Bertha Ngereja is a Tanzanian Engineer who works with one of the world’s leading oilfield companies. During this interview, we talked about everything from her largely male dominated profession to her fancy helicopter ride to work and her possible hair and skin regimen on the rig. Happy to have done this interview to further inspire ladies that they can be anything they want to be, including but not limited to a badass Engineer.
Have you always wanted to be an Engineer?
Funny actually, growing up I always wanted to be a doctor which I believe was influenced by my father who is a doctor and I looked up to him. Up until one day I picked one of his medical books that described diseases (with photos), this frightened me and that’s when I knew I would make a terrible doctor. So I thought I’ll be an engineer, which to me is pretty much the same thing as being a doctor except I don´t get to deal with blood..yaay!!
What was the most challenging thing you faced wanting to be an Engineer?
Perhaps I was lucky because I can´t say that it was a challenge for me. It was more or less a very clear path. I was very eager to learn and my only competition was with myself which made me always a step ahead making everything seem easier than it actually is.
Tell me what it’s like working on a rig?
A rig is just like any other work place only difference is it’s in a remote location – you can´t run or hide. It is not like an office in town where you can leave work and finish it the next day. On the rig every second counts. You have to react quickly, avoid mistakes and do things right all the time. Sounds impossible but that’s what it is, doing what seems impossible. It is about looking out for yourself and others, you have to observe others and provide assistance whenever necessary as one person´s mistake can lead to a greater loss.
But apart from all the seriousness there are relaxing and exciting moments. For me, I like the fact that I do not have to worry about what I am going to eat for the entire time I am there, there is a person for that, I like that I do not have to do chores (Laundry, housekeeping) and after I am done with my shift I like that I get 10-12 hours to myself which I use to reminisce, sleep and plan about the future. It is practically impossible to get this much time working in town.
And the matter of sometimes being the only female in the midst of men on a rig (How many men on the average)?
Mostly on the rigs I have been on there were more than 100 men and sometimes I would be the only female. Trust me you will not notice after a couple of days. Everybody has their own tasks to do and they are buried in their work. The only time you get to interact so much with people is during meal and coffee breaks.
I hear the ride to the rig is usually in a chopper? That’s pretty fancy now isn’t it? Tell me about going to work in style while the rest of us seat through traffic. Do you ever look down from the helicopter and just pity us mere mortals?
Ooh no and hell yeah at the same time!! On those days when the weather is not calm I envy those in traffic- am like “at least they are not trying to recall the instructions on how to open the emergency door.” On those days where the weather is calm and we are smoothly cruising through the sky it feels so perfect and fancy. Best feeling is flying above water, the water looks so clear, steady and blue with the sun rays hitting the water, just amazing. And to think I go to work like that ☺ Those days yes I do not wish to be in traffic at all.
Have you experienced some form of discrimination/intimidation for being a female Engineer?
Not at all. I have felt more support from everyone I have worked with so far. I have never felt less important or less needed because I am female. More because I had insufficient knowledge. Which is totally explainable and cannot be termed as discrimination or intimidation. It just gives me the drive to learn more in order to gain the responsibility of a position or task.
What’s the best thing about being an Engineer?
For one, everyone assumes you are smart ☺
The feeling of being a part of developing something that was never there, giving it existence is unexplainable. Whenever I read or listen to the news about the field I work in and knowing that I am a part of that, is extremely fulfilling. I would not do this life any other way.
Who inspires you or who do you look up to?
There are two people actually, one I look up to as an engineer and the other a manager.
When I started working I was given a mentor to guide me in my career as an engineer, I have always looked up to him. I think he has like a third eye to things. Whenever he looks at things, he sees them from a different dimension and I have been working hard to get this third eye, to see things from his dimension. He inspires me. I would like to be like him when I grow up (I do not know the age limit to using this line).
At some point I had one manager who was just extremely good on his job. He made everybody that worked with him feel important, needed, motivated you name it. Everybody just knew that he would provide a solution to any problem no matter what it was. We all trusted, adored and respected him. In the future after building a good career as an engineer I hope to move into management, inspired by him. To be a good manager with his qualities.
Have you seen the movie Captain Phillips? Does it give you chills? I’ve never even worked on water but it gives me chills to know that is a possibility of the horror you can be exposed to in your line of work.
Yes I have seen the movie but in my opinion it is not as easy to attack the drillship as it appears in the movie. Also, it depends on the location, if there is any possibility of piracy then we would have security guards who have their own ship and patrol around the rig at all times.
Things can happen and that’s just the way life is but we always just ensure that all safety procedures are followed, you know where to go and what to do in case of danger and you cross your fingers and pray that you never have to face any of that.
I understand that work has taken you to a few African cities and beyond. I’m hoping Lagos has been your favourite?
It’s a pity that although I have heard so much about Lagos I have not gotten to see much. I have only been to Ikeja (which was in transit) but being the person that I am had to go to the mall (of course). And it would be unfair to judge the whole of Lagos by one shopping spree at the Ikeja mall. ☺
But of all the African cities I have been to, my favorite so far (away from my home country) is Johannesburg, South Africa. One because of the big malls (my weakness), the infrastructure blew my mind, the scenery is inexplicable and the history wraps it all. Definitely a place to visit.
I know you are Tanzanian but I need you to weigh in on our jollof wars, which one tastes best? Nigerian or Ghanaian?
This is a tricky one. But honestly it would not be a good judgement as I have had two years of eating Ghanaian jollof and very few occasions where I had the opportunity to eat Nigerian jollof. The data collected is not sufficient to give a reasonable answer and I am not ready to lose all my Ghanaian friends just yet ☺
Spoken like a true engineer init?
How easy is it to maintain a hair and beauty routine when on the rig. Do you just go ahead and be one of the boys?
As I cannot make my hair on the rig I usually make a hairstyle that will last for the whole time I am there. As for the skin I just go with normal simple beauty stuff –lotion, moisturizer, lip balm (lip stick would be a bit much), perfume and so on. You do not want to overdo it – after all there is no competition. All in all, I will still be a girl on the rig despite having less to work with.
What’s your specialty in the Engineering field?
I am an Industrial Engineer but I work as a Measurements Engineer. My task is to take measurements of the formation (in real time) as drilling is taking place and to give the information to the wellsite geologist so he can make decisions regarding the well being drilled.
You said you haven’t experienced discrimination or intimidation, do you think this is as a result of the company you work in?
The company I work for believes in embracing the differences of people and their cultures. We have all adapted that, and these differences in cultures, traditions, nationalities, gender, educational backgrounds and so forth are the foundations of the unity and the result of the success. Everyone has their career path so discriminating or intimidating others will not lead anybody anywhere.
Are you a weave girl or braid girl or no hair girl.
I am definitely not a no-hair girl. The last time I had short hair was in 2008 – eight years ago.
I either have weave, braids or my own hair but I prefer braids to weaves.
What do you do to ease the tension when it gets boring on the rig?
I love movies, during my free time I watch a lot of them.
I go to the gym ☺
Eat a lot of ice cream from the galley. I always gain an extra 1kg after my hitch which after a week of being back to normal life I lose – it is a never-ending cycle. Which in a very weird way implies that normal life is more stressful. Shocking, right?
Worst part of being an engineer? (Please say, wearing those awfully oversized cover alls)
hahaha..The coverall is actually the best part, knowing that you can sit or lie anywhere not worrying that the clothes that you love are getting spoiled. The boots too, you see a pile of mud, you step on it and your feet remains as clear as a new born’s ☺
The worst part is that most people do not really know the difference between the different engineering specializations. They for some reason assume that engineers only build roads, structures and know everything about vehicles. Which makes it so difficult to explain to them why I do not know any of those.
How to spot an engineer. Tell me 5 things you’ll find in an engineer’s pocket or bag
LOL..Allen key set…perhaps!!
This is very tricky. Even I would not be able to tell if I was an engineer by looking in my bag. Usually depends on the specialty, I know for sure IT engineers always carry a laptop ☺. It is very difficult to say that all engineers will carry similar things because they need different stuff for different activities.
What would you say to young girls who want to be engineers.
I say ´join the ride´. It is not as difficult as people make it seem, it is a profession just like any other. As long as you want to become one, nothing can stop you. If anyone makes it harder for you to achieve your goals, prove them wrong.
Thank you. That’s what this interview is about really, inspiring even if just one person by bringing people like you to their consciousness.
It is great, thank you too.
One last thing, please tell my readers to visit Tanzania in Swahili.
I would have said everything in Swahili but I want everyone to understand why they should visit Tanzania. There is so much to see and do in Tanzania. Depends on personal hobbies, if you love getaways on the beach come to Zanzibar, if you love wildlife and nature come visit our national parks, you love hiking come and climb Kilimanjaro (The highest mountain in Africa), love cuisines? Well we have so many different tribes and each has their version of cuisines you can taste, if you just like to be greeted with love and welcoming faces come to Tanzania. `Karibuni Tanzania.´
I hope you enjoyed reading this. You can read the October interview here and also do not forget to get in touch if you know an everyday person who is inspirational and whose story will be great to read. Click here to read who can be featured. Thank you for reading. Please share and leave your feedback in the comments.