For years, the matatu industry has been known to belong to men and any woman working in it would be viewed as an outcast and subjected to rejection from friends and family members alike.
However, in the recent past, the matatu industry has seen more women venturing in it and doing well unbothered by the society’s views.
Mary Macharia, 28, is among the many women who have survived in the industry despite the many challenges and seems not in a hurry to leave the industry.
Speaking to KNA in Karuri town Monday, Mary revealed that she had been in the industry for almost two years now and was enjoying its every bit.
She works with the Transnomics Sacco which operates along Banana – Ruiru routes in Kiambu County.
Asked what attracted her to the male-dominated job, she responds: “I had passion for the job and when the opportunity arose, I did not think twice but rushed for it. I do not regret.”
Before becoming a conductor, Mary says she used to sell coffee and boiled eggs at Banana trading center in Kiambaa Sub-county.
With time, she says, she felt the business was not earning her enough money to cater for all her basic needs and support her aging parents. “I had to think how I could earn enough money to meet all my needs and save some,” she added.
However, it was not easy for her to get the job. She said one of her friends who was by then a driver with KACOSE SACCO conned her Sh3, 000 promising her employment with the Sacco.
“He was one of my very first and daily customers while I was selling coffee and eggs on the roadside, so when he promised to get me a job, I trusted him and gave him the money as facilitation fee. To my surprise the man disappeared and despite reporting the matter to police, he was not arrested as he went into hiding. He reappeared two months later but I decided to let go of the matter,” she said.
“Later, a lady pastor friend offered to help me get a job and she kept her word. That is how I became a conductor,” she said, adding she did not tell her parents, relatives or friends about her resolve of becoming a Makanga as she feared they would discourage her from doing so.
“You understand how family members are. They are very concerned and I did not want to worry them. Unexpectedly though, when they found out I had become a tout, they were very supportive which gave me morale to hold on,” she expounded.
The job comes with many challenges and if one is not careful, they could end up getting hurt while engaging with passengers.
“It is not easy for example to hang on a moving Matatu or to jump into one when it is moving as many conductors do. It looks fun while others are doing it, but it requires experience,” she says.
Hanging on the matatus open door, she added exposes touts to contracting pneumonia especially during cold seasons like this one while female conductors have to deal with male counterparts who attempt to use them as sex tools.
“Another challenge is having to deal with rough male conductors willing to defend their so called territory by intimidating you. However, if one proves tough enough, the chauvinist male conductors respect and start interacting peacefully with you,” Mary stated.
She adds passengers who bargain too much were also a problem adding: “For example if the fare is Sh30, many insist they will pay Sh20 while some will not tell you that they want to pay a lesser amount while boarding the vehicle. It however gets better with time as one gets used to the job.”
This being a demanding job, Mary says she has to pay someone to do her domestic chores like laundry revealing her earnings is enough to cater for this.
“Due to the nature of this work, I had to take my children upcountry to stay with their grandmother. This enabled me to cope with rising early in the morning and sleeping late as this job demands,” she stressed.
Mary explained that one has to cultivate interest and develop a thick skin in order to remain working in the tough transport sector.
“Without that even very little negative things can make you run away from the job. Cultivating and maintaining good working relationship between you and other conductors as well as with the driver and management are best survival mechanisms,” she advises.
She says that despite people undermining touting and driving jobs, the same were well-paying and challenged women not to listen to what the society thought about them and the kind of work they should or should not be doing.
“As long as it is legal, morally good and can earn a living, go for it instead of remaining home idle waiting for food from your husband. Women should not be choosy about jobs, especially in the current hard economic times. The society will only talk but cannot pay your bills or cater for your other needs. So turning a deaf ear to the public is the only sure bet to survive the present hard economic time in Kenya,” she advised.
By Lucy Mwikali