My life as a mechanic: I wore a skirt on my first day at work

Winnie Onyando | Nation Media Group

Esther Wangoi Kamonya, 27, is one of the only five female mechanics at Grogan in Nairobi.

What you need to know:

  • Ms Wamboi as she is popularly known at work has loved mechanic jobs since childhood.
  • Her male colleagues praise her and admire her aggressiveness and diligence at work; she challenges them by doing even what some of them are unable to do.

I meet Esther Wangoi Kamonya,  flat on her back fixing the tire of a vehicle at Grogan garage in Nairobi. She is dressed in a blue overall with black oil stains.

The 27-year-old is one of the five female mechanics in the entire Grogan garage, Kinyanjui Road, one of the largest jua kali garages in Nairobi County.

Ms Wamboi as she is popularly known at work tells nation.africa that she has loved mechanic jobs since childhood.

“I admired women who were mechanics and developed an inner interest in the profession. I also wanted to take a different career path as opposed to my siblings,” Wamboi tells nation.africa during an interview at Grogan.

A report by Institute of Engineers in Kenya (IEK), shows that only seven per cent of the 6,444 engineers in Kenya, are women.

Most women dread motor mechanic because it is mostly associated with men, a belief Ms Wamboi disqualifies. She began this work in  2008, and confesses it has kept her and her daughter going.

She shares her struggles as a mechanic, noting that her first experience in a garage was so embarrassing. She went to work in a skirt.

“When I was first employed at a garage in the Kayole estate, Nairobi, I wore a tight black skirt. I could not operate freely. I was so afraid because I was the only woman among 10 men. I felt as though I was out of place,” says Wamboi, a trained motor engineer.

Her employer in Kayole gave her some money to buy an overall. He even encouraged her and shared with her survival tactics in an environment she was not well conversant with.

Ms Wamboi who gets to her place of work before 7am every day, is able to earn not less than Sh2,000 every day.

“I have seen my daughter growing and get an education through this job. I pay all my bills and even support my family. I also save every month to upgrade my skills,” she says.

Diligent woman

Her male colleagues praise her and admire her aggressiveness and diligence at work. She challenges them by doing even what some of them are unable to do.

“Wamboi is a diligent woman, she knows what she wants and works towards achieving her goals,” says one of her colleagues.

The mother of one had to overlook community opinions about her career. In most garages, 90 per cent are men. Interacting with the opposite gender, something she was not used to, was a big challenge.

Ms Wamboi doing what she loves best at Grogan on Kirinyaga Road in Nairobi.

Photo credit: Winnie Onyando | Nation Media Group

“Striking a conversation with the opposite gender wasn’t easy. I had to accept my environment, adopt and contribute to their discussion topics,” she says.

Ms Wamboi also had to overcome her femininity because motor mechanic work involves a lot of contact with oil, being flat on the ground fixing the tires, or engines.

Like any other woman, Ms Wamboi also desires to look good. After completing her day’s work, she cleans herself up and applies her make-up.

Naturally, women are believed to be weak and unable to engage in strenuous jobs. Lifting heavy loads is mainly done by men. As a woman, lifting a bus, lorry and big vehicle engine is beyond her.

She discloses that she once lifted a lorry engine and developed a spinal disorder. She prefers doing light jobs like changing oil and general vehicle service.

“One time my boss sent me to Kiringiti, Kiambu to service a lorry. I developed a spinal disorder after lifting the lorry engine. I was sick for one week,” explains Ms Wamboi.

On social life, she observes that most mechanics love enjoying life and spend most of their time partying. To her, this was difficult having been brought up in a religious family.

“Men take advantage of women in such professions. One of my bosses wanted to take advantage of me, tricked me and withheld my salary. I had to take a firm stand and do the right thing,” says Ms Wamboi.

She encourages women to step up, stop just sitting and relying on men.

“A woman can also work and get her own money.”






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