Thursday, March 15, 2012

First female train driver in the Middle East

Miriam Al Safar in control room
Miriam Al Safar is the first female train driver in the Middle East.  She has broken the glass ceiling for women in the Middle East and is urging women to think more about unconventional jobs as they consider their career paths.

First UAE female train driver
This 28 year old, Emirati native, is one of a select few UAE residents qualified to get behind the controls of a Dubai Metro train.

The network is described as the most advanced in the world. It is primarily an unmanned automatic driving system operated from a centralized control room.
However, in the event of system repairs or an accident, it needs manual operation.

When interviewed, Miriam said, 'I am always open to challenges and I am not afraid to take risks. I work hard and my job is my top priority.  Being a train attendant has helped me understand how to interact with people and staff from different nationalities and different cultures. This has empowered me to tackle different kinds of situations with ease.'

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

First and only female pilot in Afghanistan

Col. Latifa Nabizada and her 5 year old daughter/co-pilot
It has been a long and turbulent journey for this first and only Aghani female helicopter pilot, Col. Latifa Nabizada. She is not only the first and only military pilot but the first woman in the history of Afghani aviation.

Latifa and her sister, Lailuma, were the first female graduates from the Afghan Air force Academy, in 1980. It was a challenging endeavor but they graduated. Unfortunately, Lailuma later died at child-birth.

When the Taliban seized control in 1996, Latifa was forced to flee to neighboring Pakistan. She returned after the ouster of the Taliban and rejoined the air force. The Afghan air force has no child-care facilities so Latifa has been flying with her daughter since 1988. Malalai, who is 5 years old, rides in the co-pilot seat next to her mother.
Malalai, the 5 year-old co-pilot

Together, mother and daughter have flown more than 300 mission trips in the past few years. Latifa recognizes the risks of having her daughter on board, but she does not have a choice until possibly when she is 6 and starts school.

"Trust me, when I have my daughter with me on the flight, I am really worried from the moment we take off to the moment we land," says Nabizada. "For me, it's my profession to go to dangerous areas. So if anything happens to me, it is expected. But why should something happen to my daughter? I am really worried."

The U.S. military have asked her not to bring the child on missions or at least move her out of the cockpit, but Malalai will not stand it and she throws a tantrum. In any case, Latifa is confident of her skills as a pilot and is extra cautious with her daughter next to her.

Col. Nabizada
Latifa and her devoted partner fly to some of the most remote and dangerous areas of Afghanistan. The missions often involve supplying troops in remote areas or flying to disaster zones to help provide assistance.

Being a woman in the Afghan military is challenging but it has toughened Latifa. She is no longer harassed and cites an Afghan saying that roughly translates as " steel gets harder with the hammering."

It is encouraging to read these sort of stories from a war zone country, instead of just war and death reports.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Female King of Ghana

Nana Amuah-Afenyi VI
Peggyielene Bartels' life change radically two years ago, at 4:00 a.m. when she received a phone call from her home country, Ghana, informing her that her uncle, the Kind of Otum, had died.  Thinking the call was simply to inform her she gave her response and was about to put the phone down when the relative on the other side said, "No, no, no, no, Nana, don't hang up. We chose so many names, male and everybody, and somebody suggested that we choose your name, also. And when we poured libation and did the rituals, as soon as we mentioned your name, it started vaporing and we were surprised. So we did it three times. So that's when we got to know that you are the king."

Nana Amuah-Afenyi VI is Bartels' new title but she is better known as King Peggy. This 57 year old, naturalized American, was a secretary at the Ghana Embassy in Washington, D.C. She is the first female in this fishing community of 7,000 people in the central region, to be anointed King.

King Peggy
The former King died in 2008 but remained in the mortuary until Peggy could save up enough money to give her uncle a royal send off. She presided over the funeral as the King.

Peggy said that she had a choice to get the title of Queen but that would have meant that she would have to consult with whoever was king before making any decisions for the community. She did not want any hurdles and accepted the title as King. 

The title comes with heavy responsibilities. King Peggy juggles two lives - one from the palace in Otum, Ghana, and the other from her modest condo in Maryland, USA. She has been raising funds in the U.S. and is now planning to build a high school so that the children do not have to go far away to study.

King Peggy has an autobiography titled, King Peggy: An American Secretary, Her Royal Destiny, and the Inspiring Story of How She Changed an African Village