Marieke ten Wolde's blog

Documentary photography, and other things interesting enough to bother you with

Tibet Travel log 19: Looking for scrap metal along a dirt road

with 3 comments


The worst roads are not the ones with potholes; you can drive around them at speed or simply try to fly over the holes. Flying is faster, but when the driver owns the car he normally chooses the first approach. The worst is a road with constant little bumps. The first half hour is OK, then is really start to become irritating and even a short distance takes a very long time at 15 km an hour.

While I worried about my camera’s I found out it is really bad for cars as well. After a soft rattling noise followed by a loud rattling noise and then a bang, we stopped. Of course this happened far from any town, village or anything really but a house and a local stupa. Something around the axle of the front wheels had come lose. Apparently that wasn’t good, because the driver vehemently gestured we could not drive on.  First we had to find the screws that had come loose.

Really? yes

So I found myself walking up and down the road with my nose close to the dirt, while I couldn’t help thinking that it must be somewhat like this for Tibetan pilgrims doing prostrations. The family and the kids in the house helped searching as well. And man, we found a lot of screws and pieces of metal, all very valuable and received with gratitude. Everything we found was put in a bag with many other screws and pieces of scrap.

But we didn’t find the missing one.

I must have walked that stretch of the road at least 10 times, until pretty much all the metal was collected. Then I was allowed to give up.

I walked the road once more now looking at the environment, not very exiting, waved at the family in the lonely house, tried to have a conversation and drank tea, photographed all the prayer flags and the stupa, tested the macro-function on my tiny snapshot camera, collected nice round green stones in the river bed, stared at the stream, read my guidebook and wrote my diary. And the car still wasn’t fixed.

While there was no change in the car situation, my cheerful big Khampa nomad driver had turned into a really grumpy frustrated car mechanic, especially when I took a photo of him. Stupid tourist, can’t you see I have a problem, was written all over his face. But of course in the end he succeeded after literally hammering the right pieces of scrap into shape, using one of the screws I found (I had been somewhat useful after all) to connect some scrap with other scrap that went onto the car. He performed a true miracle; the car sounded right again.

He washed his hands, face and hair and produced a massive smile, his thick long hair sticking out in all directions. I grabbed another picture and this time he laughed when I showed him. Car repaired, good humor restored!

It took a few long hours that I would rather have spent somewhere else but I still have my green round stones sitting on my desk and below you can see a couple of the many pics I took.


3 Responses

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  1. What patience and resilience these people have. To think that in Europe most people get irritated for the mere fact of having to queue at the supermarket… And what great mechanics!!!
    Thank you for sharing these pictures and impressions which are always better than any lecture on philosophy…


    March 3, 2013 at 10:24

  2. What lessons learned. Every morning I wake up with an idea, and immediately some post on WordPress makes a real life example for me. The ingenuity of humanity is amazing and your post is such a perfect example. Your driver and the family, and yourself all contributed, and with your post you created a valuable statement.
    Thank you,

    D. A. Hartley

    March 2, 2013 at 16:05

    • It is not only the resilience and making things work that I liked, it is also using what you have or can find. Even as a car mechanic the nomad nature helped. Luckily it was a pure mechanical car, no board computer, software or any fancy stuff.

      Marieke ten Wolde

      March 3, 2013 at 12:13

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