Beating odds. A typical safari in Uganda is characterised by driving on bumpy roads, covering long distances and braving the wild. Unlike the male tour guides we are used to, this time, the female guides are at the wheel. Eric Ntalumbwa interacts with four women, Donna Katesi (30), Safinah Kiberinka (25), Ritah Leticia Nalumansi (24), and Grace Ann Nakajubbi (43) who are breaking barriers in a male dominated job.
1.Tell us about yourself?
Katesi: I hail from Rukungiri District. I am married with two lovely boys. I am passionate about tourism. I have grown up seeing men driving tourists and I realised this could present a unique opportunity for women to make money. I love nature, travelling and making friends
Kiberinka: I am a freelance tour guide. I was born in Kisoro District and I am married.
Nalumansi: I joined this business because I love travelling and adventure. Guiding people around my beautiful country is my business. I hail from Wakiso.
Nakajubbi: I am a tourism graduate from Makerere University. I come from Luweero. I am not attached to any company, but I have been working as a tour guide for 10 years. I worked with Gorilla Tours as a guide. I joined the industry because I wanted to prove to the men that I could do more than talking, but also sit at the wheels.
2. When did you join as a female driver guide and who usually uses your services?
Katesi: I joined in 2015. I handle couples, singles, groups and students. As long as one wants to tour, I am at their service
Kiberinka: Three years ago. I usually work with Americans
Nalumansi: I joined as a female driver guide in 2016 after my graduation. All potential tourists are free to use my services
Nakajubbi: I started two years ago. I have had all kinds of tourists. However, I have realised that single ladies at times feel insecure with male driver guides.
3. What has been your best and toughest moment on the road as a guide?
Katesi: I have always been appreciated! My toughest moment is driving on bad roads.
Kiberinka: Every tour on the road is a good moment for me. My toughest days are when I have to drive on slippery roads through Kihihi, Rushaga and Ruhija. The terrain is horrible.
Nalumansi: Making my clients feel safe with me as they would have done with a male driver is my best moment. Trusting me with their lives and belongings and successfully completing the trips. The toughest time is when the tour operator ceases to give me trips because of a slight mistake.
Nakajubbi: A smooth safari without inconveniences is what I always look out for. My toughest moment is when the tour operator made alterations on phone while in transit. I parked the car, composed myself and tried to convince the clients. The trip did not go well as I had expected.
4.What are some of your favourite destinations in Uganda worth touring?
Katesi: Kabale has a beautiful climate, hills, good road and the mountain gorillas. Queen Elizabeth has breath taking crater lakes. Murchison Falls National Park is such a beautiful place to be. You get to see animals and they offer game drives.
Kiberinka: Kidepo Valley is a true definition of wilderness with variety of animals and beautiful northern species of birds. Everyone should plan to go to Kidepo.
Nalumansi: Murchison Falls, Kidepo, Kibaale, Bwindi, Semuliki and Lake Bunyonyi. All these places have unique scenery, animals and vegetation.
Nakajubbi: Kidepo has fascinating scenery with Narus valley, thousands of animals and the rocks which the cats use to view their prey. The other one is Bwindi Impenetrable Park. It has fresh breeze, mountain gorillas and the views of the volcanic mountains are beautiful.
5. How can destination Uganda be improved?
Katesi: Roads should be improved. Uganda Tourism Board (UTB ) should also develop more cultural products.
Kiberinka: There is need to improve the roads
Nalumansi: Currently, road maintenance is ongoing but more road upgrades are needed.
Nakajubbi: The Ministry of Tourism needs to create massive awareness among citizens so that they appreciate tourism. UTB needs to compare notes with marketing strategies in other countries. Uganda has got it all but we are not reaping as expected. We also need to emulate the customer care model at Buhoma in all places of Uganda.
6.What is the longest trip you have covered?
Katesi: I covered all national parks in a month (30 days) with a German couple under Shoebill Safaris. We drove through Jinja, Pian Upe, Kidepo, Murchison and the rest.
Kiberinka: The longest was through Jinja, Pian Upe, Kidepo. Literally, I covered the whole of Uganda.
Nalumansi: It was 21-day trip that combined wildlife and culture
Nakajubbi: My longest was Kampala to Kigali Airport. For a safari, between 14-15 days.
7.How do you juggle family and long trips?
Katesi: I have a very supportive husband. My house help also comes in handy. My relatives too help out on such days. During off-peak seasons, I spend time with family
Kiberinka: I purpose to get time for family. My husband is also a guide and we usually meet on the road
Nalumansi: I am still single and I stay with my parents. They appreciate the kind of work I do and they remain my strong pillars.
Nakajubbi: I am a single mother. Amidst my busy schedule, I make time for my children. While I am away, my relatives and nanny offer the required support. Every single day on safari, I call them and talk to them.
8.Has any tourist ever acted indifferent upon seeing you in the driver’s seat? How did you handle the situation?
Katesi: (she laughs). The ones I have interacted have been positive. Some are sometimes shocked. They are always excited to see a lady driving. I call myself the queen of the road. I have not received any negative energy or comments from the clients I have handled.
Kiberinka: No! Actually, they get surprised. The male tourists are wowed to see a young lady driving them
Nalumansi: I thank God that all my clients have been cooperative and friendly from the first day I meet them. Some are taken by surprise and it gives them confidence. Most female tourists feel safer than ever.
Nakajubbi: There is a day I had gone to pick guests from Kololo. They expected a male driver only to see a female. I welcomed them and assured them that they would be safe with me. By the time we returned from the safari, we were best of friends.
9.What have you accomplished as a driver guide?
Katesi: I have purchased a tour van, constructed rentals, I contribute to my family and support my relatives.
Kiberinka: I have obtained exposure having dealt with people from different parts of the world.
Nalumansi: There is a lot accomplished. I only thank the Almighty God
Nakajubbi: I have gained confidence, improved my communication and driving skills. I also own a super custom tourist van
10.What advice do you give to ladies interested in this job?
Katesi: This is one way of boosting confidence. So, do it! Men in the game have been very supportive. What men can do, ladies can do better.
Kiberinka: Men are sometimes temptations to ladies careers. Ladies ought to focus on this business. Train on the bad roads with your manual cars because the terrain around Uganda is not smooth enough for automatic cars.
Nalumansi: Believe in yourself. Be honest, friendly and hospitable. However, you have to limit yourself because some tourists take advantage of guides
Nakajubbi: Seek knowledge about tourism, learn a foreign language and learn how to drive both manual and automated cars. Be a professional