“A Week In The Life Of” is a weekly Zikoko series that explores the working-class struggles of Nigerians. It captures the very spirit of what it means to hustle in Nigeria and puts you in the shoes of the subject for a week.
Today’s subject is Odunayo, a Keke rider. She tells us how she navigates being a breadwinner, a traditional chief, and a woman in a male-dominated field.
My day starts really early. I live with my mum and my two children. But I am a single mum. So, that means I have to wake up early every day to find daily bread for my children.
A side effect of waking up that early is that I don’t have time to be bothered about my looks. I quickly rinse my body, throw on a random dress and dash out. I must pick the first wave of workers trying to beat the Monday morning Lagos traffic.
Today on the way out, I run into thieves at the junction to my house. I am scared, but luckily they recognise me. They are boys from the street; I have been good to them in the past so they let me go. Saved by the occasional N200 I dash them. As long as I keep my mouth shut and continue to be good to them, I will be fine. This is the final sign that I must move out of this area. This is not a place to raise children or even be out so early.
Usually, I work till 12 noon or 1 pm, but since the Keke ban in Lagos, I have to stop working by 10 or 11 am. Before the ban, I could pass through plenty of routes but now, I can’t. This means that work ends earlier than usual for me because the banned routes are the busiest and also where Taskforce can seize my keke from me.
It’s no longer safe to be out because of the ban. I have been a Keke driver for two years and my mum has been super important in making this job easy for me. She cooks and takes care of the children because I leave the house so early and come back late. Sometimes, I wonder how I would have juggled this job with being a present mother in the life of my kids. I have two boys aged 16 and 18 years and they mean the world to me.
When I get home, my mum has cooked rice so we talk as I eat.
Then I take a bath and sleep because I have to leave for the evening shift which starts at 4 pm.
Evenings are different. I take my time to bath, makeup, and carefully select my clothes. It’s always good to look presentable, after all, I am not suffering. When passengers I picked in the morning see me in the evening they don’t believe it’s the same person.
As I drive out, a neighbor calls and asks if I am going for a party, I shake my head and tell her I am off to work. I come back home by 9 pm and I see my kids. We stay up late watching film.
The kids clean the Maruwa this morning because I am too tired to stand up. They understand that this is how we feed and they are more than excited to play their part in making daily bread.
My mummy makes me agbo of lime and ginger to help me get through the day. I have to stand up and go to work no matter how I feel and the agbo helps.
Thankfully, I am the owner of my Keke so whatever I make is mine to keep no matter what time I leave the house. People who are on hire purchase can’t afford to take the whole day off. On a slow day, I make N4,000. Out of that, I have to buy a ticket at the park for N1,300. Many owners ask for N3,000 a day delivery. Out of that, there is still money for fuel to consider. If you leave your house late for any reason and you don’t own the Keke, just know you are going to work for the owner on that day.
By 10 am, I set off for home but there is a little problem. I need to urinate and I can’t hold it till I get home. The issue now is getting a clean toilet to use because I am worried about getting a toilet infection. Thankfully, I find a filling station with someone I know on duty. Once I get into the toilet, I quickly start my ritual of toilet cleansing with my trusted disinfectant that’s always in my bag. I wipe down with tissue, and once I am done, wash my hands with the small soap I also carry.
I can finally focus on going home.
Today, some men tried to bully me but I stood my ground. The first warning I got when I started this job was to not carry strange men because there are keke snatchers around.
Three strange men wanted to charter my keke to an unfamiliar location but I refused. My spirit was unsettled and the warning flashed in my mind. I refused the request and offered to put them in a colleague’s keke but they insisted on mine. After the back and forth, one of them spat on me and another one started to hit me. I succeeded in fighting them off. The worst part was that none of my male colleagues came to help me. Maybe it’s because I am the only woman in this park but I felt bad. Everyone kept on minding their business as if nothing was happening.
Being the only woman in this job is tough but I have to show no weakness. The men will pounce if I falter. I am not soft and nobody can ride me because I am a chief back in my hometown. When I first started this job, people at home kept on asking “Why will a chief drive keke?” I ignored them and now these same people are asking me to teach them how to get into the business.
As a chief, I know what and what to do if I want to deal with them but I won’t because I am also a Christian.
I thought I had gotten used to being in a man’s world: the occasional hugs from behind, unsolicited pecks, and “my wife” statements. I consider it a hazard of the job and put up a smile so it doesn’t get out of hand. After all of that, we still always go drinking together so I believe it’s all one love. However, this incident just saddens me.
I am going to drink today. Two bottles of Star for the pain and after, I will go home to sleep because I have to go again tomorrow.
I got stained today in the middle of a trip. My period came early. After dropping the last passenger, I went home to change. Again, one of the hazards of the job.
Periods are hard for me because driving is very uncomfortable and I can’t afford to take the whole day off. I still have to wake up the same time I usually do and go on as if everything is normal. I already earn less than the men, so I have no choice.
As a woman, I have to stop work as early as 8 pm or 9 pm because it gets unsafe and I also have to go home to my kids. The men can work until as late as 10 pm or 11 pm. The men earn as much as N10,000 because they work longer hours but the highest I have ever made from this job since I started is N8,000. Even that money was because I had a private client that chartered my keke so that’s what boosted my sales.
Thankfully, my mum is home when I get in. She prepares agbo for menstrual pain. It’s a combination of turmeric, ginger, lime and clove that I saw on Facebook. It helps to reduce some of the pain and discomfort. My dad is a herbalist so I don’t find it difficult to drink agbo as I was raised on it.
After drinking my agbo, I lie down for a bit. I will go out again in the evening because it’s business as usual.
The hardest part of this job is the insults: Insult from the passengers, from drivers on the road. From everyone. Even with how well dressed and respected I look, the insults never stop.
Today, a male driver asked me if I was crazy for not allowing him to overtake me and I asked him if he doesn’t have a wife at home because I can’t imagine that he talks to his wife like this.
Along the way, I got stopped by a council officer and he said my license has expired. I explained that I have paid for renewal at the local government and they said I should wait for three days. This is just the second day. He said I had to pay a fine of N5,000 to which I refused. I shouted at the top of my voice to call the attention of other people to the situation. I was lucky that people gathered and after listening to us, begged him on my behalf. He let me go grudgingly. This is not the first time he is harassing me. He’s always charging me for one flimsy reason or the other. I am happy I got off today.
I go drinking by 7 pm because I have had a rough day coupled with menstrual pain. My trusted Star is always here to comfort me. The only thing I do to relax is drink; I don’t date. Men will disappoint you and make your life complicated. The last guy I dated broke my heart so bad that it affected my concentration. I almost hit someone while driving because I was too lost in my thoughts thinking about the breakup. It took me a really long time and a lot of tears to get over it.
This is someone that I would close work early for just so I could spend time with him after a long day. Someone I would cook food for out of whatever I made in a day. I have come to realize that only a few men can date a woman with children and not run, so I don’t bother with dating. All these young young boys all think the same way and that’s sex. Maybe I should try an older person. For now, when I feel lonely, I talk to myself. When I want to relax, I turn to my trusted bottle of Star. It can’t disappoint me.
I wake up by 4:30 am today even though I don’t need to. Saturdays are slow and I don’t go out until 10 am because no one is rushing to work. It’s mostly just the people going for owambe that are on the road.
I do some mild stretches because it helps with body pain. As a keke driver, only one leg is active; the one that presses down on the brake and throttle. The other leg remains inactive all the time and hurts. To reduce the pain, I must exercise and weekends are the only time I can do this.
I leave the house by 10 am but midway I start to feel sleepy. My body is used to resting by this time and protests against change in routine. To battle sleep, I play some Sule Alao to keep me alert. After that, I follow with some Olamide tracks to keep up the tempo. I can’t sing the lyrics off the top of my head but once the music starts, I match them word for word.
I get the same question every Sunday on my way to church. “How do you drive your keke with 6-inch heels?” I laugh and tell them that the trick is not to put too much pressure on the brake and start to brake far before you are near the other vehicle. Everyone looks impressed when I tell them this obvious fact.
Sundays are for a lot of things. In the morning, my kids, my mum, and I all go to the church in my keke. I tie gele, wear my heels, do my makeup and off we go.
In the afternoon after church, I take out time to cook for my children so they can eat my cooking. I know they enjoy grandma’s food but they should also eat mine. I prepare stew for the week for them and we generally spend some time catching up and talking about the previous week.
By 4 pm, I go out to work to make “change”. My target is N2,000. So that I can give my boys N1,000 to hold and be happy and also to fill up my tank for the week with the remaining N1,000. I can’t be stopping to buy fuel on Monday morning when people are rushing to work. It will delay both the passenger and how much I can earn from my morning runs.
By 8 pm, I return home to sleep. I talk for a bit with my mum and the boys before going to bed. It starts all over again tomorrow.
**This conversation was had in Yoruba and was edited and condensed for clarity.
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