Whenever I need a reason to love Pakistan, and these days I often do, I go to get something fixed on the car.
This might sound odd. Coming from the UK, as I do, mechanics are people to be avoided as much as possible, because they are so expensive. The hourly rate they charge for labour means that even the smallest job is going to set you back a bare minimum of £50, and if your car’s problem is in any way serious, you will pay a lot. A LOT.
This is not the case in Pakistan. Labour here is cheap – a consequence of high unemployment and low literacy, which together result in a large pool of unskilled labour. This is sad, but it does mean that car repairs are cheap too. Once I needed to have the head gasket on our car fixed, a job which cost me £400 when I had it done in the UK. In Pakistan the same job cost £15 – and even then the mechanic winced, blew out his cheeks, and sighed deeply when he informed me of how serious the problem was. I tried to act sad, but inside I was rejoicing.
When I show up at the mechanic’s shop he welcomes me with open arms, invites me to sit, and orders tea. For a few minutes we sit and drink and chat, catching up on what’s happened since I was last in, and eventually we come round to the reason for my visit. I explain as best I can, he nods wisely, and he instructs one of his juniors to open the bonnet and start pulling things out.
Everything that is good about Pakistan can be seen at the mechanic’s shop: the ingenuity, the hospitality, the hard work. With little more than a spanner, a jack and a piece of cardboard (to lie on when they peer under the car) they can fix almost anything. When it turned out that I needed my transmission fluid changing, a junior mechanic was sent out to find the best quality fluid available. When the rear brake shoes were proven to be in need of replacing another junior was sent out in the pouring rain to find new ones. While they worked I sat and drink tea and chatted.
Eventually the work was done. The mechanic sighed heavily, looked at me with sad eyes, and delivered the bad news. For four replacement brake shoes (imported from Japan, not inferior local ones), replacement transmission fluid (again, superior Japanese quality), new wipers, and repaired brake pads, it came to…
“Eight thousand rupees [roughly £50]. I’m sorry, but prices are high these days.”