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How many people does it take to change a lock?

One of the common laments for westerners living in the majority world is how long it takes to do things. It’s often hard to work out why, so every now and then I record all the steps it takes for me to fix things. For example, it took me this whole week to get a lock changed. Here’s how it played out:

Sunday: We have some friends over and the kids are playing with the door of the cupboard under the stairs. Next thing we know, the key won’t open it. It doesn’t catch, like the bolt has come apart from the lock. (It wasn’t in great shape to begin with.)

Our screwdrivers, pliers, etc are all inside the locked cupboard, so it doesn’t look like we’ll be able to take the hinges off and open it that way.

This is probably a job for a locksmith.

Monday: Ask on a local community group on Facebook if anyone knows a locksmith.

The only reply is someone telling me about one in town, an hour away, but no phone number and our car is broken and in at the garage so it seems like too much of a big deal to go down there.

Tuesday: Go up the street to a local hardware shop.

The guy there has various tools, plus some padlocks and locks, but he’s not a locksmith. He thinks we need a carpenter and gives very detailed and vague instructions about where to find one. e.g. go that way, then turn this way, go around a corner then left after a while and you’ll see some people, they’ll tell you where the carpenters are.

I’m sure they make sense if you already know the way, but by the time we’ve gone ‘that way’, Arthur and I can’t agree whether ‘this way’ was left or right. We abandon this course of action.

Wednesday: Decide to introduce ourselves to our neighbours and ask their advice for where to go. They immediately offer their help instead.

Their first idea is to test the key. This does not work. (We had already tried this of course – we’re pretty useless at this kind of thing, but we’re not that bad!)

They decide the lock needs to be replaced and say they can do it. We’re about to have lunch so we agree to do it later that day, but later that day they’re busy with something else.

Tomorrow, they say.

Thursday: The guys don’t come. We decide to take matters into our own hands so we can at least get the door open.

Back to the hardware shop to get a hacksaw. This costs all of 2,500 shillings (AUD2).

Friday: Arthur saws the lock so we can open the door and at least have access to the screwdrivers and other things that are in the cupboard.

We’ll think about installing a new lock at a later point.


As you can see, a lot of the time is spent in trying to work out how to get something done, and experimenting with different options. Our recent house move has made this more complicated as I do not yet have established networks, but even so, these things suck up time. There’s a handyman service which caters to westerners that we’ve availed ourselves of the past. It costs a minimum of 30,000 shillings, and even still takes at least 2 days even for simple jobs. This is why many households have staff members whose job it is to deal with these kinds of things. With the quality of materials and work, they happen reasonably often.

Meanwhile, on Thursday Elliot broke the strap on his one pair of shoes (crocs). We’ve fixed it with aquadere (white glue) for the moment, and I’m hoping it holds long enough for me figure out how to to get him a new pair. I don’t expect it to be any more straightforward.

Categories: Tanzania Tanzanian culture Written by Tamie

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Tamie Davis

Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at

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