BEIRUT: Of all the driving instructors out giving lessons on a sunny afternoon in Bir Hassan south of Beirut, only one is female.
Wearing a headscarf as she trains a young student in a Honda, Wafiqa Yammout, 58, boasts of how she became one of Lebanon’s first female driving instructors, entering a profession that had previously been reserved for men.
“It all started by coincidence 37 years ago, when a woman wanted to learn how to drive, but did not want a male instructor to teach her,” Yammout told The Daily Star.
Yammout said the woman was a friend of her sister, who proposed that Yammout might give her lessons. “I asked her, ‘How can a woman teach driving? This profession is for men.’ She told me, ‘You have experience and you are good at it, why don’t you try and benefit from this? You can allocate some time for students after you finish your work in the house.’”
“I agreed to the idea, as I needed the money to help my husband [provide for us],” Yammout explained. “Neighbors saw me, my family heard about it, and I gradually became famous all over Beirut.” Yammout claims to have been the first female driving instructor working in the capital.
She said that although her parents supported the idea of her working as a driving instructor, her brothers did not. “They told me, ‘We don’t have girls driving here.’ But my mother told them, ‘As long as I am alive, I decide.’”
As for her husband, Yammout said he welcomed the idea.
“It was a great idea, because many women do not like to be taught by men. They don’t want to sit next to a man.”
But Yammout, known by her students and colleagues as Um Hasan, said her clients included men as well.
“I also train men. They come to me after I have taught their sisters, mothers and aunts.”
Yammout said that when she first began working, the male instructors wanted to get rid of her.
“At the beginning ... they were like, ‘How come a woman is practicing this profession?’ But they gradually accepted the idea.”
Yammout, who has raised four children, said that she managed to juggle her time between taking care of them and giving lessons.
“I used to teach in the morning and stop at 2 p.m. in order to take care of my family.”
Now a veteran instructor of 37 years, Yammout, who works for a driving institute in the Beirut neighborhood of Tariq al-Jadideh, said she still finds great satisfaction in her profession.
“I love this job, and I enjoy developing [my skills] in order to benefit my students. I feel happy when one of my former students greets me from their car.”
Despite her years of experience, Yammout said she does not mind taking the training program stipulated by Lebanon’s new traffic law, which went into effect Wednesday.
“I am not afraid of anything, I know the rules very well ... I have experience and [I will] let them benefit from it.”
Controlling the car is the most difficult part of the job, according to Yammout. “You will harm the student if you don’t pay attention to whether they are stepping on the brake or the gas pedal.”
But despite her admiration for those who practice the profession, she says she does not want her daughters to follow in her footsteps.
“My daughters are calm university students, this profession requires a strong personality ... I prefer that they learn something better,” said Yammout, who left school after finishing ninth grade.
“Good job!” Um Hasan tells her smiling student at the end of the training session. After all these years, she is still eager to teach.