I aim to motivate women, says boda boda grandma

Meet 62-year-old boda boda granny of Kisii

At 62, Anna Nyaboke has seen it all. She has lived the life of the hard knocks and is not afraid to roll down her sleeves and get her hands dirty in order to provide for herself and her loved ones. 

At a time when the motorcycle taxi business, popularly known as boda boda, is largely male-dominated, the mother of one is the only female boda boda operator in the entire Bonchari Constituency in Kisii County.

Born in Miruka in Nyamira County, Ms Nyaboke is illiterate and is the oldest woman in the boda boda business, which she has been operating for the past three years.

On 14 May, during the Mother's Day celebrations at Nyanturago Stadium, Ms Nyaboke was feted by Kisii Governor Simba Arati’s wife, May Arati. She even had the opportunity to ride with the governor’s wife on her motorcycle, much to the amazement of hundreds of people attending the event.

“It was unbelievable when Ibeno MCA Steve Arika called me to give a ride to [Ms Arati]," she said and admitted that she was nervous at the time.

Ms Nyaboke said she was amazed by the recognition she received from the county government and remains grateful.

"The experience was amazing because I had never known that a lowly citizen like me could be called upon to mingle with the high and mighty in society. It was God's doing and I thank them for the recognition," she said.

Ms Nyaboke told Nation that despite the myriad of challenges she faces on a daily basis, she remains steadfast in her work.

Firstly, she has to endure the nasty stereotypes that come with being a woman and, secondly, the ridicule that comes with her advanced age.

Patriarchal community

Kisii is a very patriarchal community and women who try to do what is perceived to be men's work are looked down upon.

"My fellow women are my biggest critics because they do not believe in my ability to do this job, which is considered a man's job," said Ms Nyaboke. According to her, other potential clients suspect that she is male.

The few men who dare to get on her bike, she said, still question her skills and express mistrust in her ability to ferry them around.

Younger men in the boda boda industry confront her, demanding that she retire from the business and leave it to her grandchildren. So what is it that has kept her in the boda boda business despite all the challenges? 

It’s her life’s mission, she said, to inspire other women, especially those selling illicit brews, to ditch the trade and make an honest living, however tough life is.

"I want jobless women to learn from me. I am an old woman who has dared to do what many frown upon, so that others can be inspired," she said.

Casual labourer

She continued: “Let women who brew chang'aa turn away from the trade and embrace a legal business. Let all women who feel inadequate come out so that we can do this work together.”

Ms Nyaboke is no stranger to back-breaking work.

In 2005, she was living in Nandi Hills, working as a bicycle taxi driver and also pulling a hand cart (mkokoteni).

She had previously worked as a casual labourer on various construction sites in Nairobi, Eldoret, Nyamira and Kisii.

Ms Nyaboke, who moved back to Kisii from Nandi Hills in 2007 due to post-election skirmishes, believes that God has preserved her life for a greater purpose.

That purpose, she told Nation, is to inspire other women to overcome cultural stigma and stereotypes and work towards achieving their dreams.