Saturday, August 2, 2008

On men and machines and mechanical terms

What is it about men and machinery, mechanics and being macho? Is it just Africa? I realise that I am generalising massively here but some examples to illustrate my point:

Example one:
Yesterday we had a puncture. Now I am perfectly capable of changing a tyre. I have changed more tyres than I care to remember. I am minding my own business, starting to undo the nuts and jack up the Landrover, when two men push me out the way and start doing it for me. Now I don’t have a problem with this either. If someone else can do it for me cool – I aint complaining. But it soon became very apparent that they had never in fact changed a tyre before. And one of the men was very very old and very very wheezy. Like oh-my-God-this-man-is-going-to-fall-over-in-a-heap-any-moment kind of old and wheezy. So I tried to show them how to do it, but they were having nothing of it. Nothing of it. The clock is ticking, I am already late for picking up Husband and his boss from the airport. I have jacked up the car and the wheezy fellow and his helper are trying to put the new tyre on. Its really rather comical. They can’t get the holes to line up with the bolty things on the wheel drum (see, I know what I’m talking about). And 10 minutes tick by and they still can’t. And I try to step in to do it and they push me out the way. I don’t want to be rude and they are really really determined so I stand back and cross fingers that the old guy doesn’t fall over in a heap of asthmatic bones. And text Husband to say get a taxi, we aint gonna get there on time. 15 minutes pass and the holes are still not lining up. Eventually I get firm, worm my way into the knot of gnarled hands, under smelly armpits, plumbing pipes (for now they have employed all sorts of props) and do it myself. It takes about 8 seconds. Ra ra.

So the tyre is now on, but - possibly to regain some lost pride - they insist on putting the wheel nuts on themselves. Fine. Easy. Enter the plumbing pipe again. They put it onto the wheel spanner for better leverage and start jumping on it. Just to ensure that the nuts are so tight that I’d need a man machine (and a strong one at that) to undo them. Ah ha! You see what they do? It’s clever isn’t it? Do it up so tight that I’ll need a man to undo it. Like so tight they’re gonna shear off the bolts. I had that happen to me before. That classic overtaken-by-your-tyre story. Put on so tight it sheared the nuts off as we were driving. Uh huh. I learn by other people’s mistakes. Haha.

Example two:
When I was last in Zambia, in the village doing a week of action research and awareness performances ( the men all decided - just as it was time to start work for the day – that they needed to fix the battery carrier. So all the actors got in there. All the men anyway. The women just sat there straight legged on the mat looking amused. So there they all are, under the hood of the land cruiser with their bums sticking out feeling really important but without a clue as to what they were doing. Same story. Tried to peep in, just to see what they were doing and I was unceremoniously elbowed out the way. Only one of these men could drive (ish) and none of them have any mechanical experience. Except Simon who makes fantastic props and wire bicycles – if that counts. So after an hour or so of huffing and jiggling and puffing they emerge from under the bonnet as one, grinning and looking AWFULLY proud of themselves. Now I’m allowed in to look at their handiwork. And I see immediately that when they put the bonnet down, the sticky up metal bit will touch the underneath of the bonnet, shorting the battery and probably bursting into flames - a la Janelle last week ( I am no mechanic but this, too has happened to me before. Or should I say I am no mechanic SO this too has happened to me before. In my dear landy. In this case I learn from my mistakes.

Example three:
My mother rides on her motorbike from Zambia to South Africa quite frequently and her and her girlfriend (as in friend who is a girl…..) did a month long motorbike trip through the Kalahari many years ago. Another post another time. So they are cool chicks and know what they are doing. You can imagine the dropped jaws of passersby at the sight of two gorgeous (unbutch) girls on big bikes travelling through the desert. In the 1980’s when it was still very bush. Anyway, I digress.

So on one of these occasions that my mom was riding to SA - through Botswana - her throttle cable snapped. This had happened to her before and she had just the solution. A filed down socket plug copper-sticky-outy-thing where you join the wires together with a screw. You can see that I do not have the mechanical terms down so no wonder men jump to the rescue…Anyway. It was a plan that she devised (and a cunning one at that) that had worked before. So she was driving through Bots and this happened. Now picture the scene if you will; the ‘girl factor’ compounded by the fact that not only is my mother a woman, but a pretty one at that (this seems to make a difference) coupled with the fact that the average Botswana safari type male is bred with extra misogynist genes. Anyway, bla bla bla. The long and short of it is that they would NOT let her near the bike to try and fix it. She knew the solution and kept trying to tell them but no, no. They knew what to do. They tried. After 3 hours of trying they finally listened to my mothers plan. And it worked a dream.

Girl power.


Mud in the City said...

Men. They do need to feel useful, even though they are bluffing most of the time - don't you just love them?!

Well done for being a super independent women - who still looks great in a pair of Rupert-the-Bear trews!

Ernest de Cugnac said...

Dear oh dear. What can one say? You are right of course. The problem though is compounded by 'learnt helplesness'. Most girls think they can't do mechanical things, and defo can't when there is a bloke around. However, try getting a man to rethread an overlocker say, and prepare to laugh.

Reya Mellicker said...

It's not just Africa where men are macho and bossy, but in America I guarantee you that no man would ever stop to help a woman change a tire if it looked like she knew what she was doing. No way.

Love the image of your mum and friend cruising through Zambia and S. Africa. Wow!

Val said...

I love your descriptions ! gnarled hands and armpits etc...makes it all so real. Hey, you made the bike trip sound so cool - well it was!! thanks for all the smiles x