BUTTERWORTH, April 23 ― With her signature pink boots, Rokiah Salim climbs effortlessly and takes her seat behind the wheel of her 40-feet long 10-wheeler.
She has done her best to give the cabin a feminine touch. Besides the butterfly stickers on the corners of her windshield, she has a little mirror pasted on the top corner of it, for which she only has one purpose — to make sure her pink lipstick is on point.
As girly as this 51-year old likes to be, she has a job unlike any other. A job so tough that most women, and even some men, fear. But she enjoys getting her hands dirty, more than sitting behind a desk eight hours a day for sure.
Rokiah happily took out some paper towels and a knife from the back seat of her trailer, and began peeling a large mango.
“Fresh fruits straight from the farm are delicious. Here, try some,” she said, cutting a huge slice and handing it over, eager to break the ice.
Having studied in SMK Ghafar Baba in Malacca from 1979 to 1983, Rokiah did not get the opportunity to further her studies due to financial difficulties. She got married at a young age.
Two marriages, two divorces, and two children later, this courageous woman, the youngest of six children, rebuilt her life, leading as a single mother for 18 years now.
Rokiah feels her inspiration to be a lorry driver was more out of careful planning paired with desperation, than anything else.
“Just think, you’ve got children to look after, and with my qualifications, I could maybe get a job that pays RM1,000 a month. How is that even enough?”
“I’ve tried many jobs, including selling used cars, but nothing gave me as much satisfaction and enjoyment as my present job. This is absolutely the best job I have ever had!” she giggled excitedly.
She claims that her job is flexible, as it allows her to do as many or as few trips as she wishes in a day. She is expected to complete 150 trips a month, though she does occasionally do 200 trips, depending on how hardworking she feels like being.
“I can earn up to RM7,000 a month, but that is only if I work very hard and do extra trips. With the minimum amount of trips required by my boss, the standard pay would be around RM4,500. But again, it’s all up to me,” said Rokiah, who feels that most people have the misconception that lorry drivers like her earn easy money.
“When I first drove a lorry three years back in 2015, I was bonded with a company in Kamunting, Taiping where they taught me the basics and what I needed to know to drive a trailer. Having just gained my licence, it was difficult to find a job, because I had no experience.”
“My boss then suggested I try transporting empty containers so that it’ll be easier for me to carry them to the trailer,” said Rokiah, adding she initially had to struggle to carry the loaded cans into the trailer because it was too heavy for her small frame.
She said she drove a single axle lorry, which was suited to a lighter load, as opposed to double axle trucks, which had two tyres together at the rear.
Her main frustration was male prejudice, men who felt that she, or any other female driver for that matter shouldn’t be allowed to do this job. But this has conditioned her not to be bothered by this.
“Yes, it was hurtful when they tell this to me in my face, but I know I’m doing this to the best of my ability, and I know the right people appreciate my work,” she said.
But she was quick to add there were a number of drivers who would not hesitate to help her if she was in a tight situation on the road.
As of now, there is only one other female lorry driver in Penang, whom she is currently training.
Rokiah is excited about it, given this is the only other woman in the industry and they have already formed a close bond.
She also feels extremely blessed to receive the support of her children. Her elder son, Eddy Imran Ramli, 29, while pursuing his diploma in civil engineering had expressed his desire to get his lorry licence before he decided to continue his studies and earn his degree in biotechnology.
Her second son, Fitri Quyyum Ramli, 25, who is currently pursuing a degree in education in Universiti Tun Hussein Onn in Batu Pahat, also wanted to assist his mother in the trucking industry, but after his mother persuaded him to follow his dreams, he has been working hard to be a teacher.
“In our world today, we can’t just sit and wait for a job to fall into our lap. We’ve got to go out and search for it. I hope I’m able to inspire others to step in and explore this industry. It’s not like it doesn’t pay enough, it certainly does.”
“Of course, the downside is that it’s not a pretty job. It’s dirty and dusty, but can be fun. I prefer to get dirty while looking pretty, which is why I make it a point to apply make-up, no matter how dirty it gets,” she wrapped up with her charming smile.
Rokiah with her sons Eddy (left) and Fitri in Indonesia before they began their hike up Mount Rinjani.
Rokiah drives a single axle lorry and she picks up containers from ships in the Penang Port.