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Monday, February 25, 2013

Young Nigerian Pilot Student Shares Her Story [Part1]

How it all started.  From a small oil rich Nigerian village localed in Bayelsa state, I never thought of being a pilot as a child. My middle-class family and I had mostly lived in the city of Port Harcourt, River State. My older sister is now married and my young brother is an University student.

Tariye Orianzi driving a plane (Photo: Orianzi)
Airplanes have never fascinated me. Instead, I wanted to be a doctor in order to wear glasses. I secretly thought it was compulsory for all doctors to wear glasses. As time went on, my career choice changed because of my average performance in scientific subjects such as chemistry.

The epiphany happened the first time I traveled by air with my mother. I heard the voice of male pilots and asked my mother: “Mom, why aren't there any female pilots?” To be honest, I can't remember what she said exactly because her answer was quite vague. However, I subconsciously made the decision to become a pilot since that day. When the time came for me to pursue my university career, the only profession I could think about was to be a pilot. 

Not something I loved. After reviewing various university brochures in Nigeria, I did not find anything aviation program at the time. I would have done aeronautical engineering but I ended up studying computer science in Port Harcourt, Nigeria. Four years later after my admission, I happily graduated with my college degree, eager to pursue my dream of becoming a pilot. 

 Yet, I faced another challenge. I had to convince my father to financially sponsor my training. Even though I hinted my love for aviation to my parents, they didn’t think I would pursue it. Telling my dad all the money he had invested in my recent university education was a waste, was not an easy task. He was quite skeptical but he agreed to pay for the first lap of my training, which was getting my private pilots license. 

How do pilot licenses work? The training required to get a private pilots licence takes 3 months. The licence allows anyone to fly a small plane (Cessna 150,152,172,Piper Cherokee) without charging a passenger for a flight. Then, the pilot has to get a commercial pilot licence; the training takes at least 2 years to acquire. 

Depending on different factors like the weather, personal skills and intellect, a commercial pilots license could be used needed to be make a living: to work in an airline, private charter(that’s where I’m aiming for) cargo, etc. When I received my private pilot licence, I thougt I could apply for sponsorships from my state government, government parastatals or from airlines to continue my training. 

 Say Yes or say No. A month later, I walked toward the South African embassy in Lagos, Nigeria, with a huge smile on my face. I said to myself: “ Tariye, you are one step closer to achieve your lifelong dream.” Unfortunately, it was a hustle at the embassy. I had all my necessary and unnecessary documents including an admission letter from my aviation school and my nursery school results - I topped my class. Even though I got there at 5:30 a.m., I had to wait in line. Four days later,I was able to submit my student application, only to be asked to come back two weeks. I came back. Twice a week for 3 months. Then, I gave up. The embassy neither delivered me a visa nor rejected my student application.

Tariye Orianzi served her country as a NYSC member  (Photo: Orianzi)

Serving my country. In front of this situation, I made the decision to join the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC), a national service mandatory for all graduates in Nigeria. I was supposed to intern in a company or to teach at a school for a year in an assigned state. This meant I had to leave my family in Port Harcourt in order to relocate in a different state in Nigeria. Fortunately, I was posted to Lagos state, the headquarters for all airlines in Nigeria. This time around, I did not have to travel in order to apply for a South African visa. I searched for a job in all airlines but none of them were looking for new recruits.

 I remember standing in front of one of the HR managers with teary eyes when she told me they were not hiring. I begged her many times to consider me. She threatened to call security, if I did not walk out of her office. Eventually, I took a job with a media company; the job wasn't bad. In fact, I knew people who would have done anything to get that job. At the end of my one year internship, I was offered a permanent job but turned it down. This was not my dream. 

Here we go again. Ten months went by. I applied for a South African visa once again. You can imagine. I began to lose hope again. Two months after submitting my application, I got a call from the South African embassy.

The person on the other end asked me to come get my passport. When I got there, my passport was given back to me with a visa in it! To say the least, I was the happiest person earth! Immediately, I called my mother to share my joy with her but we ended the call on a sad note. My mother just announced me that my dad's health was in critical state. Three days later, I rushed home to assist my dad. 

This story was originally written by Tariye Orianzi
Born in Port Harcourt, Nigeria on 31st January 1989, Tariye Orianzi graduated from the University of Port Harcourt in 2009. She moved to South Africa in 2012 to start her flight training. She is the youngest board member of PAWA(read 'power') ,the 'Pan A frican Women in Aviation'. Some of her hobbies include flying, bowling, and acting in her local church. Follow her on Twitter at https://twitter.com/tatanzi