"My name is Latifa. I am Colonel. I am an animate helicopter pilot in the Afghan Air Force.
I ambition to become a actual acceptable pilot and alternation added women to become pilots.
I accept a five-year-old babe w has been aerial with me aback she was two months of age. This is because there is cipher to attending afterwards her in the Air Force. I am aggravating to argue them to accept a kindergarten, so women can be calm and do their job actual well.
My bulletin to added women in the apple is that they suld ignment adamantine to accomplish their goals. They suld be aggressive and accept aplomb in themselves. They suld angle by Afghan women and allotment their adventures with Afghan women."
This is allotment one of Mama Asia, a long-form journalism alternation in which Sally Sara meets 12 adorning Asian women.
All I can see is an eye. The bouncer squints at me through the peep-le of a abundant animate gate. He opens it cautiously, autritative way for me to airing through. He has an AK-47 advance burglarize slung over the accept of his abundant coat. The bouncer doesn't chase me because I'm female. He opens a additional gate, advised to ure the restaurant from suicide bombers, and I'm ed inside.
The restaurant is in a adapted abode with big windows, paintings on the bank and 1970s angular appliance with coloured hions. It's apple-pie and light-filled. I admiration which ancestors lived actuality in bigger times, afore the bomb gates and the guards. I sit on a daybed in the bend of one of the rooms, watching Afghans and adopted aid workers chatting agilely over lunch.
Latifa Nabizada arrives and the aboriginal affair I apprehension are her feet. She's cutting hiking boots brindled with the blah mud from outside. It's not the accepted cossack for women in Kabul, w about clump about icy puddles and ditches in attenuate cloister ses and socks. Latifa is dressed to aculate warm, not to aculate up with appearance - there's commodity applied and ured about her.
Her five-year-old babe Malalai lds her hand. She's a small, quick-eyed babe with aptic beard and a babyish birthmark abreast her eyebrow. It's a aberrant affair to say but it affectionate of apparel her – she's a altered array of kid. When I ask Malalai what she wants to drink, she confidently replies that she'd like a coffee. It's not the acknowledgment I'm ured from a five-year-old but Latifa nods that it's okay. It's not connected afore Malalai is wriggling aing to me, ytical my easily and acute the ons on my agenda active watch.
Malalai has apparent added of Afghanistan than abounding of the white-bearded men w run this country. She's been travelling in the pit of aggressive helicopters aback she was two months old; her mother is an Afghan army pilot. The aggressive didn't accommodate any childcare because there are so few changeable pilots. So Malalai has tagged forth with her mum on missions beyond the country. If the Afghan aggressive had a common flyer program, Malalai would be a platinum member.
"I am consistently afraid about my daughter," Latifa says. "I appee to fly actual calmly. I don't appee Malalai to get addled and ache a lot. I accept told them abounding times that we charge a kindergarten for the aggressive ladies but they did not booty any action."
Latifa and Malalai are not aloof mother and babe - they are friends, chief and junior. Latifa speaks acclaim to her daughter, in the aforementioned accent she uses with adults. They both abrasion jeans and boots. Latifa has a chequered bandage to awning her head. Malalai adjusts it if she sees it bottomward off.
When I saw the birds fly in the sky, it was a dream for me. I wondered if it was additionally accessible for me to fly some day.
Latifa grew up in the 1970s, aback the anion of actuality a changeable aggressive pilot was still a fantasy. She and her accompany acclimated to sit on an old baptize boom and pretend they were canoeing the skies.
"When I saw the birds fly in the sky, it was a dream for me. I wondered if it was additionally accessible for me to fly some day," Latifa says.
Latifa lived a common adolescence of jeans and sneakers, she followed the hairstyles and fashions of Iranian celebrities. The ancestors endured the accession and closing abandonment of Russian troops and the absinthian political and indigenous battles that followed. But the canicule of the Taliban were still a connected way off.
"The women acclimated to abrasion abbreviate skirts. They were not covered. I bethink that. There was a lot added alternative for women.
"I acclimated to go to the adorableness parlour. I was 14 or 15 years old at that time. I acclimated to abrasion a hat to adumbrate it. At that time, there was a acclaimed Iranian pop accompanist alleged Googoosh, I capital to attending like her. While affable in the kitchen, I acclimated to sing the songs and act like her."
Latifa and her adolescent sister Laliuma were bent to become aggressive pilots. Their ancestor had aloof alternate me from six years in bastille afterwards actuality aced of actuality a affiliate of the Mujahadeen. He was attenuate and breakable from his time in prison. But as a aloft government official, he admired education. He capital to see his daughters soar.
The aggressive wasn't so welcoming. Latifa and her sister were banned entry. The army doctor told them they had affection and audition problems, alike admitting they didn't.
"They bootless us on our medical examinations three times."
The sisters anesthetized a noncombatant doctor's medical ysis and fought their way in as the aboriginal women accepted to the Afghan aggressive flight academy in 1989.
"I was blessed but very, actual angry. We went with lots of anger, we had a actual big activity with them. Aback there is compeion, men never appee women to be college than them."
Some of the mac trainees threw babyish stones and blame at their new changeable clmates. Latifa and Laliuma cloistral in the library amid acquaint and were ed to the clroom, alone afterwards the abecedary had arrived.
"We were the alone girls in that chic and there were 72 boys. We were actual scared. The boys were actual abominably behaved, I anion they would eat us in bristles minutes. But we advised hard."
There were no uniforms for changeable pilots so Latifa and Laliuma sewed their own tunics and trousers. Despite the bigotry and browbeating from their mac clmates, they topped the cl.
"During exams, the boys were advised by the agents but we were advised by a board of teachers. They acclimated to ask lots of questions to argue themselves that a woman could be a pilot and account college than the boys. They were ashamed that a babe could be added able than them. I was actual blessed on graduation day and I ped all my difficulties had ended."
It was December 1989; Latifa and Laliuma aggregate accommodation and ambitions. Later, aback an befalling came up for Afghan pilots to do some training in neighbouring Pakistan, the sisters volunteered.
"My sister Laliuma got up and said, 'If you appee to accelerate the pride of Afghanistan afresh accelerate us, because we are women and we are pilots. We ignment adamantine and can appearance them what an Afghan woman can do.'
"But the General said, 'You suld be blessed aloof to be sitting in advanced of me. My daughters are still in the village, they are benighted - they don't alike apperceive about lipstick.'
"At that time I was not absent of flying. At that time I was alone cerebration about accepting aliment and blockage alive. Surviving was added important."
"I was actual angry. In Afghanistan, men feel they are actual powerful. This is the culture. Men ane they accept the appropriate to ascendancy everything. I say to tse women w appee to be pilots now - be strong.
"We were the aboriginal women w faced all of this. If we could, afresh you additionally can. Cipher can stop you."
In 1996 the rights of Afghan women slipped alike further. Latifa and her ancestors fled to the arctic burghal of Mazar-i-Sharif alone a anniversary afore the Taliban captured Kabul. The sisters aggregate a government accommodation but their altar was abbreviate lived. One of their aloft colleagues larboard the Air Force and defected to the Taliban. He actomed at their aperture and delivered a letter admonishing they had 24 urs to leave or they would be killed.
Latifa, Laliuma and their ancestors aing bags of others arti beyond the mountains to Pakistan. They larboard with what they could carry, and put themselves in the easily of guides and smugglers to ability safety. Latifa was no best a pilot, she was a refugee. She sat in a dark, arenaceous branch in Peshawar with dozens of added women, aberrant carpets for a few dollars a month.
"At that time I was not absent of flying. At that time I was alone cerebration about accepting aliment and blockage alive. Surviving was added important.
"There were six of us girls and we acclimated to braid actual connected carpets. It would booty us three months.
"There was a little boy animate with us and his fingers did not abound able-bodied because of the weaving. Activity was like this. We had no added advantage and no pe."
By the end of 1996, the United Nations Aerial Commissioner for Refugees estimated there were 1.2 actor Afghan refugees in Pakistan. The departure became allotment of the adventure of abounding Afghan families. For Latifa, it was absent time but she knew she bare to aculate quiet. There were whispers about the refugee affected that the Taliban was attractive for the acclaimed sisters w flew helicopters. Old pictures of Latifa and Laliuma additionally appeared in the bounded cardboard but they kept quiet to break alive.
I will consistently aculate animate and try to accomplish my goals ... I appee to be accepted as one of the best pilots in Afghanistan.
By 2000 the ancestors absitively to leave the ache of the camps of Peshawar abaft and acknowledgment to Afghanistan. A lot had afflicted in the four years they had been away. Taliban aprism was now in place. Women were not actomed to leave their me afterwards a mac relative. But women with babyish sons were able to go out in the artery because a babyish boy had a college cachet than his mother. The babyish was admired as a 'protector' for an developed female.
Latifa saw her burghal through the clarify of a burka. She was affected to awning up because of fears about actuality baffled by Taliban enforcers. She acquainted frustrated, peless and angry.
"It is actual difficult to see with that cobweb beyond your face. I could alone fo through one le.
"I am not that animal that I bare to adumbrate my face. It was actual depressing. Alike central a woman's bus at that time - buses were abstracted for women and men - the Taliban would not acquiesce the women to lift up the burka. If one of them did that, they would appear and exhausted all the women. So, we would not acquiesce anniversary added to lift the burka up."
The aboriginal sounds of change came from the sky a year later. On October 7, 2001 the US and its allies launched missile strikes as allotment of their acknowledgment to the September 11 attacks alone a few weeks earlier. The explosions befuddled Kandahar, Kabul and added sites beyond the country.
Educated Afghans knew aggressive activity from the US was imminent. But abounding others, afterwards admission to newspapers or television, heard the complete of the missiles connected afore they anytime heard about September 11. Some still don't apperceive what happened on September 11. The television pictures of the Twin Towers in New York City, seared into the memories of abounding Americans, didn't ability some Afghans active in abjection and isolation.
"I am actual sad about the bearings in Afghanistan. If we didn't accept wars, we could accept developed a lot. We would not be as poor as we are now. We are spending too abundant money on fighting. We accept to absorb added on education, on health, but we are not accomplishing that."
"Education is the basal affair for the development of a nation. If benightedness was not actuality in Afghanistan and anybody was educated, cipher would appee to abort this country."
Latifa capital to address her activity to aerial but her parents had their own wishes. Her mother gave her a account of a doctor's abettor called Mohammed Homayon; a alliance was abiding in 2004. Latifa anon begin out the pto had been taken aback her bedmate was abundant younger. But she didn't mind; she anion he was adventurous to wed a changeable pilot.
"He had the adventuresomeness to ally me. He was actual calm and quiet and I acclimated to allocution a lot."
A bedmate was additionally abiding for Laliuma. The sisters connected to fly afterwards their marriages.
In 2006, Laliuma and Latifa became abundant aural a few weeks of anniversary other. They hid their pregnancies from their commanders so they could abide aerial for as connected as possible.
"Two is consistently bigger than one. If my sister was not there, I could not accept fought for my rights. I had lots of adventuresomeness because she was with me," Latifa says.
Giving bearing is one of the best alarming adventures in an Afghan woman's life, because of the aerial cardinal of affectionate deaths. Best women don't accept admission to medical affliction during abundance and delivery. Up to 86 per cent accept no accomplished advice aback they accord birth. It's a constant action - mothers accept a one in 11 advenious of dying anniversary time they deliver. On boilerplate they will accord bearing six times in their lifetime.
Laliuma and Latifa were lucky. They were awful accomplished and had admission to the best medical affliction in Kabul. But alike that wasn't enough. Laliuma underwent a Caesarian section.
"She was operated on by an amateur doctor. The doctor cut her belly arteries and she absent lots of blood. Her claret aculation was O-negative. The claret is rare. They brought lots of claret for her and alike NATO armament helped.
"The doctors did not acquaint me she was dying. But aback they removed the oxygen masks and drips, we acquainted commodity was wrong. The doctors aloof went away. We were actual scked."
Laliuma died. She was 34 years old. Despite her accuracy in the skies, her urance and courage, she fell to a crisis that takes so abounding women in Afghanistan. She absent her activity while she was bringing new activity into the world. Her bairn babe Mariam survived.
"Sometimes the woman dies and sometimes the babyish dies. We achievement and ambition that anytime all Afghan women accept acceptable bloom and no one will die from giving birth," Latifa says.
Latifa additionally gave bearing to a daughter, Malalai. She did her best to affliction for both newborns. Malalai and Mariam were nursed together.
"I looked afterwards my sister's baby, I breastfed her. I was actual sad and I was cerebration a lot. It was absolutely difficult to augment them and attending afterwards them. They acclimated to beddy-bye calm and cry together. I would cry sometimes and ask, w did this happen."
Eventually it was too much. Latifa couldn't breastfeed both babies. Her tiny niece, Mariam, was looked afterwards by her grandmother, w lived far away.
Latifa alternate to ignment a few months later, still abysmal in grief. It was the aboriginal time she'd been afterwards her sister, Laliuma. She had to activity the bigotry of her commanders on her own.
"I was actual sad. Every day aback I went to the of, I had to sign-in an appearance book. Her name was aloft mine. Whenever I saw her name, I would feel like fainting."
Latifa Nabizada became Afghanistan's aboriginal changeable aggressive helicopter pilot.
(ABC News: Sally Sara)
Latifa Nabizada became Afghanistan's aboriginal changeable aggressive helicopter pilot.
There was some abundance in the clouds. Latifa was aback in the pit, aerial Russian-built Mi-17 helicopters. She transported supplies, soldiers, spital patients and VIPs beyond Afghanistan. She was accomplishing what she loved.
"When you get added abroad from Kabul it becomes added beautiful. The mountains, forests attending actual beautiful."
There was no childcare accessible at the aggressive base, her bedmate was animate and her mother lived a connected ambit abroad so Latifa brought her babyish daughter, Malalai, with her in the helicopter.
"I fabricated a bed for her in the cabin. My babe acclimated to beddy-bye on my sulder. It was absolutely backbreaking for me.
"It is the government's ignment to accommodate accessories for all women. I couldn't do my job actual able-bodied because I had to attending afterwards my child. I did not accord bearing to any added accouchement because I did not appee addition one to ache like this."
Now Malalai is alone a few months abroad from sing scol. She loves aerial with her mother and already says she wants to be a pilot.
"She sits in the pit. She sits actual quiet and calmly and sometimes asks questions about everything. She is aloof like me."
Latifa all-overs her arch aback I ask what Afghanistan will be like aback Malalai finishes scol.
"After adopted armament go, if the government doesn't pay absorption Afghan women will abatement bottomward again."
Latifa is acutely religious, which about seems contradictory. Islam shapes her behavior and behaviour. It has actomed her a lot of abundance and advice in difficult times. Despite her animosity for the burka, she wears a arch bandage by best and is appreciative to do so. She doesn't see any aen why Islam and women's rights can't co-exist.
"In Islam, there is no aprism that a woman cannot become a pilot, she can do it with her anatomy covered.
"I adulation my religion. I appee women to be able to accept any profession but stick to their religious values. I adulation the arch bandage and I consistently say prayers.
"Sometimes bodies acquaint me not to go to a accurate abode because the bearings is not good. But I fly there and change the situation. I will aculate aggravating my best until my aftermost flight afore retirement. I appee to be accepted as one of the best pilots in Afghanistan."
When anybody asks Malalai wse babe are you, she never says her father's name. She says, I am the babe of Latifa the pilot.
Malalai wriggles about on the daybed as Latifa and I talk. She's followed up her coffee with a big bottle of Pepsi. The caffeine is blame in. Malalai sits aing to me, amut while I booty ptos with my pne. Her name comes with a lot of acceptation and history in Afghanistan. Malalai of Maiwand was a adolescent Pashtun woman w rallied bounded fighters in a action adjoin British troops abreast Kandahar in 1880. It's a name of backbone and courage.
We accomplishment talking and Latifa and Malalai put on their coats, accessible to go aback out into the December cold. We aate hands.
Latifa and I were built-in alone a few weeks afar in 1971, me in Port Pirie, South Australia and she in Kabul. Her activity has been bankrupt in the abysmal creases of battle and ambiguity of Afghanistan. But she has achievement for the future.
"We suld be ured that we are not alone women, we are animal beings. We accept all the abilities like a man and we suld accept in ourselves and urance in our abilities. We suld ignment adamantine and accomplish our goals.
Sally Sara's ptos abduction the faces and places of Afghanistan from her two-year ignment as the ABC's contributor in the war-torn country. View gallery
"Once, I went to a rural area. Aback one of the soldiers saw that I was a woman pilot he exhausted his burglarize into the arena and said, 'In Afghanistan, a woman is a pilot but I am still illiterate.'
"I acquainted actual apologetic for him. I told him not to be depressed, I told him, 'You are still adolescent and you can study.'
"Education is the basal affair for the development of a nation. If benightedness was not actuality in Afghanistan and anybody was educated, cipher would appee to abort this country.
"I appee Malalai to appear scol, to apprentice computers and English. In the future, if she wants to become a pilot, I would adulation her to be an astronaut and be the aboriginal woman from Afghanistan to go to e.
"When anybody asks Malalai wse babe are you, she never says her father's name. She says, I am the babe of Latifa the pilot."
Sally Sara is an award-winning ABC announcer w has appear from added than 30 countries, including Afghanistan, Iraq, Sierra Leone and Zimbabwe.
Latifa's adventure is the aboriginal of 11 accessories in Sally Sara's Mama Asia series.
Next month, accommodated Venerable Bhikki Dhammananda, w larboard abaft her high-profile affairs as an abrupt bookish and television presenter to become a beat Buddhist monk.
To accept an active aback the aing Mama Asia commodity is published:
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