She pulled over near Molo River, jumped off the truck’s cabin and then made a call to her children.
“I miss them,” she said, “but lazima ni hustle (but I must work hard),” Patience Longari says. A few minutes earlier, as she approached Nakuru’s Pipeline Junction, her 14-year-old son had called but she was driving.
Longari, 36, left her home in Baringo three weeks before we met her.
She has been a truck driver for Prime Fuels for the last three years, and before that she had driven another truck belonging to a Zanzibar-based company for the same period.
“I spend many nights and days on the roads, hauling freight from Mombasa to different parts of East Africa and vice versa.
“At first, it was a case of push comes to shove because I had been jobless for a long time. Gradually though, it has become my beloved office; the job I love doing,” Longari says.
Like her male counterparts’, Longari’s big rig has to undergo constant security checks and has to stay at the nearest terminal when dusk falls, as per the traffic regulations put in place by the National Transport and Safety Authority.
When in some countries like Uganda, however, she can drive throughout the night. “During the stops, we manage to get a wink of sleep. There are designated areas that have got into an agreement with the freight company to allow the trucks to be parked by the night. The company I work for looked for areas where the drivers can find safe accommodation,” she says.
But that is not to say that she has not spent her nights inside the truck. Sometimes, she says, the truck, just like any other vehicle, experiences mechanical problems that you cannot immediately sort. That is when you are forced to park by the road and sleep until help arrives,” she said.
Although she is usually accompanied by a co-driver assigned by the company at any particular time, Longari was alone during the interview since, like she said, she was only covering Mombasa to Kericho, which was a short distance as compared to the many others she has done before.
With years though, she says, her employer has been taking them through vehicle maintenance and mechanical trainings, which she says have helped her diagnose some of the problems she may encounter.
“We have also had a number of safety and security trainings that have really been of help in my work,” she says.
Longari, who completed her secondary school studies in 2002, says she joined Kenyatta University two years later to pursue a degree in education but dropped out in 2004 due to a pregnancy that caused a lot of health complications.
“When my child was two years old, I enrolled at Rocky Driving School, which was by then located at Pioneer building in Nairobi. I was hoping that I would be a matatu driver and manage to raise money to complete my education.
“When I finished and joined the matatu industry, I was disappointed that it did not pay me as much money as I had wished for,” says the mother of three.
She was employed by a businessman in Industrial Area as a driver who used to ferry stationery to different parts of Nairobi before meeting the fleet manager of a freight haulers company. He employed her on a three-year contract.
“I however wanted to join a company that would employ me on a permanent and pensionable basis and give me an insurance because this job can sometimes be risky,” she said, adding that she was not looking for another job. She however did not divulge how much she earns.
Longari is not alone in this trade; 33-year-old Mary Wangari too, has unapologetically immersed herself in the male-conquered arena.
On a typical day, the mother of one wakes up at 5am to embark on a 12-hour journey from Turkana to Mombasa in her oil truck that belongs to Oilfield Movers Limited.
The last five years on the roads have helped her master the art of courage, charisma and amazing excellence in her work.
Wangari described her job environment as one that continues to pose more risks and threats to women, who constantly have to grapple with chauvinism, derogatory remarks from their male counterparts.
“Some male drivers think women should be in the kitchen, taking care of the family and walking from one neighbourhood to another; and the cycle should be the same every day,” said Wangari, who believes the job is not very reassuring, especially for women who are first-timers.
“Sometimes the night catches up with you while you are still on the road. As a woman, you cannot sleep in the car. You have to look for a house, and during such times some men may think you are in other immoral businesses,” she said.
Like Longari, Wangari’s biggest challenge is the many days she has to stay away from her family, but she says: “We meet during my off days and its always the best time.”
They both admit that driving together with men is not as easy as it may look, adding that men’s ego is crushed when a female driver overtakes them and so sometimes they drive carelessly in competition.
Her colleague, another female truck driver, Terry Nafula, who drives her truck from Mombasa to Lokichani in Turkana South, says that her job is one that is demanding and wearisome, but coupled up with an attractive pay.
The mother of three said she ventured into truck driving after her marriage hit rock bottom.
“We could not agree on anything with my husband because he wanted me to remain at home, yet the money he was getting was not enough to take care of all our needs and the children.
She enrolled in a driving school in 2017, and that marked the beginning of her journey. She got hired by the same company as Wangari.
She described a truck driving experience that taught her to repair punctures by herself.
Nafula has been in the trade for two years now and she rubbished cases of fuel siphoning and putting the car on free gear to recover the fuel sold.
“These days, companies are very keen on issues to do with fuel siphoning and they instal tracking devices such that they are able to tell the amount of fuel the truck consumes; you have to focus on arriving,” said Nafula.
Her convoy, according to her, has four people and they have to constantly check on each other. “You cannot stop the truck anywhere to engage in some unnecessary business,” she added.