MONTEGO BAY, St James — Before the end of the interview nearly a year ago, Garnet Edmonson, the Western Parks and Market (WPM) regional operations manager, knew fully well that Luleta Ingram Lewis would become the company's first woman truck driver.
So impressive was the then 43-year-old Manchester native that Edmondson was convinced that the bubbly, experienced driver would do exceptionally well in that male-dominated position.
Today, the five-foot six-inches woman stands tall amongst the other 11 drivers at the State-run company which, among other things, is responsible for the collection of solid waste in the western parishes of the island.
“It's not easy for any female to break into a male-dominated space. Men have egos and sometimes it's hard for them to accept instructions from any female, so she has had her orientation to the male space,” Edmondson said, pointing out that Ingram Lewis, as part of her role as a driver, has to supervise the three or four sidemen on her truck.
“Since that orientation period, we have seen a more consistent type of person. Her work attitude is consistent, we have seen a level of leadership, a very responsible person. As a matter of fact, she is one of the few drivers who, if she sees something out of the way — like passing on a route and seeing an illegal dump site — she would snap a picture and send it to us. She is a very talented and skilful driver,” Edmondson explained.
“The vehicle [Shacman F3000] that she is driving now, there are just about four other drivers in WPM that would be able to manage it. Overall, she is a welcome addition to the team, and I am fully satisfied with her performance,” Edmondson told the Jamaica Observer in an interview ahead of today's celebration of International Women's Day.
Cognisant of the role sanitation workers play in keeping the country clean, the mother of four is not daunted by the job.
For her, getting to work on time and keeping the streets clean are of paramount importance.
When she is working in the Westmoreland area, she operates an International compactor truck, but while undertaking duties in the Montego Bay area of St James she is usually assigned the Shacman F 3000 unit, which would prove to be very challenging for any driver to operate.
The holder of a commercial driver's licence, which she acquired in the USA, and an open general driver's licence, obtained in Jamaica, Ingram Lewis attended Swift Driving Academy in Tennessee and has participated in a defensive driving workshop at The University of the West Indies.
When scheduled for work in Montego Bay, Ingram Lewis, who now resides in Petersfield, Westmoreland, with her 10-year-old daughter, Britainy, is usually up by 4:30 am.
After getting her daughter — who she said is her biggest motivator — ready for school, Ingram Lewis is usually on the road in the community by 5:30 am awaiting a bus for Montego Bay. By about 6:40 am, she would get to the Flanker depot to pick up her assigned unit.
There she undertakes various checks on the unit, including engine oil, power steering and brake fluid, before leaving for her assigned route with her sidemen.
“I had always wanted to be a pilot or a truck driver. The pilot thing did not work out because of costs and other issues, but I get satisfaction from being a garbage truck driver,” said Ingram Lewis, who has also worked as a security guard and holds a certificate in early childhood development.
She told the Sunday Observer that she started handling motor vehicles when she was 10 years old as her father had allowed her to drive his Leyland truck.
In recent years Ingram Lewis, who has been employed at WPM since August last year, has driven trucks in several countries including Curacao, Amsterdam, Cayman Islands, and the USA.
She said she has also worked for several local companies hauling sand, steel, building blocks, stones and cement.
She stressed, however, that she gets great satisfaction from helping to keep the streets clean, adding that her work has not gone unnoticed by residents in communities where she has worked.
“Sometimes when I am in some communities collecting garbage, some of the residents would say, 'Big up woman, you really good fi a drive such a big truck and do such a work, come have a drink',” said Ingram Lewis.
She said the fact that she's “doing a man's job” helps in her commanding the respect of the sidemen on her truck.
“Sometimes they may want to do things a particular way, but when I tell them what I want to be done, they would listen to me, and follow my instructions. I really have a good relationship with them,” Ingram Lewis said, stressing: “I can hold my own, although it's a man's world.”