WKND Conversations: This female Emirati car mechanic means business in the garage
Matroushi, who confesses she’s obsessed with ‘fixing things’, talks about her love for cars and why ‘anger’ fuels her passion.
Recently, Huda Al Matroushi, Sharjah’s first female car mechanic, received a call she wasn’t really expecting. The caller was none other than His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, who not only congratulated her for her efforts, but even joked that he’d like to get his car repaired by her one day. It is possibly the biggest validation of Matroushi’s work — a passion for cars that has now turned into a business with Imex Car Service, a car repair shop in Sharjah. Matroushi, who confesses she’s obsessed with ‘fixing things’, talks about her love for cars and why ‘anger’ fuels her passion.
What led you to start a repair shop?
This is not a job for me, it is my hobby. I am not doing it with a commercial aim, though, of course, it is important. I want people to know how a garage is being run. If you have any problems, we can solve them. It’s not about repairing something or just fixing a part. It’s a passion that I have turned into a business.
As a child, you were obsessed with fixing toys. Is this where your love for cars took root?
When I was a child, I was with my cousin, who had a racing car toy that was broken. I tried my best to fix it. I did not know how I could do that, but I was determined. I would be up till 2 am and the next day, I’d be woken up to go to school. I’d say, “I am tired” (laughs). I took a week to fix it. From that time onwards, I developed this compulsive need to fix things.
After high school, I needed to go to the university, which wouldn’t accept me because my grades were low. And neither could I repeat the high school, because I had passed. That time, I told my father, “Dad, I need to go to university.” He told me, “How will you go if your marks are low?” Then he said something that has stayed with me, “Try yourself. You have to stand on your own two feet.” Till date, I thank my dad for saying that to me. He has made me strong. Because of this, I now know what is right or wrong, or how to solve problems on my own.
Recently, His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, called you to congratulate. That is quite a validation of your work.
He said, “I am proud of you.” I made me so happy. It took me by surprise. It hadn’t occurred to me that someone like that would call. All this has been reassuring. He told me that I am a powerful woman who can reach anywhere if she puts her mind to it. I said, “Absolutely, I will.”
What are the challenges of being a female car mechanic?
There are many difficulties. But you have to keep reminding yourself that nothing is over till such time you quit. Whenever you have a goal in mind, you have to reach it. You have to keep trying. Because of Covid, I had to face challenges. Apart from that, I also challenge myself. This is why I am in the business — it’s about learning and evolving as a professional, as a person. During my free time, I’d go to industrial areas in Sharjah and Dubai to understand the process of repair. People would ask, “What are you doing here?” I’d say this is my hobby. I would go underneath the car, understand why a part would break despite the warranty. From 2014 to now, I have driven a car and had no problem with it. I even drive in the desert at times. But I know what I am doing with this car.
Do people frown looking at a woman fixing a car?
You have to create a space for yourself. Traditionally, it’s been a business that only men have been a part of. In Europe today, women work in garages all the time. Ten years ago, there were no majors in electrical or mechanical (engineering) for women, or very few of them actually opted for those kind of specialisations. But now, more women are keen.
You have mostly male employees in the garage. How do they perceive your feat as Sharjah’s first female car mechanic?
They are my second family. But yes, there are times when they’d rather volunteer to change parts or fix something, but I step in nonetheless. I tell them this is my work, how will they judge it if they don’t get to see it themselves. I used to have five or six people, now I only have two people because of the Covid situation. I am an admin, but I have to work and set an example to ensure that my employees are not stressed.
The pandemic has adversely impacted most businesses. How did it affect yours?
I started the garage in 2020. It was certainly not the best of times, but this year is definitely better. I find good clients, I help them, give good advice for the cars. When I started, I did not think there would be a lockdown. But that only made me want to work harder when normalcy was resumed, and expanded the capacity to keep 10-12 cars.
You said you are a very angry person. How has anger enabled you as a businesswoman?
(Laughs) That’s true. I try to be quiet. But I do realise you cannot be in a situation where you’re angry all the time. Because I am angry, I need everything to be done perfectly and correctly. I am mostly under control. Just that I cannot endorse something that is wrong.
You said the garage is largely your hobby. But isn’t money important too?
Money is secondary. The reason I started a repair shop is because I want to understand and be part of an environment in which a car is fixed. Most of the shops fix your cars and give them back to you. But I want to create an environment that inspires curiosity about how a car can be fixed, what the drivers get wrong, and that can happen only if there is enough information being put out there.
How did your family react when you told them about your decision to start a garage?
I was quiet. I didn’t tell anyone because I wanted to surprise them. One day, I went to my father and said, ‘Dad, I have to plan a layout for a garage.’ He asked, ‘Which garage?’ I told him it would be my garage. He was surprised and said, “How will you run a garage? It’s something meant for men.” I said this is not a job just for men or women. It’s for all those who love cars and like to know more and gather information about them. I have to fix things — that’s my nature. If there is a part that I cannot repair, that’s when I advise my clients to get it changed altogether. I am a winner or a learner — but never a loser.
What is your message for those who want to be a part of this profession?
Children of this generation are more aligned with technology, to a point they are so hooked that their mind is not with you. I hate that. You need to understand how the technology that you are using works. And allocate time to understand it.