Nora Ibrahim is not a woman you meet everyday. She is one of the very few female pilots in Egypt and the Arab world. We met the extraordinary mother of a boy and a girl for an inspiring interview.
How did you become a pilot?
Since early childhood I had a fascination with planes and aviation that soon after high school drew me to the Faculty of Engineering and later on Aviation College. I used to exchange airplane toys with my brother.
People must know what they want from their career and why they are passionate about it. I always ask myself three questions: where am I standing? Where I want to head to? And how could I reach there? This is how I plan. Every person has his certain capabilities and must use them to reach a goal. You can’t be a model just because you love modeling you should have the shape and looks needed in order to be a model, and that’s similar to my case I didn’t want to fly because its only my passion, I started to look first at my abilities and capabilities and then I placed the basis of reaching my goal.
“People must know what they want from their career and why they are passionate about it. I always ask myself three questions: where am I standing? Where I want to head to? And how could I reach there?”
How did your family react to your career choice?
Unfortunately, my father wasn’t very much supportive as he thought I wasn’t that serious. He was also afraid I will get married in my late 20’s and won’t be able to enjoy a regular social life. He told me that he would deprive me from tuition and I’m not allowed to ask him any financial support for my studies. My mother pitched in to help me with some of the aviation college tuition and I started working at the Cairo Airport to cover my expenses. My father thought that by cutting off the financials I would change my mind as working and studying is too tiring but it had an opposite effect: I wanted it even more. Being independent empowered me not weakened me as intended.
Parents must know what their children want from their lives and their preferences, likes and dislikes and start to develop them even if they don’t like it. My son, for instance, wants to play drums so I supported him on that, although I am not quite happy with the noise at home. He doesn’t have to be the number one Egyptian musician but why not take it as a hobby. My mother told me that life needs struggle and I totally agree with her.
“In our profession there is no difference between men and women on the contrary to common expectations. All that counts is how well you do your job.”
What obstacles did you face in your professional life?
In our profession there is no difference between men and women on the contrary to common expectations. All that counts is how well you do your job. I waited a whole year to take the test and another year for the results, which was quite tantalizing being in the unknown for such a long time. I was tired many times but I never gave up. People face lots of obstacles in their career but if they know how to empower themselves they’ll get through anything. I’m a person who believes that no woman on earth is weak, they are all strong, but there are some women who enjoy being patronized. Some women like to live their lives being humiliated and accept it although they know the way to get out of all that. Weakness doesn’t raise generations. Look at a child with a working mother in comparison to one with a stay home mother, you will mostly find the first one to be of a more independent persona. I think strong mothers raise strong children.
Is there any hidden gender discrimination? Are men prioritized?
No. My male colleagues and I get the same schedules and working hours. Of course all eyes are more on the woman to test her level of commitment, but once that is clear this is not an issue anymore. You have to prove how good and intelligent you are from day one.
What about competition with male colleagues?
Like any other job there is competition, but our competition here involves how much you always update yourself with new information. Every six months there is a simulator test in which you go into a flight simulator that puts you in emergency conditions and tests how you’ll be able to handle those conditions, and you must do what it takes in seconds and not minutes. You always have to be updated in this profession; it doesn’t mean that you have done this for ages that nothing can touch you, a pilot is under constant training and development.
“You have to prove how good and intelligent you are from day one.”
Some women go to work thinking about how her husband treated her over breakfast and what her mother-in-law meant by that tone over the phone. Your job needs an obvious amount of concentration how do you handle that?
If you want to be successful in your job, the minute you put on your uniform you must “shut down” personal thoughts. I wanted such a career, so I must be devoted to it and blend out anything else. I’m responsible for people’s lives and a plane so I must be focused.
How did you practice your job when you were pregnant?
You can’t go to work as it’s totally a risk for the mother and the baby. When I was pregnant I took a whole year off and a few months after that for nursing my twins. You have a six year vacation and you’re free to arrange them the way you like.
“I talked about my job openly so as to let him know every detail he might witness after marriage. A man who doesn’t respect his wife’s job is a man who lacks self-confidence.”
How does your partner get along with your constant travelling and sleepovers?
Sometimes I sleepover for 4 nights other times for only one night, but my husband is totally aware with my job requirements from the first day we’ve met. I talked about my job openly so as to let him know every detail he might witness after marriage. A man who doesn’t respect his wife’s job is a man who lacks self-confidence. People must be engaged for a year before they officially share a life together, in order to know the nature of each other’s lives and see if they could stand living under the same roof or not. A man in a woman’s life could be either a blessing or a curse it depends on how he turns out to be.
How do you teach your children to follow their passion like you did?
I tell them to concentrate on what they like to do when they grow up and I encourage them to develop it. I also encourage them to play sports along with reading. My kids aren’t allowed to watch anything on TV unless they know what they need to watch and they follow the schedule for their favorite TV shows. Time is precious and needs to be managed right.