Friday,20 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1256, (30 July - 5 August 2015)
Friday,20 October, 2017
Issue 1256, (30 July - 5 August 2015)

Ahram Weekly

A machine shop with an unforgettable owner

Omneya Yousry talks to one of Egypt’s first female mechanics in her father’s workshop in the Bein Al-Sarayat district of Cairo

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Al-Ahram Weekly

Inside each one of us lies a story, and this may put smiles on faces or help to raise spirits. But there is nothing like the story of Mona the mechanic, one of the very few female car mechanics in a profession dominated by men. The job also fits the stereotypes that help keep women at bay, requiring physical strength, the stamina to work in hot weather, and the need to deal with all sorts of workers and drivers.

Mona has a friendly attitude, and she retains her smile throughout her conversations with others. “I never meant to take up this job, although I became fond of it as a young girl when I accompanied my father every day to his workplace,” she recalls. “I used to be there just to keep him company. But as I was in the workshop on a daily basis, I also came to know how things worked.”

Mona went to school until the fifth grade, and then her father took her out of school to help him in the workshop. Gradually, Mona picked up the secrets of her father’s profession and started helping him with his workload. The turning point came when her father developed arthritis and could no longer work properly. At the time, her father could not afford to keep the young men he had hired to help him around the workshop, so he turned to Mona for help instead.

“He would have had to close down had I not made use of my knowledge of the profession and offered to take charge of the workshop. We badly needed the revenue it generated to help raise my sisters.” Mona said. “Being the eldest child and the most capable of helping my father, I saved no efforts in taking his place at work. Some of my sisters have now completed their education, got married and are now working too,” she added.

Mona is always surrounded by her family, especially during the summer when her nephews and nieces are on vacation.

“I love my aunt very much,” said her nephew Islam as he tracked down a hole in a bicycle tire by dipping it in a bowl of water. “I enjoy being with her, and I am slowly learning how to do things too. There is no shame in acquiring a skill that might be of use one day, even if you get your school or college degree as well,” he added.

Om Islam, Mona’s sister, also expresses her feelings. “We really appreciate Mona, but I also feel sorry for her a bit. She has done a lot for the family and never thought of herself. She has been caught up in this career, and it is too late to change now as she is bound to the profession,” she said.

The neighbouring shop-owners all respect Mona for her challenging nature and integrity. They even trust her with their shops if they need to leave them unattended. “What can we say,” asked one shop-owner, Sabri. “We understand that it is unusual for a woman to do this job, but we all respect her for her initiative.” One of Mona’s clients, who wanted his bicycle mended, said that “everyone is bound to remember usta Mona, since she is the only woman doing this job. Hers is also the only tyre workshop in the area. She also offers a proper service at affordable prices. That is why everyone goes back to her,” he said.

Looking at the future, however, Mona doesn’t have great expectations. “We are poor people, and I can’t see much future for this business other than catering to the needs of vehicles and bikes passing by,” she explained. “I have been in this job for years now and have gained more friends than enemies. I also love being famous in my street and for treating all my customers well.”

“Yes, my job has taken some things from me. After all these years, I’m still not married and I have no children. But I have no intention of quitting or getting married. I still love what I do and I know how to cope with it. I really can’t imagine any kind of life for myself other than this one. It is better to live your life from day to day and not to think too much about tomorrow. Almighty God will see to that.”

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