to forgive you for the Castration. Too bad your cat can't read. Congratulations on the engagement.

Anonymous said...

Excellent stuff .. !



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I have never been in Togo. Africa is sure a huge country. Maybe one day. Do they have cellphones and computers?It sure makes it easier to communicate long distances.ComputerMan

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Anonymous said...

Flat tires could really be a pain. Whenever i go out to tricky places, I make sure that I have good air in my four tires and also for my reserve tire. I was thinking of buying another one in case of having two blow outs.

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Ray Blakney said...

Hi Aaron,

Sorry to bother you.  My name is Ray Blakney and I am an RPCV from Mexico (2006-2008). I am working on a 3rd goal project with the PC regional offices and the main office in DC to try to create an online archive to keep the language training material made all over the world from getting lost.  I have created a sub-section on the website my wife and I run Live Lingua with all the information I have been able to get to date (from over the web and sent to me directly by PC staff and PCV's).  I currently have close to 100 languages with ebooks, audios, and even some videos. 
The next step for this project is that I am trying to get the word out about this resource so that it can not only be used by PCV's or those accepted into the Peace Corps, but also so that when people run across material that is not on the site they can send it to me and I can get it up for everybody to use.  I was hoping that you could help getting the word out by putting a link on this on your site here, so that people know it is there.  There should be something there for almost everybody.  It is all 100% free to use and share.  Here is the specific page to what we call the Live Lingua Project: