Thirty two years ago, nineteen-years-old Sabira Rizvi had a difficult choice to make. She could accept admission to medical school or she could see the world by joining the national carrier as an air hostess. She picked PIA.
“Today all of my friends are rich doctors but I have never regretted my decision. I see the most beautiful cities in the world. I love my job. Every day I learn something new,” she says.
You may not know Sabira’s name or her story. But you have probably seen her picture. It was shared on Twitter without her consent along with a crack about her age and serious expression sparking a debate on standards of beauty, feminism and ageism. The tenor of the discussion was vicious. As the politics around her picture raged she remained silent.
NOT JUST A PRETTY PICTURE
Sabira’s busy flight schedule means she does not spend too much time online so she was unaware that her image had been shared until a colleague informed her that she had ‘gone viral’.
— Sabena Siddiqi (@sabena_siddiqi) July 3, 2017
Sabira admitted the comments were emotionally traumatic. When she saw the hateful comments her first thought was that her place in the company would be called into question. She battled between addressing her concerns with her supervisors or keeping her head down and just riding the wave.
“I was so upset that I could not sleep all night,” she says, her voice shaking with emotion.
As Sabira read through the comments thread online her nervousness turned to determination.
“I have spent my life building my career and after years of hard work I have reached a senior position. I am good at my job and there is no good reason for me to go anywhere. My experience is an asset and that is why the organization has continued to support me.”
She does not think that age is a factor in her performance. Over the years she feels she has only improved as her skills continue to grow. So, what does the think of those who criticized her? Not much.
“So many passengers do not respect air safety. They only think of cabin crew as eye candy. We are trained professionals and deserve respect.”
JUST A GIRL FROM LARKANA
Just after passing her intermediate exams Sabira began training to be an air hostess.
“In those days there was nothing more glamorous than joining PIA,” she says with a laugh, “being selected was an honor for a simple girl from Larkana.”
She describes herself as a free spirit who wanted to see the world. Her first opportunity was an international flight from Karachi to Cairo.
“I remember that flight like it was yesterday. I felt exhilarated and agitated. I could not believe I was finally getting out of the country. Now, of course I don’t get nervous but I still love traveling. I especially love going to New York. There is no other city like it.”
Sabira is full of stories of Paris in the eighties, difficult passengers and the first time she went to Bangkok. She is a bright, passionate woman who made the difficult choice long ago to break away from a tried and tested path to rise up and follow her dreams. And dreams don’t have an expiration date.
“I have spent a lifetime in the air,” Sabira says, “and I would not a change a thing.”