The Woman And The Car

I bought my first car this year. What a powerful statement. Can I get an amen?!!

In August 2009 I went to AA Kenya for driving classes, but I never quite picked it up after that. Being a campus student I only had access to my mum’s car. A manual Toyota Corolla with no power steering. To get out of our driveway you need to go up a mini hill and the daily hill starts just did not work for me. The gardener had to keep the gate open in case I needed to roll back. Just getting out of the driveway felt like I had made it to my destination. Once on the road I was very fearful of other cars, especially matatus and buses. I was insanely paranoid that everyone was going to hit me. I also found it impossible to “see” using my wing mirrors, so I only used my rear view mirror. Which is just no way to drive. Long story short, I hated driving.

After a few months of half-hearted driving, I left it till late 2010 when I renewed my driver’s license. I was just starting to get the hang of it when in early 2011 my brother got into an accident and my mum was no longer comfortable with any of her children driving her car. After that I never got behind the wheel again. It became such a sore point between my mum and me when she got paralysed. She needed all the drivers she could get, but I just could not get behind the wheel. I was, irrationally, terrified of driving.

Flash-forward over seven years later and javing is dry humping my last nerve. If it is not the noisy preachers and hawkers it is the foul-smelling passengers who refuse to open a window. So towards the end of 2017 I started toying around with the idea of buying a car. Initially I wanted to get my dream car – a blue BMW X1 with beige leather interior – despite advice from a number of people not to buy a BMW as my first car. My mum especially was adamant that a BMW cannot possibly be my first car as I did not know how to drive. So I wrote to Baraza JM, asking for his advice. No surprise, he sided with my mum.

During my time off in January this year I enrolled for a refresher driving course at AA. It was also during this time that I started looking for a car in earnest. I settled on a white Mazda Demio that I christened Wanjiku after my late mum. Her first car was also a white Mazda. Yes, I am sentimental AF.

I chose to go with a locally used car as a sort of compromise with the X1. The plan was to buy a “practice car” that I would learn to drive on. Or is the appropriate preposition with? You get the point. Then after a year or so, once I was comfortable behind the wheel, I would get my dream car.

Funny enough, it did not take more than a month for me to be at ease with driving. I bought my car on March 3. I took it to the garage for service and it was ready five days later. I switched on my first car for the first time on March 8, which also happens to be my mum’s birthday. I believe my mum’s spirit is with me in my car. That is why I easily picked up a skill that had alluded me for years. She was an excellent driver herself till the paralysis fucked her up. She would drive solo from Nairobi to Bungoma in her manual Toyota Corolla with no power steering. She made driving look so easy, which is why from the bottom of my heart I believe her spirit is with me in my car.

Now that I have mastered reverse parking and manoeuvring acceleration lanes, it is time to know my car on a deeper level. Last week I had a loose terminal. I had no idea as I did not know such a thing exists. My car was just fine in the morning but time for leaving work it cannot switch on? I went into a mini panic, to say the least. I called an Uber to take me home and the driver had to help me lock my doors. The remote was not working and the key was only locking the driver’s door. I had no idea that the solution was to lock the other doors manually then use the key to lock the driver’s door. On the way home, I had theory upon theory and asked the cabbie question upon question about why my car would not start … poor guy. By the time I got home I had calmed down enough to think of calling the office driver for advice. He explained it was probably a loose terminal (which it was) and promised to check it out the next day.

After spending unnecessary money on cab fare as I had no idea what a loose terminal is, I cannot help but wonder, is there a class for women to learn about their cars? Like a Car 101. Where we can be taught the ins and outs of your engine, and have practical lessons to change a flat tyre. Theory classes can expound on common car problems; what causes them, how to identify and fix them. Maybe a two hour class on Saturday where you come with your car and dressed in clothes you do not mind getting dirty. We can be grouped as per the make of your car so that lessons are seamless for the instructors.

While I was researching this, I came across The Woman and the Car: A Chatty Little Handbook for all Women Who Motor or Who Want to Motor, a book by Dorothy Levitt first published in 1909. According to Wikipedia Levitt’s handbook was not the first targeted at women motorists – English writer Eliza Davis Aria had published Woman and the Motorcar: Being the Autobiography of an Automobilist in 1906 for instance – but it was the most widely circulated of its day. Over a century later, the idea behind the book is still relevant.

So I ask again, do such classes exist? If not, can we start one? Who is with me? I cannot be the only one who would pay to attend. Just the other day I was told I need to clean my air throttle. What and where the fuck is that?

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