​Monday In A Picture – For Colored Girls Who Reply “Pilot” When Asked, “What Do You Want To Be When You Grow Up?” 

Yesterday, it happened again. For the second time in my life, I met a Black woman pilot. I had left the plane and was walking up the jet bridge when I saw her. I noticed the bars on her shoulders, so I walked up to the young lady and asked if she was a first officer. She confirmed that she was. 

Nandi is a South African woman who currently flies as a first officer with Mango Airlines, based in South Africa. She stopped to chat with me for brief moment. I told her how excited I was to meet her, and the hope and promise that she gives me for the future. This is especially true now in my role as a teacher at my community’s high school. 

As a American man serving in the kingdom of Swaziland, I am increasingly aware of the privileges that I have through no merit of my own. One of the privileges benefiting me, as a man, is the fact that I get to see men in all kinds of positions throughout society. As a result, it’s rarely a question of whether I can attain a certain achievement. I have countless examples surrounding me as a man. As a Black man, I have fewer, but still numerous, examples around me. 

All of this brings me back to Nandi and my role as a teacher. I see teachers (myself included) as not only being responsible for teaching, but for inspiring their students. I want all of my students to truly believe that they can do anything. I believe that seeing examples who are relatable to our identities is important.

A Black woman gave birth to me. Black women, from various sectors in society, have been instrumental in my life. I noticed some years ago that Black women weren’t just underrepresented in the cockpit. They were non-existent. In more than 20 years of flying, I had never encountered a Black woman pilot in real life. So, I made it a travel goal of mine to meet one Black woman pilot. This task grew more daunting as I spoke with my uncle who retired from Delta Airlines after more than twenty-five years of service. He informed me that he had only met one Black woman pilot in years of extensive work and leisure travel around the world. 

In September 2014, I met Gabrielle in San Francisco. Gabrielle is a first officer with United Airlines. Yesterday, I met Nandi in Johannesburg. During this month celebrating women’s history, I want to make sure that Black and brown girls around Swaziland, Africa, and the world know that there are amazing women like Gabrielle and Nandi shattering glass ceilings and blazing trails for you. 

Be kind to yourself. 
Onward. 

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28

During a WhatsApp chat last week, a volunteer in my group highly recommended that I read “28: Stories of AIDS in Africa” by Stephanie Nolen. As others in the group talked about the book, those same recommendations were echoed. I had been planning to read it at some point. I figured now was a great time for it.

I’ll start by saying that the book was very worthy of all of the praise and recommendations. Nolen, a Canadian journalist, wrote the book while living in Johannesburg, South Africa as The Globe and Mail’s Africa Bureau Chief. She manages to highlight various political and cultural issues intermingled with the stories of 28 people affected by HIV in Africa. As I progressed through the book, I was very excited because the stories gave me a better understanding of the cultural landscape across sub-Saharan Africa in general, and Swaziland, in particular (two people’s stories were from Swaziland).

There’s the issue of a lack of women’s empowerment. Several stories, including one from Swaziland, were about married women who contracted the virus from their husbands. In many of these stories, the married woman wouldn’t dare ask her husband to use a condom. This remained true even if the wife suspected or knew that her husband had multiple sexual partners. To ask him to use a condom would be considered disrespectful, and she risked being thrown out of the home.

Then, there’s the issue of transactional sex. Some stories prominently featured people who engaged in transactional sex for a myriad of reasons. Lack of money. Lack of food. Lack of transportation. Lack of other employment opportunities. Lack of skills. I have heard stories during my short time here in Swaziland about double orphaned (meaning that both parents are deceased) pubescent girls who are in charge of looking after their younger siblings. Because these girls often lack things like food and money, they become prime targets for transactional sex, and subsequently are at higher risk of contracting HIV.

Reading this book at this time in my life presents a unique perspective. I am a part of the western world’s response to AIDS on the continent. While I know that there are people in DC and around the world living with HIV, it’s much more “in your face” here in Swaziland. A part of the Ministry of Education curriculum includes lessons of HIV awareness, prevention, testing and counselling. Free condoms are distributed around the country as a part of the “Got it? Get it.” campaign. Many NGOs operate in Swaziland with expressed purpose of reducing HIV incidence (new infections). I’m excited to, hopefully, be a part of the solution, and to continue learning.
Be kind to yourself.
Onward.