One of forty female pilots out of her company’s 500, Wanjiru didn’t always dream of joining an airline. After her passing her exams she sat down at her computer and googled “What should I do for a career?”. A personality test suggested she do a series of desk-bound finance jobs, but somewhere around option 6 she was recommended “airline pilot”. Her family was skeptical, no one they knew was in the business and there was this reputation that pilots behaved badly, always travelling with lots of women and parties.
Wanjiru’s argument was ‘let me go, if I fail I can always go back to being an actuary. At least then I’ll know the universe doesn’t want me to do this”
Her first twenty five hours at training school were the hardest but she was helped by her instructor. Proud to have one of only a handful of women of the course he guided her through the hurdles. These days flying is second nature “The flying’s fine the plane will look after you.” She says “The challenge comes from not being able to plan your life beyond 28 days”. Births, deaths and celebrations are often missed and Wanjiru has lost some friends because she is only sporadically around. This has helped her whittle down her friendship group so that those she spends time with now she can really depend on. Romantic relationships can also be strained by her airborne lifestyle. “When guys first find out I’m a pilot they’re intrigued but then they tend to be faced by certain issues. I’m not around all the time and then when I’m working I’m locked in a cockpit with another man for long periods. I try and explain we’re actually getting work done!”
As she can’t always be there days spent on the ground in Nairobi are precious for Wanjiru. She enjoys the fact that her city is filled with creative people. Rather than partying she likes to spend time with friends who have active outdoor lifestyles and enjoys places like Karura forest, now a great place to spend an afternoon. Evenings with friends, a glass of wine and a proper conversation are the ultimate luxury.
Rather than limit herself to a packed schedule of flying and squeezing in a social life when time allows, Wanjiru has followed the Nairobi practice of a side job. Along with 8 other friends, most of them pilots, she has set up a company, which runs a number a business ventures. The ultimate plan is to develop Nairobi’s first state of the art flying school, a not so humble retirement plan for a girl who once looked to a search engine for answers to her future.