Juliet Nankinga on life as a female mechanic

Nankyinga under a Land Cruiser doing her work. Photo by Abubaker Lubowa.

What you need to know:

Julie Nankinga is a mechanical engineer, working at World Food Programme where she is the only female mechanic. While she dreamed of being a medical doctor, it was mechanics that came calling. She heeded the call and has no regerets.

On the phone, she always sounded hurried and precise, in the manner of one for whom every moment is tautly scheduled. Twice she postponed the interview, citing a hectic schedule. But when we finally met, she was all patience and willingness.

Meet Juliet Nankinga, a study in contrasts. She is a pangolin (lugave) clan member, yet has nothing of the shyness the creature is famed for. In person, her manner is as brisk as her walk around the World Food Programme’s Strategic Fleet Base where she is a mechanic for light vehicles.

She is the sort of character who gave up an office job at ThunderBolt Technical Services in Bweyogerere for the clang and hustle of a vehicle-maintenance workshop.

“I always liked hands-on work. When I worked maintenance on fuel pumps at Petro Servic stations and during my university days, field trips and practicals were my thing. This is why I switched from management back to mechanics,” she explains.

The choice to repair cars
As focused as she is now, it is fate, not her own efforts, that handed Nankinga her current destiny. Her childhood dream was to be a doctor like her elder sister who is her primary role model. Only in her Senior Six did Nakinga start contemplating being a mechanic.

“Many of my friends were doing engineering and it so happened that the place I was given at Uganda Polytechnic Kyambogo for engineering was nearer for me than medicine where I was supposed to go to Gulu or Mbarara. Gradually, I started liking it, and now here I am”, she narrated.

At WFP, she is the only woman in the place, discounting the cook staff. She has always been outnumbered in her vocation; only two female classmates in a class of 30 during her diploma study in Mechanical Engineering at Uganda Polytecnic Kyambogo, one of six girls in a class of 25 when she studied for her degree in Industrial Engineering and Management at Kyambogo University, and the sole female applicant out of 15 who made it to the interviews for her current job.

But she is not one to capitalise on her gender. For except when she needs help lifting heavy equipment, in competence and skill she considers herself one of the “guys”—twice during the interview she referenced “going down to work on the heavy trucks with the other guys”.

“The guys are fun to work with because we share jokes and knowledge. It is an honour-among-equals method whereby we each watch our boundaries of interaction so that we maintain teamwork while also not disrespecting each other at work”, she enthused.

Blouses and overalls
Nankinga the woman and Nankinga the mechanic would likely not recognise each other if she could somehow divide her two personalities.

The first one is every bit the lady; constantly tugging at her blouse so that cleavage showed, divulging her half-guilty fascination with the TV show The Hostel, and cracking up a little when she told how her mother worried about mechanic’s work being perhaps too heavy for her.

Mechanic Nankyinga on the other hand, is the consummate professional fluently talking shop as she rough-houses with colleagues, in memorised motion sliding under Land Cruisers with total disregard for her hair, and grasping wrenches and spanners with no care that in years to come they might leave her with calloused hands.

Both Nankyingas reconcile in the one who wants to be remembered “for being that hardworking lady who inspired other women to work harder and to take up supposedly challenging things like being a mechanic”.

Born: 1st May at Kiyiribwa in Nakifuma, Mukono.

Parents: Emmanuel Kibiri (RIP) and Christine Nakiwu

Siblings: Five brothers and nine sisters.

Education: Rubaga Girls School, Lubiri High School, Nabumali High School, Uganda Polytecnic Kyambogo (Diploma in Mechanical Engineering), Kyambogo University (Degree in Industrial Engineering and Management, Uganda Management Institute (Postgraduate Diploma in Logistics and Transport Management).