Morning Button or Mourning Button…A lesson in Ethiopian Automotive Repair

Those of you whom we have known for awhile know our saga of having our VW van break down, trying to find parts in Ethiopia, eventually finding a good, rebuilt engine in Holland, having it shipped, and now having had it sit in Djibouti for now almost 9 months with practically no hope of it ever making it here.

And, vehicles are expensive here – about 3 – 4 times more than you’d expect to pay for a used car in the US.

So, about 2 months ago we bought a different van.  We bought a 25 year old Toyota Van…that still sets you back about $8,000 here.  Crazy, isn’t it?

Its a great car and parts are available…BUT it does take a bit of time to work the kinks out.

In two weeks time,  the van  had left me stranded 4 times.  One time I had to take 2 taxis across the city to find a tow truck after having 8 guys push the van up our hill so that I could coast down and try to roll start it by popping the clutch to no avail.  Another time it left me stuck for 3 hours in a parking lot, then it eventually started on its own.  Yet another time it left me stranded for 4 hours in the parking lot of the DMV office, with the guard continually reminding me that they were closing while I waited for 3 hours for our mechanic to show up.   Crazy.  Frustrating.  Depressing.  Yes to all 3.

After the last episode the van finally started (after 4 hours of trying) and I drove it to the garage.  The next day I went to check in on it and the mechanic told me to come back in 6 hours and he would have it fixed.   I asked him what he was going to be fixing – ignition?  starter?  battery? fuel pump?  injectors?   All he could say was, “I am going to install a button called a morning button.  Trust me, its going to work.”

I wondered how that button was to be labeled?  Is it Morning – like press it in the morning…OR  is it Mourning – as in my state of mind every time the van wouldn’t start and I had to sit for hours.  Was he just giving me something to fixate my frustration on?

I was wondering if maybe he was just installing a self-destruct button.   There were moments where that would have given me incredible joy.

So, I trusted him (sort of) and returned in 6 hours to find an electrician working on the van…installing a button.  Yes, a morning button.  Now there was a new button on my dash with a visible wire running to somewhere in the engine compartment.  Again, the mechanic said, “Trust me.  Its going to work.  Just press this button in the morning or after the van has sat for hours…and its going to start.”

He then sent me on my way, saying “Don’t worry about paying me today, just pay next time.”  The skeptical side of me wondered, “Does he think I’ll have to come back soon?   He really didn’t fix it, did he?”

Still skeptical I called my friend Levi.  He had never heard of a morning button either.  We were actually taking bets on whether the button and wire actually led to anywhere.

Well, I am pleased to say that I was wrong.  The Morning button has relieved my Mourning entirely as the van now starts every time.  It has been well over a week since I have been stranded…and am no longer wincing at the thought of driving somewhere wondering if I am going to be stuck for the better part of a day.

Yes, I now call the morning button “The happy button.”  Or maybe I should rename it the “Dancing button…as my mourning has been turned into dancing.”

All because of a mechanic who knew much more about how to fix cars with limited resources and whom I just need to trust…a bit.

Plus, now I have this really cool button on my dash that makes for a great conversation piece.


P.S.  In case you are wondering…it took me almost 2 weeks to find out what the mechanic actually did.  Here is the non-technical explanation.  There is a sort of switch in the fuel injection system that controls how much gas flows in.  When it is cold it puts a lot in there, but when its hot it puts just a bit to keep the engine from flooding.  Because this switch was not working properly, it was causing the engine to flood.  Now, part of that system is disabled, so the morning button helps pump more fuel in there when the engine is cold.  It’s handy and ingenious 🙂

4 Comments on “Morning Button or Mourning Button…A lesson in Ethiopian Automotive Repair

  1. Thanks for the laugh and for sharing the realities of life in a developing country. I had been told cars are outrageously expensive in Ethiopia. Glad you have a way to get around now!

  2. That is awesome! 😀 SOO glad you have a van that works!!!

  3. “something to fixate my frustration on”….sometimes we need that, don’t we? 🙂 I’m goign to link to this–it’s a realistic view (with some humor, which we all need!) of life in Ethiopia. Thanks 🙂 Hope all is well with you guys!! Sophie

  4. Pingback: African Heart » Overload

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