Faith Muriuki, 35, is a long-distance truck driver who transports goods between Nairobi, Mombasa, Uganda, Rwanda, and Congo.
She shares more about her experience in a male-dominated industry.
“From the time I was 21, this is the life I know. I work as a long-haul driver for Swan Carriers, a trucking company, and right now, I am headed to Uganda and I will be back after three days.
On long drives like these, I plug my flash drive into the USB port on the truck and drive down the road humming to gospel songs. I have a strong liking for Kikuyu music. When I get bored with my musical repertoire, I turn on the radio. Sometimes, depending on my moods, it’s just me and my thoughts.
I was brought up in Karatina, Nyeri County and for a society that had a distinct line between what men and women could do, being a truck driver is not one of the options that were proffered to girls my age. In my case, it was even worse because I had zero options because of our poor background. So I worked at peoples’ homes as a house help and at one point tried my hand at waiting tables. The pay was quite lean so I started looking for an alternative. I ran away from home and went to live with my aunt in Mombasa.
Being a driver was not something that had ever crossed my mind. I had not seen a woman behind the wheels, how could I dream of being one? But it’s funny the places that life takes you. One day, my aunt sent me on an errand and as I was crossing the road at Changamwe, I saw a woman driving a trailer. I froze and even forgot what I had been sent. Seeing that woman, whom I would later come to know as Shiru and interact with was serendipity and a start to a life-changing opportunity.
Things didn’t work out with my aunt and I found myself being hosted by a woman acquaintance who offered to enroll me in a course. Of course, I chose driving and started my career as a matatu driver then later got a job driving vehicles from the Mombasa port to Uganda. It’s while on one of these trips, that I met the truck driver who had inspired me. We were had both stopped in a small town to rest when I noticed her.
“Are you in for long distances?” she asked me as I excitedly said yes. I learnt that her name is Shiro, and she was driving to Uganda too. When we got back, she helped me get a job in a trailer company. The thing about trying to find a job with a trucking company is that you need someone who can act as your reference. Shiru turned to be my guide and mentor.
Trucking can be dirty, difficult work. But, I do not mind the grime or the fact that I only get to take short breaks.
It is the harassment enwrapped with this job that is difficult to deal with and live with.
When you are looking for a new opportunity or reference, it is like a call to sexual predators. Many of our male counterparts will ask for sexual favours before they can mention your name to the bosses. You will be lucky to get a reference from a fellow woman or get a direct-through pass to the seniors. While on the road, some will scare you to see if you can indeed measure up to them. However, when you have been on the road long enough like me, you learn to fight, so in such instances, I roll down my mirror and ask, “unataka niangushe gari?” and give them a piece of my mind. Every day, we have to fight the negative stereotyping and labeling about women in this type of job. Some quarters liken us to prostitutes.
With some traffic police, it’s even worse. Recently, I had to lodge a complaint with the police headquarters after one of the road officers messed my driving license and hurled vulgar words at me. While confronting pervert men, I remind them that we cannot all fit in Marikiti or Juakali. “Somebody has got to be here. And they can as well be a woman.”
Although there are thousands of male cargo truck drivers in Kenya, there is only a handful of us. We have a Whatsapp group with a membership of about 50. We share updates on the road, support each other and occasionally, there will be at least three of us on the road together.
Having such a support group is necessary because it’s not easy being a mother who mostly parents from a distance. I have a son who is two years whom I leave under the care of my husband and house help.
A few weeks ago, he got sick, and not being physically present with him really weighed me down. Thankfully, he is out of the woods now. My husband keeps me updated and he has been very supportive although he wasn’t in for the idea of being a truck driver at the start.
“With mounting bills and the high inflation rate, we both have to bring something to the table,” I said and we agreed. He lost his job amid the Covid-19 pandemic so I am currently the family’s sole provider. He reminds me to be careful on the road and regularly asks, “Have you packed the tomatoes? And water?
Because you have to be well prepared for the road. Before the pandemic, places to sleep and eat were many and affordable but with the increment of prices and restrictions that see us sit in road closures for hours, we have had to adapt to a new way of working and traveling. For personal safety, should I have a front tyre burst, I block the road so those behind me have to come and help. In other instances, I call the office and the road patrols come to my rescue.
“There must be a lot of money and perks.” I hear this a lot and especially from people who want to justify where I have been the job for more than a decade. To which I respond, “If you’re good with money, you will like it. Also, bring passion and discipline to the field.
To any woman enthusiastic about long-distance truck driving, wear your tough skin and come over. There’s enough space.