THE PIONEER FEMALE COXSWAIN IN MOMBASA
THE PIONEER FEMALE COXSWAIN IN MOMBASA
Mishi Omar scans the horizon in a ‘left-right’, strains her eyes a cross the Likoni channel before kicking off the MV Nyayo ferry engine to a powerful roar swilling the translucent calm waters into an abrupt turbulence.
She has started yet another ten minutes voyage to ferry a load of human cargo and vehicles from the island Mombasa to the South mainland beginning her eight and a half daily work shift as a coxswain.
Below the cabin, she is aware of gazing looks of admires and equally puzzled passengers bewildered to see a female coxwin for the first time in their lives. They are accustomed to muscular men at the helm during their routine voyage across the channel.
Mishi ventured into a field that was male-dominated for decades becoming the first female coxswain in Kenya to navigate a marine vessel in the waters of the Indian Ocean.
She describes her feat as ‘dream-come true.’
Born and raised in Mombasa, Mishi started off as deckhand (a junior officer) at the Kenya Ferry Services in 2005 before opting to train as a Coxswain at the Bandari College.
“As a child growing up in Likoni, I had a burning ambition to pilot the ferry,” she says as she navigates the machine across the channel.
A few years after getting employed at the Kenya Ferry Services she saw an internal advertisement announcing several job opportunities among them a Coxswain.
Mishi saw this as a God send opportunity and did not hesitate to express her interest by submitting her application for her coveted job.
Word soon went round that there was ‘joker in the vicinity daring for the impossible.’ Others were simply shocked and wondered what the young woman was up-to.
“All these could not deter me. I had a lot of confidence and interest to work as a Coxswain despite discouraging remarks by a few colleagues and friend that the Coxswain was a man’s job.”
Her family and relatives however stood with her giving her all the necessary support.
Mishi singled out Mr. Hafidh Msanifu Kombo, the Kenya Ferry Services, Chief Senior Operation Officer and Chief Coxswain who offered her lots of encouragement and useful advice that strengthened her resolve to go for the job.
“Today I can say proudly that I represent the Coast woman and above all a Muslim girl who has been locked in back banners for year” she said.
Mr. Kombo who has worked with the Kenya Ferry Services for 45 years, was the one who recommended Mishi to train as a coxswain at Bandari College for two years starting in 2015 before qualifying in 2017.
Mishi is however quick to point out that the Coxswains job is not ‘a walk in the park’ as others may imagine. Real challenge she says occurs especially during the strong currents often leading to technical and mechanical problems.
“This is the time you will get to know the true nature of the passengers on board the ferry as they shout all sorts of insults at you,” she says.
“Sometimes due to strong currents you may need to take an acute angle by changing the direction of the course prompting even more insults and cries from below the cabin.”
Raised by a single parent after her father died when she was young, Mishi previously trained as a Medic at the Mombasa Polytechnic now Technical University of Mombasa.
However, due to lack of school fees she could not pursue her higher diploma level course and decided to work at the ferry.
Kenya Ferry Services has a total of 27 Coxswains out of which Mishi is the only woman.
Mr. Kombo on the other hand described Mishi as resilient woman capable of piloting the ferries just like if not better that her male colleagues.
He said as a coxswain one needs a lot of confidence and courage and Mishi has it all.
Mishi, a mother of two has her eyes strained far into the horizon not only while trafficking her human cargo, but also career wise. She hopes to further her training in the future and move into piloting ocean going ships.
She encourages more women to follow into her foot steps and help her in the enjoyable task of ferrying people across the Likoni Chanel.