Despite the exceptionally warm afternoon, the auditorium in Kabul was packed; young Afghans, mostly girls, filled even the narrow steps by the aisles, craning to see Shaista Waiz: the first female civilian pilot of Afghan origin.
Waiz is the first Afghan woman to attempt to fly solo around the world. She started in Florida on 13 May and has, so far, made it to 11 destinations. She has 24 more stops in store before arriving back in Florida in September on her 2001 Beechcraft Bonanza A36.
Although born in Afghanistan, Waiz is a refugee who escaped the war against the Soviets 30 years ago and was raised in the United States.
“Kabul wasn’t listed on my travel itinerary, but I always planned to come to Afghanistan,” she told The Independent. “I couldn’t fly the aeroplane here because of the high elevation, but I really wanted to see Afghanistan so I left the plane in Dubai and took a commercial flight here. I had to come one way or another.”
Waiz is something of a celebrity in Afghanistan – perhaps even a heroine, especially for the young girls who aspire to higher goals in a society that continues to remain largely patriarchal and conservative.
Earlier, teenagers had jumped up excitedly when they spotted Waiz outside the auditorium. Some brought her flowers; others just wanted to shake her hand and kiss her cheeks. “I’m just like you guys,” she told the room – first in Pashto, then in Dari, then reiterating it in English. “If I could do it, so can you.”
Read full story on The Independent UK