Twenty-two-year-old Henrietta Danjuma Gowok from Kanke Local Government Area of Plateau State is a female mechanic in the Rayfield area of Jos. In this interview, she talks about how she ventured into being a mechanic and how she has inspired many ladies and men alike.
How did your journey as a car mechanic begin?
After I finished my secondary school, I couldn’t further my studies because of lack of funds so I decided to learn either a trade or acquire a skill, popularly called handwork.
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Mechanic work is seen as men’s kind of handwork. How do you feel being a mechanic?
I learnt tailoring at first and then hair dressing, but I realized that those areas are the desires of most girls/women willing to acquire a skill. In fact, those areas, to me, seems to be saturated by the female folks already. So, I told myself that I should venture into something different that women don’t love doing or that’s mostly dominated by men. I actually thought of two things – carpentry and mechanic, and I ended up with being a mechanic.
Will you abandon this trade if you get funding for your education?
I will actually love to go back to school, but I can’t abandon the work for school right now. This is because in our Nigeria of today, one needs to have a handwork because you can’t depend just on school certificates. Most of our youths and graduates today don’t have jobs or anything doing. They are now trying to go into skill acquisition after searching for jobs without getting any. But if they had acquired any skill alongside their schooling, they won’t be stranded.
Nonetheless, when I see the opportunity of going back to school I will, but certainly I can’t abandon my handwork now for school. I will find a way of combining both.
What has family support been like since you began?
My family has always been there for me, especially my mother and aunties. They have been supporting me with prayers and the little they can afford to encourage me. I didn’t tell anybody apart from my family that this is what I planned going into. I have even started before they knew about it, but rather than quarrelling with me for not seeking their consent before going into it, they only encouraged me. However, they were not surprised at all because they know I can do it due to my determination and ‘stubbornness’ to do whatever I set my mind on to do.
What is the apprenticeship arrangement of the work like?
According to my boss, I am going to learn for 5 years and thereafter I will work for him for one year. But if one learns the work rapidly, the years would be reduced. I have already spent two years and from the assessment, I am learning quickly. So, I think I may spend lesser years.
Have you ever regretted towing this line?
Not at all. I have no regret whatsoever. In fact, the work has become a blessing to me because many people got to like me more and appreciate what I do, while others even give me gifts and money. And whenever I get such, I help my younger ones with it.
What brand of cars do you work on at the workshop?
We repair Japanese brands such as Honda, Nissan and Toyota.
Some apprentices sometimes perform creditably well during their apprenticeship that customers are willing to have them do their work. Do customers feel confident to give you their cars to work on?
Yes. Many of our customers always want me to work on their cars and that has encouraged me tremendously. They are always happy seeing me fixing their cars. But some people don’t believe I can work on their cars until they try me first. Whenever such persons come, they will need some form of conviction, and whenever they become impressed they begin to appreciate my work.
What kind of car owners are comfortable with you working on their cars?
The people who patronize me mostly are the male car owners and elderly women. While some actually believed in me, others try me in order to encourage me. But they are never disappointed. However, young ladies hardly patronize me.
How has since your apprenticeship been so far?
Honestly, the work is not that easy. But I have learnt lots of things. I have learnt how to change shock absorbers, fix anything that concern the wheel of a car, work on parts of the engine, among others.
How did your boss initially feel about taking you in and how has the working relationship been between you both?
My boss was happy when I came to him to learn. After examining me, he stopped seeing me as a woman because he gives me the same assignment as the men and punish or discipline me the same way he does to the men whenever we err. Nonetheless, we have a good relationship with him in the sense that he always advices and guides us. I like his method of teaching/coaching and mentoring.
Do the other male apprentices and workers look down on you as a female?
No, they don’t look down on me. We do everything together and we correct each other at work. We work happily together and whenever I ask them about something I don’t know, they are always there to put me through. They are never tired of me asking them questions and they come up with helpful responses until I learn that particular thing very well. I’m the only female of 12 staff.
How do your female friends relate with you in respect to your career pursuit?
At first, some of them never believed I could do the work, while some told me that the work doesn’t fit me as a lady. Others said once I get married, I would stop it because I won’t have time for my family and all that. But I make them to understand that my work has nothing to do with my marital life because I must definitely have time for my family. Besides, all things being equal, I should have people working for me then.
Has any of your female friends been inspired to toe your work path?
Yes, some ladies have asked me about my work, saying they would want to join me in that line of work. I am always happy whenever they ask me about it or hearing them talking nicely about it. I always tell them that they must truly be prepared to do the work and as well put away any form of shyness.
Apart from the ladies, the men/boys too do tell me of their desire to learn mechanic whenever we go to work outside the workshop, saying that I have really inspired them as a woman doing such job. According to them, if me as a woman can proudly and committedly do the work, then they too can do it.
Have you ever been mocked or ridiculed for choosing this work?
Yes, many times. Some people have told me that I’m just wasting, and that I should better go and look for something else to do other than learning mechanic work. They believe a woman will never excel in it.
In this era of ‘slay queens or girls’, how do you do your slaying outside the workshop?
I love slaying too, and I do that after my work hours. Whenever I meet my customers after work or on weekends, they hardly recognize me because they don’t believe that I can look entirely different from my workshop appearance. Some will even be asking if it was really me they saw working at that machine workshop. Outside the workshop, I endeavour to look good, dress well and be my beautiful self.
Where do you expect to be in the nearest future?
I am looking forward to becoming my own boss and training other people on the job, especially the less privileged ones and people who don’t have anything to do or anyone to help them.
What is your advice to young ladies, especially in relation to them engaging in your kind of work and/or other male dominated jobs?
I will like to tell them that they should try and do something different. If men will have the courage to do hair dressing, plaiting, make-up, cooking/restaurant, among others, then the women should also venture into their kind of jobs and strive to dominate it.