By An Executive Editor
Not many women are into car repairs and stuff. But even for the few who may be there, they may not be as proud and passionate as Ainomugisha Mercy Nkakara is. Nkakara is the only female mechanic at Niyo Garage in Kasangati. Her journey, as she tells us in the excerpts below started as a receptionist but now, she is that go-to lady mechanic, for those who have had the opportunity to have her repair their cars.
Being in a male dominated field, Nkakara tells us the challenges she deals with every day, how she deals with them (challenges) and what gets her going.
Question: Why mechanics of all jobs?
Answer: Passion inspired me.
Question: Tell me about it…
Answer: I have something within me that tells me that I can do anything that’s doable, whether female or male dominated. I can do it. So, that thing moved me.
Question: When was this?
Answer: It was in 2020. The first Covid-19 lockdown.
Question: So, how did it all start?
Answer: I was there at the garage (though I used to work at the reception, for like 6 months). I talked to my boss and he allowed it. I started learning. He took me to a certain school. The school is called Girls With Tools. It’s in Mpererwe. I was in school for a year. So, the moment I told my boss, I started learning (not the practical part. He was like if I learn the practical part, I would be doing myself a disservice. He recommended that school for theory. So, I would go to school, study theory, come back to the garage and practice what I learn).
Question: What or which type of car did you work on first?
Answer: It was a tyre (big tyre like for a TX).
Question: Tell me about that experience..
Answer: My first experience was so bad. The tyre was so heavy for me.
Question: How much was the pay for it?
Answer: I am not paid per car. I am paid monthly.
Question: Which car do you enjoy working on and which one would you work on any time?
Answer: Toyota Noah.
Question: Why a Noah?
Answer: It is so easy.
Question: Where do you want to go from here?
Answer: I want to put up my own garage. I don’t want to be employed. I want to employ.
Question: You are in a male dominated field. How does that make you feel?
Answer: I feel good. I feel so proud. I just enjoy it. When people find me there, everyone gets surprised, both male and female. They feel happy. They feel proud of me.
Question: Young people of your age are there slaying. You are here spending the day in a garage (not a bad thing. It’s work). What do you tell the young people?
Answer: To the women and girls, especially, believe in yourself. Leave alone that tendency of this is a male dominated thing, or I can’t do this because I am a girl. As long as that something is bringing something on your table. As long as you are earning, go for it and work smart.
Question: Do you have time to do things outside work?
Answer: I overwork. I wake up very early (6am), by 7 or 7:30am, I am at work. I leave work at 7pm and reach home at 9pm. That time, I just want to rest. The only day, it’s a Sunday. I spend it all resting/sleeping. So, for now, I am concentrating on work.
Question: How do you deal with your male clients who want to go beyond work?
Answer: Easy. At least 8/10 of the male who bring their cars to the garage want my contact (not for work) but I take it as teasing.
Question: What do you tell those who have not yet been to your garage?
Answer: I do a perfect job. I take my time. I do my work to the best of my abilities. Try me. Bring your car.
Question: What challenge/s do you encounter with your work?
Answer: The manager assigns who works on which car. But meeting a first time client, they are hesitant about having a woman work on their car. They don’t really trust me. They say a woman can’t touch my car. But everyone around me including my manager supports me. They convince the client until they allow and when they allow, I always do my best. I put in a lot, my whole and do my work to his or her satisfaction. It’s a challenge.
Question: What do they tell you after the car is worked on?
Answer: Of course they appreciate it. The following visit, they dictate that I work on their car. They recommend me to their friends and family and they come looking for that girl. The only female mechanic.
Question: Tell me about the community in which you grew up. What was it like?
Answer: I grew up in a community that believes girls were divinely designed to be soft and gentle, to always be ready to rise up in service of men. I was unfortunately among those lucky ones with parents who align more to the strict stereotypical traditional lines of our society. Though people believe that women from our culture are aggressive and outspoken, this is another perpetrated lie that I realized as I grew up. To take you back a bit to my early life, I always had this deviant feeling from a tender age. I always felt it within me that what everybody else can do, I could also do it and even better. This is the inner surge that always drove me into insurmountable feats that at times defeated my young age. Of course, given my nature, the road was not always smooth, there were challenges that at times threatened to break my spirit. However, if there is one thing that the last century has taught me, it is persistence.
Question: You speak fondly about your Mom, how about Daddy?
Answer: He passed on. I realized that whoever said men should look after their families might probably have been right! We were in for a roller coaster ride that would test our determination to go on. Fortunately, I had gotten enough formal and informal education to know that one’s family came first. With the help of my mom, I began fending for the family with the same determination that I always admired from my father. I started off with jobs like sewing craft shoes and straw baskets, I tried my hand at tailoring. Before covid struck I had decided to set up a small shop and sell all the products I could produce, from one place. Unfortunately, my shop had just started when Covid came crushing in and I was stuck before I could even set off. As they say that there is always a silver lining in every cloud, I found my silver in Covid. When the pandemic stretched our sustainability thin, my mom decided that it was time for me to look beyond our home and our village for more opportunities. By this time I was aware that the world was big and there were a number of things I had not yet done, I was still brimming with energy and hope.
Question: How, then, did you end up at the garage?
Answer: I was talking to my OB (old boy) who works at a garage in Kasangati when he commented that at his workplace they needed a person who could work as a receptionist. I told him to recommend me for the position since I was recently unemployed and we really needed sustenance at home. Fortunately, he did so, and I was accepted after talking to the garage owner and confirming my desire to work as hard as any hardworking person he knew. When I reached Kasangati, I readily tuned into my new role as a receptionist at a garage. However, my inquisitive nature could not let me settle for long. Before long I was asking questions on how cars operated, different car models, their prices, how their spare parts were obtained and so much more. I found my desire to know more about cars turning into a passion and after a while I really wanted to understand the full operation of a car, this is how I start my journey to being a mechanic
Question: What is that one last thing you would want to say?
Answer: As a young lady becoming a female mechanic wasn’t easy due to limited opportunities and inferiority complex in the field. Being a lady mechanic, my male workmates tease me, my friends laugh at me. This initially used to discourage me a lot but my dream is bigger than the hardships I face. I want to go up the ranks and one day win big contracts. Stopping now will take that away. So I ignore the jokes and work harder but still deliver my best work. These small things boost my confidence and bring me one step closer to achieving my dream. I know it can be and I encourage fellow ladies in the same field to always focus on their dream and make smaller steps every day to achieve it.
Ainomugisha Mercy Nkakara, 21, is the first born of her mother. She attended Kitunga Primary School in Kanungu (for Primary), St. Maria Goretti Girls in Fort Portal and Lubiri high School (Bulooba Campus) for O and A levels and later National Teachers’ College, Unyama for a diploma in Education majoring in Literature and English language, which course she dropped out of after one year.