Beatrice Chiumia has ventured into an unknown territory, mostly dominated by men. She is a woman who, unlike many, does not strike for beauty immaculacy to look good for the office. Hers are pants, boots as she readies to get dirty with grease and oil. This mechanic is proud in her world and CHIKONDI KASAMBARA finds out more form her.
Tell me about yourself.
I was born Beatrice Chiumia on 21 August 1978. I come from Kamundavwa Village Traditional Authority (T/A) Mtwalo in Mzimba. I am married with two beautiful daughters, Shakira 20 and Talita, two. Shakira is currently at Mzuzu University studying for Bachelor of Arts (Education). She is my sister, friend and confidant. I am the second born in a once happy family of six; four girls and two boys. The happiness was short-lived because my parents divorced when we were young and my father remarried. Life with our stepmother was difficult.
Did your family background have a bearing on your education?
Not really because despite our unhappiness, my father still provided for our needs. I went to Zingwangwa Primary School then later to Radson Private Secondary School. I fell pregnant while I was 17 years old and in Form One, but my father never disowned me even though he was disappointed in me. By this time, my parents had moved to Nkolokosa, leaving me and my siblings on our own. I went to Chitipa where my biological mother lived because I needed assistance to raise my baby while proceeding with school. A few years later, I returned to Blantyre.
What inspired you to become an auto electrician?
My father is an auto electrician who has worked with different companies. He was also a transporter apart from owning Prince Auto-Electrical in Blantyre. Actually, am indebted to him for the inspiration and motivation. While in Standard Six, as the oldest at home, I used to help my father clean battery terminals, fill up lorries with gas and other mechanical duties. I fell in love with technical jobs so much so that I picked up every single bolt and nut I believed to be useful. I graduated from Technical Entreprenuarial, Vocational Education & Training Authority (Teveta) as an auto-electrician Grade One and have attended several trainings in my field to broaden my knowledge. Apart from my father’s garage, I have worked for several other places both within and outside the country.
Has there ever been a woman who inspires you?
Sure! There was a woman back in the days, Beatrice Mkandawire, who worked as a mechanical at Railways. I always looked up to her because she did what most women shunned. During my secondary school days when my fellow girls envied secretarial and other white collar jobs, I thought those jobs were not challenging enough. I needed a job that would not only provide me with money, but something I would love doing.
Don’t you feel left out on fashion and beauty trends?
(Laughs) Never! Am satisfied with the pants I always wear. I appreciate the efforts women put in fashion and beauty, but am busy with what I do to see what am missing in the fashion world, if at all am missing out. Am usually working with heavy machinery and covered with oil I see no room for makeup and manicure. Who would notice if I did pedicure since I am always in boots? The only time I am bothered is when going to church, that’s the only time I realise my wardrobe lacks some dresses and skirts.
You’re the only woman at your workplace, how does it feel?
There is no working environment that brings out the best in a woman than an all men environment. With only men around, there’s no room for gossip and keeping grudges. With men, an issue is sorted out there and then. I walk into the workshop or office the following day only to find the ones I crossed paths with the previous day smiling at me and am assured of no paybacks. You agree with me that a place with many women harbours enmity triggered by a lack of trust.
How do you feel seeing your daughter taking a different career path from yours?
I have always wanted something different for my daughter. You see, technical jobs in Malawi are not as rewarding as other fields. It’s so comforting to see my daughter follow her dreams, just like I followed mine. I respect her ambitions.
Does your lifestyle and job amuse your husband?
(Laughs hard). Recently my husband advised me to “Sometimes be a woman.” You see, I hardly have time for other things other than my job. If am not at Farming and Machinery Services working, I am home doing my part time jobs. That is what triggered him to complain that I don’t cook for him even when I am home. His concern is genuine and so is mine about making more money.
What have been your major achievements?
I managed to fix MA TOURS UD95 bus within hours after some men failed to do the same for weeks. My last born daughter was less than a month old when I was called for this particular duty and I went with my husband together with my daughter where the bus was. All the computer box needed was resetting and I did that and the bus was back on the road. To date, I am the only one who touches that bus every time it is faulty and I am proud of myself.
Any bad memories?
One company called me the other day, asking me to assist them trace their three stolen computer boxes. By the way, I am the first African female qualified specialist for Cummin Engines which I also supply and install. With my expertise, I located two of the missing computer boxes in Ndirande and one in Chileka. Instead of being grateful, the company questioned my speed in tracking their computer boxes and concluded that I was among the syndicate of thieves that stole the computer boxes. They had me arrested and I spent a good six hours in a police cell for simply being an expert in my job. My expertise betrayed me.
When you look at what you have done as a technician, are you satisfied?
I am still hungry for knowledge and I dream big. I know I have done more than what people expected of me, but I haven’t done all I expect of myself. I harbour plans to open a workshop and possibly a technical school to train others, especially women. I have previously trained women, but they quit as soon as they got married and it really hurts me. I want to see a lot of women take up challenging jobs and become independent.
What is the most challenging part of your job?
Fitting armoured cables when we install generators. It sometimes requires us to fit 185 mm thick cables which requires a lot of energy. Usually, after fitting such cables, one has body aches.
What do you do with your free time?
I never miss church. At times, I teach in the small children’s class. I also love watching soccer rallying behind Big Bullets locally and Manchester United on the international scene.