Pan Africa Bicycle Information Network (PABIN)
Mother of Two Who Operates Her Boda Boda Taxi
The East African Standard (Nairobi)
January 17, 2005
by Francis Ngige
Nairobi. Lilian Anyango ferries a passenger on her bicycle along Biashara Avenue, in Nakuru town. She is in the midst of young men touting for customers as they look for bicycle taxis to ferry them to their destinations. Occasionally, she will get more aggressive by ringing her bell, prompting passers-by to sometimes stop and stare at her.
This is 23-year-old Lilian Anyango Omondi, who has refused to be intimidated by the male-dominated and risky boda boda business. Instead, she has chosen to plunge into the business head-on. Anyango, who is based in Nakuru, goes about her business with fervour and extra-ordinary energy, which have impressed many at Manyatta Hotel Boda boda point in Shabab Estate, where she operates.
Many of the residents are yet to understand how the woman retains her sanity in the rough and unfettered business of carrying passengers on a bicycle.
Anyango, who is married to Jack Otieno and together have two children, has not had it all smooth in the business. To begin with, she has not been able to afford her own bicycle and has to hire one at Sh100 a day, which eats into her profits. Part of the reason she is so aggressive in her work is due to the fact that the bicycle owner expects his Sh100, everyday, whether she gets a customer or not. But this has not discouraged Anyango because she knows that with the high unemployment rate in the country, she is not likely to get a job placement soon. Matters are not helped by the fact that she is a Class Six dropout, which means that her little education cannot secure her a decent job. So she has chosen to join the hundreds of youths in Nakuru, who have been bitten by the "boda boda bug", a business that was not common in the town a few years back.
The bicycle taxi operators partly have the Government to thank for the fast growth of their informal trade. This was after Transport minister John Michuki introduced stringent traffic rules to streamline the Public Service Vehicles, which led to an increase in fares and some PSV operators being pushed out of business. The crisis reached a turning point after a countrywide matatu strike early last year to protest at Michuki's directive, which paralyzed public transport.
Many people in Nakuru started using bicycles to reach their places of work.
Those who did not own bicycles would pay for a ride, and the boda boda business was born in the town. The taxis now ply a number of routes in the town, with the operators charging between Sh15 and 20, which is cheaper than matatu fares. So what drove the young wife and mother into this business, which has always been regarded a man's affair?
"I wanted to supplement my husband's income. He is employed as a bicycle repairer," says Anyango.
Riding a bicycle does not pose any problem to her since she learnt the skill at the tender age of eight. Then, she was a carefree child living with her parents in Nyando District. But things took a tragic turn when Anyango's parents died in 1996. Being the first born, she dropped out of school in Standard Six to fend for her two siblings. When hardships overwhelmed the orphans, Anyango travelled to Nakuru to look for work as a househelp. But things were not as easy as she had imagined since no one was willing to hire her.
Around this time, she met Otieno, who proposed and she agreed to marry him. And now that she has her own family, her desire is to assist her husband meet the needs of their children, hence her venturing into the boda boda trade.
Anyango has been in the business for five months, and says that on a good day, especially weekends, she is able to pocket Sh500. When business is low, she earns as little as Sh50.
Her day starts at 5 am when she wakes up to prepare breakfast for her husband and children. She then prepares herself before mounting her bicycle and heading to the boda boda terminus to ferry people to work. As would be expected, Anyango did not immediately hit it off with her colleagues and customers.
"Initially, I almost quit since my male colleagues, who have dominated the business in the town, were not ready to accept me in their midst," she recalls.
They would taunt her as they wondered loudly what a right-thinking woman was doing in their rough territory.
"Huyu mwanamke anafikiri ataweza hii kazi kweli? Aanajaribu kazi ya wanaume ambayo ni ngumu. (Does this woman really imagine that she can cope with this work? She is experimenting with a job that is solely for men)," some of the operators would wonder.
Neighbours and friends wondered why a woman with a young family like hers would choose to join such a chaotic trade. Customers did not give her an easy time either and some would board the bicycle next to hers, vowing that they would not be ferried by a woman.
Other frustrations stemmed from the fact that some passengers, especially the men, would pay less than the agreed fare while others failed to pay altogether after reaching their destinations.
"But what can you do? When I found myself in such a situation, I would say a prayer, asking God to give me the courage to go on," she says.
But the hostility has since waned. Her fellow operators have learnt to accept her on realising that she is there to stay. The passengers too have realised that Anyango can a ride a bike just as expertly as a man and deliver them safely to their destinations. Some have even made her bicycle their travel choice.
Still, the trade has its share of risks. In some cases, Anyango has to ferry passenger to dangerous places or late in the evening. There is also the ever-present danger of careless motorists knocking down the cyclists.
"But thank God that nothing bad has happened to me so far, and pray that nothing does," she says.
Anyango is not about to give up the trade any time soon, having already found an opening and firmly entrenching herself. Her driving force is the need to take care of her family and supplement her husband's income.
Anyango is appealing to well wishers to help her acquire her own bicycle, since this will enable her maximise her profits and save some in the bank. And before we can thank her for the interview, she jumps on her bicycle to transport a customer who has just arrived - lest he is scooped by another operator - and pedals off furiously.
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