Simon learned to repair motors from his father, Ndua, who worked repairing motors for someone else for over 30 years. Slogging it out for years on end, Ndua had always wanted to run his own business, but had never been able to take the risk at the same time he was providing for his family.
Simon grew up watching his father repair motors, and had always wanted to strike a more independent path. After graduating high school, he saved up some money from working odd jobs and started his own shop. Demand for his services grew quickly, and soon he was able to hire his father. They finally had the family business they'd both always wanted.
Both Simon and Ndua know exactly what they are doing--their hands are gnarled from years of winding copper. They learned their trade the hard way, from making mistakes, teaching each other as they went. Simon is better with newer pumps with more electronics, and his father specializes in older models and their whimsies.
Usually, when pumps fail, power spikes or overloading fries the insulation coating the copper coils inside the motor. The fix is to replace all the copper with new windings. This is time-consuming, but relatively straightforward, as long as you precisely replicate the old winding pattern.
Motors are almost never fixed this way in developed countries, because people toss the motors and replace them with a new model. We mentioned this to Simon, who thinks we're crazy for throwing away perfectly good hardware. He spent some time enthusiastically explaining to us why older motors are more rugged and more reliable than motors being manufactured today. Then he invited us inside.
Inside the shop, motors were stacked everywhere. He told us that villagers regularly bring in broken motors, but often don't have the money to pay for the repair. So while he fixes the motors, the villagers scrounge for the money, usually borrowing from friends and family. If they can't afford the repair, he hangs on to the motors for a three-month grace period. On the back wall of his shop, dozens of repaired motors await their owners to claim them.
But Simon isn't satisfied just fixing things himself: He's most happy when teaching people how to fix things. He always has a couple students working with him, and he takes pride in teaching and passing along his trade.
He introduced us to Kioni, a young woman apprenticing in the workshop to learn motor repair. Simon says that it takes several months of hands-on training to learn to rewind motors well. Kenya's repair people are more heterogeneous than we found in Cairo, and she was the first woman we've seen fixing anything on our trip. She was clearly excited about her new trade, and proudly shows off the motor she's repairing. Her posture brims with self-confidence.
Simon's workshop has seen tens of thousands of motors pass through its walls. Kim has brought his motor to Simon three times for repair, and each time returned it to heavy use. They come in as broken lumps of metal, with internals twisted into a blackened mass of metal. They leave good as new, with a fresh coat of paint, glistening rebuilt copper internals, and a smile on Simon's face as he hands it back to its owner. Just as an electric motors is the lifeblood of any farm, Simon's workshop is the cornerstone of this community.