In the scorching sun of Liberia’s last month to rainy season, there is a woman dressed in a pinkish flowered tank top, about five feet tall, with dazzling, ebony hair in a short style. She is Liberia’s only female taxi driver.
Ola, as she is popularly known by everyone, is a 42 year-old single mother thriving and surviving in a trade predominantly controlled by men. She is also the country’s only commercial female bus driver and for now, the only female bus conductor.
In the six years since the ascendancy of Liberia’s first female head of state, the West African nation has made significant progress in women’s advancement. More and more females are becoming tremendously hard-working and successful in many industries, now to include transportation.
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On average, Ola makes 16-18 trips over an 8-hour day, shuttling passengers from Gardnersville to downtown Monrovia and changes route within time to Monrovia-Mamba point. She is sharp, careful, observant and fast while navigating the wheel and displays no glaring differences from a male warco style of driving.
Here is an excerpt of Face2Face Africa’s interview with the wonderful Ola Kinde in Monrovia.
Face2Face Africa (F2FA): Hello, how are you and welcome to Face2Face Africa’s gender review conversation.
Ola: Thank you, sir.
F2FA: I see you are a Taxi Driver?
Ola: Yes, I am, and a happy one!
F2FA: How long have you been a commercial driver?
Ola: I have been a commercial driver for 6 years.
F2FA: What made you become a taxi driver?
Ola: I was a cook for so many years in my restaurant. At one time, I was sick to the point of death, and the doctor who healed me said my sickness emanated from heat of cooking and advised me to refrained from that. Then when I recovered, I started thinking what next I have to do that will generate same kind of money the restaurant gives me. That is when the idea of driving came through between my brother and me.
F2FA: Then how did it all begin, getting on the road?
Ola: When I agreed on the point to become a commercial driver, the next was what kind? I decided to buy a bus, 14-seater bus. I arranged with my brother for us to share or change routines of driving time. When my brother gets tired I will take over from him, and when he is on the wheel, I will take care of passengers and fare collection. I learned too, names of drop-off and pick-up points and final destinations, keys and other jargons applied to the job.
F2FA: Why did you choose a bus?
Ola: You know, bus brings more money and I needed to know the reason of being on the road for so many hours and long days. Bus made me to realize a huge and fast return.
F2FA: How did it feel being on the road for the first time and first day?
Ola: You know, I have been driving my private car for many years, and to become a commercial engaged driver is a total different thing. Having to talk with people all the time and talking too much is a tough job by itself. The heat from the car engine is a bit of hell oozing on your leg and feet, sitting too long, which makes you to sweat and get damp underneath is all an uncomfortable part of the whole thing, but it pays.
F2FA: How have the police and passengers viewed your work?
Ola: Honestly, I must admit, the police have been very friendly, I have got away with too many things just because I am a woman driving commercially. The passengers look at me with second levels of appreciation, bewildering, shock and negative conclusions. Some have said that I am a gay, that’s why am doing men’s work and others said that I am frustrated. Many men give me encouragement and like to see me drive pass them. The public at large feels it’s a good thing to happen in Liberia for women challenging men.