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General News of Tuesday, 31 August 2021


After not being paid her salary for one year, this lady quit her job to become a Bolt driver

Gertrude Ankomah Boateng and her family Gertrude Ankomah Boateng and her family

Gertrude Ankomah Boateng, affectionately called Odo Blaq, had worked for Equinox Debt Recovery outside of Accra for years doing office work.

When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, it became hard for her to work and make money with Equinox.

Gertrude resigns

After a year without paychecks from her employers, she resigned from her job and started looking for some other way to make money during the pandemic.

Her husband’s being used by his friend

Her husband had let a family friend use the car on a work-and-pay deal for around eight weeks, but the friend had not made any money driving, and the car was used beyond repair.

When the family was able to get a new car, Odo Blaq decided she wouldn’t stay at home anymore.

“Why am I still sitting here, I know how to drive,” she thought.

Odo Blaq had a dream of driving since she was around 12-years-old when she saw Nana Ama McBrown driving in Santos Park.

McBrown used to drive from Kumasi to Cote d’Ivoire when she was younger.

“When I was growing up in Tafo in Kumasi, my sister and I, we saw a woman driving. I loved the way the woman drove through Santos Park. All you could see was the dust, you couldn’t see the car.”

She knew from then on that that was the way she wanted to drive, “The way she moved the car, she was so brave. I wanted to drive the way this woman was driving.”

Odo Blaq was motivated to learn to drive that she watched her colleague’s father every time he would drive them.

She watched the way he shifted the gears; how he turned the key, and the car came to life.

When Odo Blaq got the chance, she taught herself to drive and would put those skills to use when she decided to become a Bolt driver.
Learning from another driver, she found out how to register as a driver herself.

“With you being a lady, can you do it? Are you sure you can drive Uber?” The other driver asked her.

Odo Blaq was sure she could drive and do it better than some of the other drivers she had seen in Accra.

Bolt and Uber drivers are required to provide valid driver’s licenses and registration, as well as take a test to prove they have driving experience.

She aced the tests and downloaded the apps over the course of the day, thus was able to be on the road and start driving by the next day.

Work and life as a driver

At first, she admits she didn’t know what she was doing with the apps.

“I didn’t know how to pick it. I didn’t know what to do,” She said.

For her first trip, she forgot to start the ride after she had picked up her passenger.

When she realised the mistake, they both burst into laughter, and the passenger was generous by still paying her fare.

“But people were kind and gave me advice; most are generous and pay their fare.”

Bolt and Uber sent her videos as well so that she could learn the technical parts of the job, like how to work the apps and make sure she was being paid.

“I also learned a lot about the roads in Accra. Some tunnels and bridges I didn’t know about but will remember for later.”

Since she had been driving in the pandemic, she has kept a box of masks in her car as well, “Everyone who comes into my car wears a mask.”

Even with the occasional misbehaving or mean rider, Odo Blaq doesn’t mind the job and those kinds of riders.

“Female riders have been the harshest on me. Women have been more consistently rude, but some people, in general, don’t respect the person behind the wheel.”

A woman, a 'Slay Girl', told her that “a woman should never be a taxi driver. If my boyfriend couldn’t take care of me, I would just move on to another man who could take care of me.”

“Then you will be moving a lot,” she told the woman, “If I want to be a taxi driver, let me be.”

She maintains that “around 80 or 85% of her rides have been positive,” and even when they are not, “I just need to get them from point A to point B and drop them off.”

Odo Blaq’s cool-headedness and demeanour, as well as her driving skill, have given her a five-star rating on the Uber and Bolt apps.

“I don’t have another job to be doing and I don’t have anything else to do. This is my office and I work this for eight hours a day.”

She works from 8 am to 5pm Monday through Friday and has worked this schedule since she started five weeks ago.

“It gives me my independence, and I enjoy the drive. I don’t miss office life at all. I’m happy driving.”

It is still rare to find a woman behind the wheel of a Bolt or Uber. The first one, Rosemary Owusu Asantewaa, started three years ago when Uber first came to Ghana.

“100% of the people I pick up are surprised that I am a woman,” she laughs.

She still has riders cancelling on her before she can meet them, and a few, upon seeing that she is a female driver, refuse the ride.

Some riders think that she doesn’t know how to drive well or drive too slowly because she is a woman.

“Some people, they see that I am a woman on my profile in the app and they cancel the ride before I can pick them up. Some men feel insulted to have a woman driving them and do not want the ride they requested.

"Others see me and ask that I show them my face to make sure it is me and not someone pretending to be a woman or using a fake account."

There have been some reports of male drivers using female names and profile pictures or using other people’s accounts to make money while driving.

“I did get delayed a couple of times because so many people cancelled my ride before I could pick them up. They see that I am a woman, and they cancel on me.”

She has been confronted many times about being a woman driver by both sexes, but she has proven on every occasion that she is a good, if not better, than many of her male counterparts.

She asks that everyone learns to treat people equally. This is because the tables can turn at any moment. She argues that “you could be the one driving me someday.”

Personal life

Odo Blaq is 30-years-old and has been married since 2015 with a five-year-old, Odo Yaa, at home.

Some days she takes her daughter to school or stays behind to clean up around the home, and on weekends they sew dresses together.

Before she started driving, she taught herself to sew and started a sewing business -Blaq Sewing, to keep herself busy through the pandemic.

She asked her husband, “Boss, here is the situation, I am not working. This sewing thing, I just started it.

“I want to go back to the Bolt and driving idea,” she asked.

A couple of months before, her husband had loaned the car out to a family friend, and they tried a work-and-pay system.

After eight weeks, the friend hadn’t made any money and the car was in bad shape, but they were able to put down payments on a new one.

“Why don’t you give it to me as the same work and pay. At the end of the day, the car is in this house,” she asked her husband.

“Let’s try it for two weeks, and we will see. Let’s try it,” she convinced him.

After her first week, she screamed when she saw the first payment slip.

“When I got my first payment slip, I screamed, and I sent him a picture of the payment slip.”

She was able to pay him GH¢500 after just a week of work, but he was concerned about how much she was going to keep for herself.

“Me, I am okay. I am just happy to be working,” she smiled.

Eventually, they worked out their current payment system.

Driving has been making her an average of GH¢1,000 a week, paying GH¢500 to her husband to help pay off the car, using around GH¢100 to maintain the car, and keeping GH¢200-250 for herself at the end of the week.

Bolt takes around 25% of her earnings every day, but it hasn’t slowed down her plans.

Odo Blaq is an entrepreneur who sees a long-running business ahead of her.

“I’m sure in one year I will be owning my own car,” she dreams, “I intend to start my own transport business, but I want to keep driving too.

“My plan after two years is to pay off this car. And then buy and begin to pay off another with a work-and-pay system. Eventually, I’ll let someone else drive it as well, but continue driving myself.”

She says that “We shouldn’t be dependent solely on our men… Let’s do something for ourselves.”

Her advice is, “It [driving] is a good job for some girls, and if they know how to drive, then instead of wasting fuel going to parties and driving for fun, drive and make money with Bolt and Uber.

“From what I have learnt so far, everyone has a skill. Focus on yourself and build that skill.”

Odo Blaq found her skill a long time ago and is using it now to drive for Uber and Bolt Monday through Friday, 8am to 5pm, and has plans to keep doing it for years to come.

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