In the contemporary African working environment, a number of jobs are considered masculine, however, brave women have stepped up and made a statement working in those fields. Lydia Kemunto is an automotive repair technician in Nairobi, a field that has been dominated by men since time immemorial.
The 33-year-old mother of two plies her trade at a garage along Kangundo Road in Nairobi, wrestling for a share of earnings in one of the most competitive work environments in the country.
Unlike a majority of young women, Kemunto developed a passion for automobiles at a young age and entered into the field at the age of 23.
“Currently, I specialise in Toyota, Mazda Nissan, Mitsubishi, and the Honda brands,” she told The Nation.
As a child, Kemunto was drawn more into toy cars, unlike her girlfriends who obviously went for dolls.
“Also, as a child most of my friends were boys and I didn’t have time to play with girls. For this reason, it was only normal to find me playing with cars,” she adds.
Kemunto’s passion for cars grew over the years and two years after she completed her secondary school education in 2008, she enrolled for a two-year automotive course at Unity College in Nairobi.
After completing her studies, she interned at a Nairobi garage and then proceeded to stay on as an apprentice, to gain further experience. At first, it was challenging for her but she adapted and acclimatised well with the sector.
“Here, you are not assured of the next income and mostly you depend on ad-hoc clients for the next job,” she said.
Starting out, she faced a tough time establishing a clientele and some customers did not trust her with their cars since she is a woman.
“As a woman thriving in what is considered a male-dominated territory, it hasn’t been easy. I sometimes get underrated by a few clients who think that perhaps I might not be up to the task,” Kemunto said.
“I explain to the client what I am doing, as I work on their vehicles. This gives them confidence in my work,” she added.
However, Kemunto doesn’t always play easy to every customer that is arrogant to her. She has on several occasions had to stand strong and not let them walk over her.
“There have been scenarios where a customer will just be outright rude to me based on my gender, but I have learned to be smart enough not to let that get to me. This doesn’t mean I let people walk over me,” she said.
Working in this competitive environment, Kemunto notes that she is lucky to have a family that has always stood by her and been supportive of her endeavours.
“At first my parents questioned my career choice, doubting whether it was a field suitable for a woman. But fortunately, it didn’t take them long for them to accept and realise that this was what I loved doing,” Kemunto quipped.
Her siblings have also been supportive and found ways to help her cope with the challenging Nairobi work life.
“My sister who runs a grocery shop, volunteers every day to stay with my young son who is yet to join school, and picks up my daughter who is in Pre-primary 2 from school. She then stays with them until I collect them after work.”
Despite facing a number of challenges, Kemunto says that her children have been the motivation she needs in life, and have also learnt to make her life easier. After a day’s work as a mechanic, she goes home as a mother.
“This is a tough job. Sometimes I have to lift heavy machinery and by evening I am tired. I leave work between 6 and 8 pm and after arriving home, I have to ensure my children are clean, fed, and help with homework,” she said.
Kemunto notes that she is not outgoing and spends her time off with her children at home or on a day out.
“I don’t have many female friends and often find myself spending most of my time with men. I have so much in common with men, especially in terms of interests, like football and cars,” she said.
Kemunto notes that her profession majorly depends on connections and therefore, one should be on toes in securing new clients.
“Being a profession that almost entirely depends on a network of clients, it becomes a task to build that network, especially as a woman, because many people don’t want to give you that first chance, to begin with,” she revealed.
Kemunto hopes that one day, she will be able to open her own state-of-the-art garage.