They are mothers and wives, caring daughters to ageing parents, active members of their communities. Still, the 23 professional, female bus drivers in service of GO GEORGE hold their own in a traditional men’s world and never recoil from the challenges of their chosen profession.
Whether they were desperate for work and would be keen to learn any new skill for a fixed job and income, wanted to do something meaningful for the community, or really dreamed of driving a heavy vehicle, no one in the team would want to do something different to put bread on the table.
A young mom tells excitedly about the extra training opportunities that come along with the job. “We are even trained to work with computers – where else would I ever get that kind of exposure? We don’t even have a computer at home!”
Getting into difficult passengers’ shoes
“We are probably a bit more patient with the passengers than the men, but still the passengers’ behaviour towards us is the aspect of the work that gets to us the most,” a group recounts during an interview. “You learn very quickly to shut down, stay calm, and not to respond to the pressure. We are taught to keep in mind that the difficult passenger might have had a bad day, may feel sick, or is simply very tired. If you get upset, you can’t focus on your work and the traffic.”
Everyone agrees that a thank you or recognition for a safe trip means a lot, as it is strenuous to remain kind and friendly through the entire day amidst passengers’ frustrations. “We appreciate it, even more, when passengers remind others not to be so rude towards the bus driver; it feels like at least someone’s seeing you as a person.”
A young Xhosa woman laughs at how her Afrikaans has improved behind the steering wheel of the bus. “During my first week, I heard people keep saying to each other ‘lekke werk, lekke werk’! I asked my father-in-law what those words meant; now, I say to all my passengers, lekker werk!”
Her colleagues say they have in turn picked up many Xhosa words and enjoy surprising passengers with a word or two from their own language.
Working moms work double shift
The women who participated in the interview are all mothers. One of them is pregnant with a second baby. “I’m doing better behind the steering wheel of the larger buses these days, but I’m still driving comfortably. It does not even feel as if we’re driving buses; it’s just a vehicle. My own car actually feels too small and cramped now!”
A working mom burns her candle on both sides. A mom driving for a public bus service should have hair on her teeth. It’s like any woman who works shifts: it doesn’t matter what time you have to get up again to get to work, you prepare food for your family in the evening, take care of the household and laundry and make sure that the children’s things are ready for school the next day. If your alarm clock goes off at 03:00, you get out of bed because there is a whole town that needs you to get them to work and school on time – while someone else is getting your family ready for the day. If you don’t have a supportive, helpful spouse or family members, you have trouble.
Nevertheless, these women don’t want to do anything else. They are proud of their work. One is hoping to make a passenger’s day with her friendly words; another feels good because she is helping the community to get to wherever they should be; everyone is thankful for new skills and the benefits of a fixed job, such as maternity leave.
Please salute the next female bus driver you pass on the road.