Yangyel Lhaden

Thimphu, February 25, Sunday:— An eight-year-old sits on the engine beside a female bus driver. She converses with her, distributes MBoB scans to passengers who are paying for city bus services after disembarking from the station, and carefully observes the passengers at each stop to ensure that they have disembarked, paid the fare, and that no one intends to leave the bus before reaching the stop.

 When there is no one waiting at a bus stop, the bus driver, Pema Choeki, inquires: “Is anyone getting off at this bus stop?” The eight-year-old looks at the passengers and, after receiving no response or hands-up, says: “Ama, we are good to go; there is no one getting off at this bus stop.”

Meet Yeshi Pema Wangmo, Pema Choeki’s youngest daughter, who is in second grade and is accompanying her mother to work.

“I am proud that my mother is a bus driver,” Yeshi says. “Initially, I was scared when ama told us she is going for training to become a bus driver. Now, I worry how my mother can carry on.” When Pema returns home, Yeshi inquires about her day, and warns: “Make sure to keep a safe distance from vehicles in front and behind you.” Pema Choeki is the sole breadwinner in the family.

Her husband is currently unemployed because his previous employer did not pay him—he used to work for a private bus company. “My husband is applying to jobs, and soon we will be comfortable,” Pema says. “It is a tough life, but we have to manage.”

After paying rent, there is only enough money for the family for food. “Ama has given us everything. Look at the clothes I’m wearing and the hairband; my mother bought them for me,” says Yeshi, who wants to study hard, work in an office in front of the computer, and provide her ama with everything she deserves.

 “My ama is my favorite; I love her the most,” Yeshi says. Pema had never driven a car before opting to drive a bus. Her journey into bus driving began when she lost her job as a conductor due to the city bus service’s elimination of conductors with the introduction of smartcards. Determined to adapt, Pema seized the opportunity presented by the city bus services, which were actively recruiting female bus drivers.

Her first shift starts at 7:00 am. On alternate Sundays, she can relax at home. “My mother wakes up as early as 4:00am and gets back home at night,” Yeshi says. “ She is always tired, and I help her with cleaning and washing.”