What you need to know:
Many bus drivers and up-country travellers get thrilled with the fantastic driving skills of Alice Nyambura, a 42-year renowned Kenyan female cross-border bus driver.
In a society like Uganda where women don’t commonly feature as heavy truck and long distance drivers, not even as Taxi drivers in the city or countryside, it is certain that any regular woman bus driver would stun and excite many.
Alice Nyambura, a driver with Swift Safaris Bus Company plying Kampala-Mbarara route daily has become a marvel and subject of talk among travellers. Her stint has been from Gaaga bus along Kampala-Arua route and Nile Coach on the same route for two and three years respectively. She drove Kaliita bus taking Kampala-Nairobi route for one year, before turning to Kampala-Mbarara route with Swift Safaris bus for seven months now.
On a hot afternoon as staff of the Swift Safaris bus Company and a swarm of passengers wait for her arrival from Kampala at down town Mbarara Bus Park, one staff assures impatient travellers that, “The bus is arriving anytime with the woman (driving). She is steady, although slow. So let us be patient.”
Passengers are already spilling over the 60 seater company tent where they have been waiting. Nyambura is going to make an immediate return journey because there are very many passengers. For some reasons, they can’t board non Swift buses and the beckoning by the brokers of other buses yields no attention, prompting an agent of Jussy Tours bus to retort, “With that woman you will sleep on the way (read reach late).”
Donning a white blouse and black pair of trousers, Nyambura arrives and after 15 minutes of lunch break, again takes her seat ready to get on the road. She hoots for a while to alert everybody that they are ready to leave the park for Kampala. Jean Ankunda like other passengers who have travelled with Nyambura says, “She is a diligent driver although she drives at a slow pace.” Nyambura says the reason she goes slow is because the road is narrow, under repair and there are poor users like lorries carrying matooke.
“I drive fast when I’m on a good road but this one is not good. It takes me about five hours on the 270 kilo metre Kampala –Mbarara road,” she says adding that, ”my bus driving career spans over 10 years.” Nyambura who is a Kenyan, says passengers in Uganda look at her with surprise and admiration.
“Passengers get excited because I’m a woman driving a bus which they are not used to. Many have not believed, so they come to gaze at me when the bus stops. In Kenya, women are not afraid unlike in Uganda, that’s why there are no female bus drivers,” she says with a smile. She is on the road for 10 hours daily except when she is off duty which is rarely the case.
Because she wears a trouser and a cap at times, cutting a manly posture, Nyambura is many times beckoned by attendants to enter male places of conveniences only for them to realise she is a woman. Unlike other women, Nyambura hardly gets time to go out because the nature of her job requires a sober mind.
A widow and a single mother of four children, Nyambura does not divulge how much she earns in daily allowances and monthly salary. She however admits that her earnings are not commensurate to her work. Fortunately, with the meagre pay, Nyambura has been able to educate her eldest son, a second year undergraduate at Kampala International University. Her other three daughters are in primary school. “This kind of responsibility is the very reason I’m working hard. I want to ensure they have a good life in future,” she says.
Nyambura studied up to primary level and followed her father’s footsteps in police training. She became a traffic officer in Kenya at the wise counsel of her father, who works in the CID department Nairobi. She however resigned from police force and went to train as a driver. Before coming to work in Uganda in 2004, she drove taxis and Akamba buses in Kenya. The moment she arrived in Kampala, many bus company managers picked interest in her skill and offered her opportunities in their companies. “I should say I am a lucky woman because I never apply for jobs. It’s usually the bus companies that call,” she says adding that, “I have never been involved in any accident in my career, thanks to God. But I do not think this is because I am a very perfect driver, it is God who has saved me and I’m always careful the moment I get behind the steering.”
What she finds thwarting on the Uganda roads are the poor road users especially drivers of Lorries carrying matooke, cyclists and tax drivers who do not want to drive on the roadside.
This job is however emotionally exhausting, because for two years now I have not had a maid yet my children are still young!
Donasiano Opwonya, Southwestern Regional Traffic Officer's Testimony
Seventeen years in the traffic department, I have only seen Alice Nyambura as the female bus driver for long routes. She is very strict, careful and her bus is always in good mechanical condition. I have never heard her involved in an accident. Driving is not scary or a peculiar job that women can’t take it up. All you need is to have the skills. May be it is because women are culturally supposed to be close to their homes looking after children and husbands, yet with that kind of job you have to sometimes stay away and travel. It is not easy for those who have families. It takes a lot of commitment and love for the job.