When Juliet arrives at work each morning, she could be any desk-bound staffer, neatly coiffed and attired as she sits down with her coffee to check on email. Then comes the daily transformation: she slips on blue coveralls and heavy black boots, a woman as comfortable in the dusty grease pit under a Toyota Land Cruiser as behind a computer.
by Lydia Wamala
"I love this job," she says, her wide eyes brightening as she heads to the sprawling lot to find the vehicle she will fix this day.
Juliet is a mechanic for Uganda's strategic truck fleet base outside the capital of Kampala (more on the strategic fleet here). The base fields light vehicles as well as 19 trucks that provide secondary transport – mainly in the troubled Karamoja and West Nile regions on routes where commercial transporters are reluctant to operate.
On this day, something is amiss when she arrives to her work: two of her spanners (wrenches) are missing. "I do recall lending out one of them," she says, her hand searching through a red hard-plastic case, "but there are two gaps that I cannot explain." Juliet turns back to other tool boxes. Her cabinet contains nearly 200 light tools, each one with a name.
Juliet fixes light vehicles as well as trucks from the strategic fleet. Today, she is going to service a Toyota Land Cruiser and replace its bashed headlight.
She explains that servicing a vehicle involves changing the oil and oil filter, checking the air cleaner, brakes, radiator coolant and battery water. The language of her work is distinctive: she talks of brake and clutch fluid, differential oil, gearbox and engine oil, suspension and link bushes, fuel and oil filters.
Before descending into the service pit, Juliet pulls out a soft black hat to cover her recently curled hair. Once there, she drains out the used oil and checks on things inside the dusty belly of the vehicle. Her hands are covered in dust and grease, but, she says, she wouldn't be as efficient or effective wearing gloves on her hands.
"Odong!" Juliet calls to a colleague. "Could you come and help me tighten the filter?" Fellow mechanic David Odong arrives in seconds, tightens the oil filter and dusts the surrounding gadgets before helping her close the hood. "Working with the guys motivates me a great deal. We work as a team," Juliet says. "They help me in certain areas and I assist them too. I learn from them and they learn from me."
Juliet is not bothered by the challenges of working as one of few female mechanics at WFP, if not the only. "There is no easy job," she says. "Every job has challenges – and all challenges have solutions."
Tewolde, who heads the fleet operations in Uganda, says female mechanics are uncommon in Africa: "I am happy to see some gender balance in that area (here). Juliet is proud to work with WFP as a mechanic."
Juliet has academic qualifications in mechanical engineering, industrial engineering and management and logistics and transport management. Because of this, she can multi-task at the desk, entering data and reconciling job cards using the fleet management system. Although Juliet always wanted to be an engineer – not necessarily a mechanic – she's been happy in her four years with WFP gaining hands-on experience.
It can be hard, sweaty work though: as Juliet starts to remove a tire to check on the brakes, she has to deliver a hard kick to the wheel spanner before unscrewing the nut bolts, one by one.
After some two hours of steady work, she is done with everything but fixing the headlight. The pressure is subtle but nagging: she knows that the car has to be ready to return to the field tomorrow. That's OK. Knowing that she can fix cars and trucks to help WFP reach the needy is the highest motivation for Juliet.
Interested in meeting more of the Logistics Staff in Uganda? This Youtube video will introduce you to a few of them, and what kind of work they do in Kampala for WFP.