Promise Ekpong was a final year microbiology student at the University of Cross River or UNICROSS in 2022.
In June of that year, four months into an eight-month-long strike by lecturers of Nigeria’s public universities in protest of poor work conditions, Ekpong decided she was tired of sitting at home doing nothing while the strike lingered.
She then took up the job of an attendant at My Carwash, a popular car wash along Mary Slessor Road in Calabar, Cross River State, where she lives.
It was a bold step for a young lady in Nigeria, where gender roles are pronounced and celebrated. Car wash attendants in Nigeria are mostly men and boys. A girl washing cars for money could earn herself the name “tomboy”, a disrespectful moniker for females with masculine body shapes and qualities.
But 21-year-old Ekpong could care less about what others would think about her, provided the job paid her bills.
“Washing cars is better than staying at home doing nothing. There’s no shame in labour, and I find joy being here rather than just being at home and pressing my phone,” she said.
The story of her boldness and readiness to screw stereotypes soon made its way to social media. One man, Richie Romanus, a 31-year-old political appointee in Cross River, even gave her N30,000 to support her courage after reading her story.
“I decided to support Promise Ekpong for daring to be different and towing the path of dignity. I hope this will spur other young girls to do something reasonable and dignifying with their hands,” Romanus told Prime Progress.
Ekpong said the money she received helped her settle pressing financial needs.
“I was facing financial issues back at home, but with the money, I was able to solve those issues,” she said.
Even after university lecturers called off their strike, Ekpong found time in-between studies to wash cars to earn some cash.
“I took a break from washing cars when I had my final exams at school. By the time I was done, I immediately returned and continued in the business,” she said.
Fast forward to January 2023, Ekpong is now a graduate. But she said she would not start moving around with her certificate looking for a white-collar job. Instead, she wants to keep washing cars and own a car wash someday.
“I love working here…I hope to have my carwash sometime in the future because it is something I have come to love. I want to become my boss and employ other females, too,” she said.