Making Lists Isn’t Always the Answer

Worker preparing to be lowered into a well site.

From Tubob: Two Years in Africa with the Peace Corps

My husband Bruce’s job with the UN well-digging unit continued to be one frustration after another. He described it as “running a business on promises.” Getting supplies in a timely fashion was challenging. Many trips downriver could have been avoided if the upriver crew could have depended on routine supplies, such as motor oil, fuel and spark plugs. As it happened, they had been unable to change oil in the vehicles for some time because they couldn’t get enough oil to perform this task. They could only top up the oil when it was desperately needed. The disregard for vehicle maintenance grated on Bruce.

Sometimes equipment would go into the bush, only to break down and have to be rescued. Bruce knew many of these breakdowns could have been avoided with consistent maintenance. It was expensive for yet another vehicle to go into the bush to rescue the first, change a tire because there was no spare, take fuel which should have been filled before they left. The wasted time and resources slowed down the operation and raised expenses.

To help alleviate needless trips, Bruce made an itemized list of things that needed to be checked off before the Land Rovers and trucks left for the bush. Bruce instructed the lead mechanic to check off the items on the list as they were performed.

__ Tires checked
__ Spare tire checked
__ Radiator Level Checked
__ Oil changed, if needed (see schedule)
__ Check battery
__ Check brakes

A truck was about to depart and Karafa, the head mechanic, handed the to-do list to Bruce, with all items dutifully checked.

Bruce looked over the form. “Karafa, you’ve checked off ‘Oil Changed.’”


“But we’re out of oil.”


“How could you check this off then, if we don’t have oil?”

“We must check this off before truck can go to bush.”

“But you couldn’t change the oil.”

And on it went. Bruce then realized that Karafa, as well as most of the other men at the shop, couldn’t read nor write. Yet Karafa managed to maintain a fleet of trucks under very difficult conditions. Until you’re faced with situations like this, it’s hard to realize the advantages of education that we take for granted.