As a woman in a male mechanic yard

By Tsitsi Bhobo

I was not sure I could not write anything credible when I first about this opportunity from Goatpol. But on realizing that I’m a woman in a male mechanic yard – I realized I have millions of things to write about.

Female mechanics or women working in a male-dominated mechanics yard in Zimbabwe are rare. The most well known lady-mechanic in our country was described in a major newspaper in very sexist language as – “Meet Memo Makanika, a slender, beautiful young motor mechanic whose hands are so soft you’d be forgiven to think she cannot tell a wheel spanner from a chocolate bar. Yet those hands tighten metal bolts and get soaked in engine oil everyday as she fixes cars, a job that her seen her profile rise.”

I’m Tsitsi, a woman selling car parts in Kwa-Gaza, the largest sprawling male-dominated open-air mechanic yard in Harare Zimbabwe. And I thought this is my first writing detailing a world in that women don’t feature always.

I have never written to be published before – out of fear that writing in Zimbabwe is for people from classy, university-educated families – not a woman working in a township car junkyard like me. But I have finally convinced myself that – writing is for all.

Daily, I wake up at 4 am in High-field Township, one of Harare city’s most populous townships, which is where I rent. I exercise, using old car tires from my work to build muscle and ready myself for a bus to work at 7 am. My work involves quickly understanding things that I never thought I would understand – car carburettors, gearboxes, silencers, pistons, prop shafts – and quickly relaying the information in simple language to customers who wonder – why on earth does a woman like me understand these car gear stuff?

This is the purpose of my first writing to let you know that in Zimbabwe where I live – cars and geek knowledge about them are so male-dominated affairs that it took until recent years to have the first woman driving big trucks in my country or a female mechanic to be publicly acknowledged in the media in my country.

My writing is to share with you that, in Zimbabwe working as a female in a male-dominated car junkyard is content with misogynistic insults, threats, swearing, and unpalatable vulgar language from drunk men who will either be reversing cars from test garages or crawling under cars to fix engines that leak oil. “Pass me that Number 5 spanner,” they shout at me thinking I don’t fully know what a spanner is. But this is a job for me whereby even customers when they come to search for car parts and they see I am a woman explaining the difference between engine oil and gear oil say “do you have a male salesperson?”

They don’t understand that a woman like me could be knowledgeable about car-geek stuff and give them solid advice. Where I spent my day from 7 am to 4 pm is a place where finding a moment to sit down and write on my cellphone like I’m doing can elicit disrespectful comments like – “At last you women writing is what you are suited to not selling car engines.”

I need to write about the unconventional job I do because, in Zimbabwe, the stereotypical expectations of a woman like me are to be in the home, wash pots, feed babies, cook meals, and wait for a man’s paycheck. But my work flips the script, I am a woman working in a low-income suburb open-air car junkyard and thriving in an environment hostile to female technical workers. Also, writing puts people like me, from low-income backgrounds and jobs, in the ear of readers because in Zimbabwe, a woman working in a car junkyard is not expected to be a writer. Writers, in Zimbabwe, are, in the minds of the public, class university-educated kids who occasionally give public lectures and win global awards, not folks like me.

Meanwhile, as I finish my first writing for Goatpol, I must be content with a drunk man who comes into my workplace and returns a soiled car oil seal. He mouths off – “If you were a male salesperson, you couldn’t have sold me this wrong size engine oil seal.”

30 October, 2022