Roy Lumbe @lumbe_roy
In many matatu routes, the sight of unkempt, profanity-spewing men is common. With little or no etiquette, they usher passengers into matatus and harass those who seem to be having second thoughts about boarding their vehicle.
For decades, the matatu transport sector has been perceived as male-dominated sector to the extent that it is sometimes viewed as taboo for women to get into the business.
This perception has been changing in recent years. To cement the notion that women can make it in the testerone-fuelled industry, a new breed of touts is emerging.
At the Nakuru Presige Shuttle Tours and Travels limited stage are a sight for a sore eye. The women dressed in white blouses, red shirts and red caps are changing the perception of the sector. Nicknamed the “Nakuru Matatu hostess” the women are handling travellers at the Nakuru terminus with care and purpose to change their perception of the country’s multi-billion shilling sector.
Accoutered with unprecedented customer care skills coupled with a prayer at the outset of every journey, the matatu hostesses of Nakuru have gone against the grain, shattering traditional gender roles.
They are facing a relatively tough field with no-nonsense demeanor and a hardworking mentality. For some, it is the employment of their feminine skills and character, which puts them ahead of their male colleagues.
The company, which operates a fleet over of over 200 buses and 11-seater shuttles has employed 14 women graduates to assist in transforming the sector.
Before any vehicle leaves the main stage located along Kenyatta lane in Nakuru, the smiling hostess counter check all travel tickets before leading the passengers in a word of prayer.
This trend according to hostess Grace Munania has made many passengers appreciate the company given its spiritual foundation, adding that they thrive to be the best in the industry.
According to Munania, women have the ability to bring sanity and decency in the sector when given the opportunity to work, saying that there has never been complaints about services being offered at the terminus. “Many passengers have learnt to appreciate women in the sector.
Women have the ability to bring sanity and decency in the sector since we work to be the best,” said Munania. Alice Wanjiku, a graduate teacher says she opted to work, as a hostess to try and make the desired difference every day in her line of duty.
“I love serving people and that is why I chose to work as a hostess. I was a teacher before I decided to change careers. So far I am loving it,” says a jovial Wanjiku.
She says her job has helped her expand her social circle contrary to popular belief that a female tout would be open to disdain from society. Hostess Susan Kimani, a wife and mother says she had to overcome societal norms and out of her own volition, applied for the job, which she has been doing for the past two years.
Family and close friends questioned the move, but could not change her mind. She refused to allow traditional biases against women deny her a job opportunity.
“My family and even friends could not understand why I chose to do this,” says Kimani. The 14 matatu hostesses work in shifts where every morning as early as 4:30am they receive travellers, ensure their luggage is safely tucked in the buses luggage compartment and all travellers adhere to safety rules before setting out.
Before the bus departs, the hostess offer words of encouragement to passengers and pray for the journey. The daunting quest for a better service prevails much to the delight of travelers who say that at other terminuses it is easy for one to be mugged and even lose luggage due to lack of coordination from respective offices.
Prestige Shuttle Director, Stephen Muli says the attempt to change service delivery begins with working with a dynamic team of professionals who can help elevate the service to a corporate level.