KAPALA CHISUNKA, Lusaka
WHEN Idah Mutamina walks through the gates of Millennium Bus Station in Lusaka, she looks like any woman seeking to board a bus to some destination.
Wait a minute and watch her board. It is actually not to board but to take the driverâ€™s seat of a Flash mini-bus. Seat belt fastened, engine starts and she leaves the bust station with a busload of passengers.
Ms Mutamina, a Public Service Vehicle (PSV) licensed driver and proud of it, is the only female bus driver employed by Flash buses owned by Ismail Kankara.
The 43-year-old Ms Mutamina did not dream of becoming a bus driver in her childhood.
Born in Lusaka in a family of nine, she did her primary education at Lotus Primary and proceeded to Kings High Way School. Unfortunately, she stopped school in Grade 11 after she fell pregnant.
â€œI then stopped my education and got married to the man responsible. Although we are no longer together, we have three children,â€ she says.
As a not the stay-at-home type, Ms Mutamina got a job at Saint Johnâ€™s Hospital initially as a theatre assistant. It was during that time that one of her bosses noticed her and nominated her for the position of ambulance driver.
â€œI was sent to driving school and when I completed, took up my position as ambulance driver. It was challenging in the beginning but exciting. I enjoyed the new experience because it gave me self-confidence,â€ she says.
Ms Mutamina worked for the private hospital for 15 years before she left to start something for herself. Plans sometimes fail and she did not like the status of being unemployed because she had bills to pay.
After making countless applications for a position of driver with no response, she toyed with the idea of taking up a position as a PSV driver. Without the knowledge of her family, she submitted an application at Flash Bus Station management.
She seemed to be the right candidate. She underwent interviews. With her papers and PSV licence found to be in order, along came the job.
Now it was time to own up to her family about the job. She eventually broke the news but her worries turned to joy when the children encouraged her and told her that they were proud of her for deciding to make an honest life for herself even if it meant being a bus driver.
Despite her experience as ambulance driver, she was nervous about her new job though she was determined to make a success out of it.
Maybe because of being a woman, some of her new workmates thought she had ventured into the wrong domain. The men did not think she could make it and they tried to discourage her. She was told about how the police sometimes harass bus drivers.
â€œThey told me that it is not a job for women because being a bus driver was rough. I was told about how they are sometimes harassed by the police or how men usually engage in fights which land them in the cells because of the environment in which they work,â€ Ms Mutamina says.
She says she was not discouraged by their sentiments and quickly dismissed them. She remained resolute because she understood the importance of drivers abiding by traffic rules to save the lives of the people they carry on their buses.
There were some of her workmates who embraced her, offering her support and guidance on how they operate as bus drivers.
â€œI was impressed with the mutual respect that exists among the bus drivers and conductors because I feared they would treat me roughly as well. But I quickly learned that management has a strict policy on employee relations,â€ she says.
Ms Mutamina, who has been working for Flash Buses for four months now, starts her day after 05:30 in the morning and ends at it 19:00hours.
â€œI start off for work at 6:10 from Mtendere township where I live and end at 19:00. I work every day of the week on the Chilenje, Chelstone and Kabanana routes. I donâ€™t have my own bus yet. We take turns with the man who has been assigned to help me learn the ropes.
Her workmates are now beginning to realise what she is made of. Hey support and guide her as thy show her the ropes.
Passengers respect and commend her for taking up the job because they find it unusual for a woman.
Although she does not intend to spend the rest of her life driving a bus, Ms Mutamina to improve her trade and invest so that she does not suffer once she retires.
Ms Mutamina says she hopes to invest in land for a farm when she retires. She encouraged other women not to shy away from jobs which are considered for men only. She is convinced that a woman can do what a man can do.
â€œForget about what people say, you are responsible for your own life. Trust me thereâ€™s nothing wrong with being a PSV driver. In fact, I would rather be a driver and support myself and family than engage in harmful activities. I am an independent woman and it feels good,â€ she says.
Her colleague, Edward Hara says he enjoys working with Ms Mutamina. He says although it is a new experience, Ms Mutamina is a hardworking and determined woman.
â€œAs her friend, I always encourage her to work hard and look beyond being a driver. She is an encouragement to other women just by being here with us. She is a joy to work with,â€ she says.
Another driver, Moses Tembo says he underestimated Ms Mutamina when he was first assigned to work with her but she has proved him wrong.
â€œWhen she first came, I thought she would not manage but when I gave her the bus, she performed better than most men I know. I like working with her, it is something different but itâ€™s a good experience for me as well,â€ he says with a smile.