MELBOURNE: Circumventing the globe solo in a single-engine airplane is a challenge even experienced pilots would balk at. But hailing from a war-torn country and growing up as a refugee in another, Afghan-American Shaesta Waiz, 34, learned how to overcome adversities at an early age. At 30, Waiz became the youngest woman to pilot a single-engine airplane solo around the globe, with her home country among the pit stops she made during her145-day sojourn in 2017. For the last few months, memories of her trip — she won admiration from many while the Taliban sent threats — and concerns for her extended family have kept Waiz up at night.
Years ago she had earlier sent a letter to the Afghan government, asking to be put in touch with female pilots who could mentor her. “The government wrote back saying in the history of Afghanistan, there had never been a certified civilian woman pilot. I would be the first. This was the motivation I needed to really stick through it,” she said. “It hurts my soul when I think of Afghanistan,” said Waiz, who has another achievement to her credit — she is the first female certified civilian pilot of Afghan-origin. Following the withdrawal of US military forces, Taliban took control of Afghanistan in August. Waiz said some of her family has fled to the US while others are still stuck in Afghanistan. “Taliban says women can study, but the situation seems to be quite different on the ground,” said Waiz, whose parents migrated to the US as refugees in 1987 during the Soviet War. “For many, history is repeating itself,” she told TOI from California.
Waiz rued that her dream of opening an aviation school in Afghanistan ruled by Taliban is unlikely to take off now. “After I came back in 2017, I tried several times to get the project off the ground, but every time, I was told it was not the right time as it was not safe for women to learn flying outside the military environment as there was no protection and they would become targets.” The pilot’s visit in 2017 was also not free from such risks. The venue for her talk had to be changed to a more secure TV recording studio following threats from the Taliban. “That day, 300 girls showed up and I thought they could teach me about bravery. Sadly, the country is not set up for these girls to really succeed.” Waiz’s aviation record is currently being challenged by 19-yearold Belgian Zara Rutherford who is flying across the planet solo on a single engine plane.


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