Inside the shoes of a car whisperer

Cars roaring outside Jaber Spares CC in Katutura fill the cold Saturday morning with a cacophony of noise reminiscent of a ‘Fast and Furious’ set.

Abandoned scrapped cars line one side of the garage, while a small, worn down shop occupies the other. Inside the shop, Helena Akwenye (42) wipes her grease-stained hands on the front of her blackened overalls and stands firm as a customer bargains over the price of a can of diesel oil.

Years of working in a male-dominated atmosphere have helped her develop this level of resilience. A smirk reveals a dark line of grease smeared across her left cheek as the man eventually gives in and hands her the entire amount.

Each oily streak of grease on her overalls and face tells the story of the hundreds of stuttering cars she has brought back to life as a car whisperer.

Akwenye has carved out a place for herself in the industry through her determination and commitment to learning the trade. The locals swear by her expertise far and wide.

She is known for her honesty, a rare trait that endears her to a range of car owners, from pick-up truck owners to those with sedans.
On this icy morning, Akwenye walks back and forth between the cars and the shop to keep warm.

She’s helping her usual customer Bright Huurika with a flush unit. His white Toyota Corolla reminds her of the first car she ever repaired.

For her, every car has a spirit and a history and it is her responsibility to honour that and repair it in order to continue its heritage.

While rearranging her supplies, she hears the familiar tinkling of the bell above the shop door. Wiping her hands on a rag, she turns to see a young woman waiting awkwardly at the door.

She looks out of place, dressed in black slacks and shoes, her hair neatly pulled back from her face.

“Can I help you?” Akwenye inquires, her voice radiating the warmth that makes everyone feel welcome.

The woman moves nearer, clutching her car keys in her hands.

Outside, under the blazing sun, she investigates Beauty’s car – a yellow Ford Focus with a baby on board sticker on the back. Akwenye pops the hood and begins her inspection, her hands moving with the dexterity of a surgeon. As she works, Beauty watches, her initial apprehension giving way to curiosity.

“How did you get into this?” Beauty asks after a while.

Akwenye glances up, the grease stain now gone from her face.

EXPERT … Helena Akwenye, a mechanic jacking up a car at Jaber Spares CC in Windhoek.
Photo: Veripuami Kangumine

Beauty nods, looking around the garage.

“It’s rare to see a woman in this field.”

“It is,” Akwenye agrees. “…people didn’t want me to touch their cars at first, now they even look for me at my home to fix their cars.”

After a thorough check, Akwenye diagnoses the problem: “your brake pads need to be replaced”.

“I can fix that, but it’ll take a few hours. You’re welcome to wait here, or I can call you when it’s done.”

Beauty chooses to stay, sliding into a chair in the corner of the garage. They talk while Akwenye works.

She tells stories about her stressful career, long hours at the garage, eccentric customers and the satisfaction of fixing people’s cars.

By the time the sun begins to set, Akwenye has the car running smoothly again. She wipes her hands on her overalls and hands the keys back to Beauty.

“All set,” she says with a grin.

Beauty starts the car, relief washes over her face as the engine purrs to life. She gets out and gives Akwenye a hug, surprising them both.

“Thank you,” she says, her voice sincere. “You saved me today.”

Akwenye laughs a warm, hearty laugh.

“Just doing my job. Drive safe, alright?”

As Beauty drives away, Akwenye watches her go, feeling a sense of fulfillment that goes beyond the satisfaction of fixing a car. It’s the connection with people, the stories shared and the bonds formed that make her work truly meaningful.

She turns back to the garage, ready to tackle the next challenge.

Stay informed with The Namibian – your source for credible journalism. Get in-depth reporting and opinions for only N$85 a month. Invest in journalism, invest in democracy –
Subscribe Now!

Latest News