May 10, 2013 7:25 pm

First Person: Helena Rodrigues

‘I’m one of Brazil’s first motogirls’
Helena Rodrigues©Stefan Ruiz

Rodrigues on her Honda: “Drivers put their windows up, thinking you’re going to rob them”

I never really liked motorbikes. But, my God, now I’m hooked. The noise, the speed – it’s such an adrenalin rush. My brother had one and, when I was 25, I started helping him make food deliveries across São Paulo. His business didn’t work out so I had a go at becoming a motorbike courier myself. I’m 34 now and I’ve been a motoboy, or rather a motogirl, for about six years. I mainly deliver documents to notaries but I also do a lot of jobs on the side. Motoboys get some really weird stuff sometimes – erotic items, bottles of urine … Some guy even sent a dead chicken to his girlfriend to break up with her.

I only know one other girl doing this job. Some guys respect you but others give you a lot of crap, like asking, “Shouldn’t you be in the kitchen or washing clothes?” I just ignore them and get on with my job. Women are taking over now anyway. Women drive trucks, buses and trains. Even our president is a woman.

The freedom of being out on the road is great. The pay isn’t bad either. Motoboys get around R$1,700-R$1,900 (£540-£610) a month. I spend R$260 of that paying the instalments on my Honda CG 150 Fan. That bike costs about R$6,000 if you pay upfront, but in 48 monthly instalments it’ll cost me double that.

Don’t get me wrong; it’s a tough job. Go up and down one of the main highways in São Paulo and you’ll probably see two car crashes a day but 10 motorbike accidents. About two years ago, one of my friends from work was riding in front of me. We’d only been on the road 10 minutes but suddenly he was stretched out on the ground. A truck had run over him. When I got to him he was still alive but blood was bubbling out of his mouth, you know? He died in the ambulance. One of my nephews was in hospital for a month after he was hit. Only last week someone from work broke their pelvis. People blame the motoboys, they say they go too fast, they’re impatient – and they are, but it’s also the cars’ fault.

My mum doesn’t like my job. She knows exactly what time I get home every day and always calls. My parents used to work on the land but they moved to the city just before I was born, to give me and my five brothers and two sisters a better life. My dad always used to say: study, study, study! But I never enjoyed it that much.

For me, the worst part of the job is the rain. When I wake up and it’s raining, I just want to cry. You put on the raincoat, gloves and boots, but when it’s that torrential rain that lasts all day there’s nothing you can do. You catch a cold and get home soaked. My hours are better now but I used to be on the bike from 8am to 6pm. Your back aches all over and the pollution makes you sick: I’ve had a cough for months now.

Bosses can also make your life hell. I used to work for an optician and they would make me strap piles of boxes of lenses on the back of my bike. It’s illegal but they don’t care. They needed to get it to the airport in rush hour and it would have taken too long in a car. You can refuse but then they’ll just fire you. Once a boss asked me to take two bags of sand; they must have weighed 30kg each. I think he did it just to make me resign.

The government is introducing new rules for motoboys – we have to have all the right documents, do a special course and get a red number plate. It’s a hassle, but we’ll get more respect. At the moment drivers don’t know you’re a motoboy – they put their windows up, thinking you’re going to rob them.

I’m not sure how much longer I can do this job. It’s very tiring. I might even start up my own business, delivering lunches to office workers. My mum or another relative would do the cooking though – not me!

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2014. You may share using our article tools.
Please don't cut articles from FT.com and redistribute by email or post to the web.

LIFE AND ARTS ON TWITTER

More FT Twitter accounts
SHARE THIS QUOTE