International Women Pilots meet in the Middle East
The Ninety-Nines, Inc., International Organization of Women Pilots gathered in Jordan from April 28 to May 2 hosted by the Arabian Section. Women pilots representing 23 countries enjoyed the beauty and wonders of the country of Jordan and the Arabian Desert.
On our pre-conference day, several of us were invited for lunch with Alia Twal, our local organizer, and her family. We were treated to a full table of fresh vegetables: peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers and such. The main dish was a type of couscous and a lamb shank, which we ate with our bare hands by scooping up the grain with a piece of the meat inside.
The first official day began with a short bus ride to the Dead Sea, which is 1,300 feet below sea level. We checked into a glamorous resort hotel and proceeded to the Dead Sea shore, where we swam, or tried to, because it was so saline and could only float. We smeared ourselves with the dark Dead Sea mud, which is so good for the skin. That night at the opening ceremonies, we opened the gift boxes of “complimentary treasures.” An auction of local clothing, 99s jewelry, aerobatic rides and a couple of special cell phones completed the evening with all the proceeds going to a local charity.
The morning drive to Petra gave us a great view of the relatively mountainous interior. We enjoyed a lovely lunch and continued on the hiking tour of Petra, which has been chosen as one of the seven wonders of the world. The fascinating three-hour hike along the Siq, or narrow gorge, lined with ancient carvings features the famous Treasury that was carved out of the face of the rose-red clay cliff and is more than three stories high. Fascinating carvings and tombs depict three types of architecture: Roman, Greek and Egyptian. The ancient city was lost for 300 years and discovered again in 1812.
The evening drive ended at the “Wadi Rum” desert camp, where “Lawrence of Arabia” was filmed. We slept in clay huts and, in the morning, hiked to the top of the adjacent cliffs with a spectacular view of the camp and the Arabian desert. Later, the real treat for us pilots was a ride in a gyrocopter with a more extensive desert panorama. The abandoned Chinese Antonov aircraft in the camp was of special interest.
On our way to the next site, we stopped for a “great Arab revolution train ride.” With guards dressed in middle-1800s garb, the ancient train puffed along with a passenger clientele of 2019-era women pilots. All of a sudden out of the desert came a band of Arabs toward the train riding horses and camels with bombs, skyrockets and guns going off. Dressed in the traditional Arab robes, they boarded the train and took a couple of our members hostage in their ancient ground vehicle. Everyone was herded off the train and marched to the Arab castle where we were served tea and cookies and serenaded with bagpipes and drums.
After such a day, we were glad to get to our hotel rooms in Aquaba on the Red Sea that evening. The next morning was off to the beach resort where some went diving, some snorkeling and some swimming in the Red Sea. That afternoon, a sailboat ride offered a great view of the other resorts in the area.
After a quick cleanup and change into formal evening wear at our hotel, we were off to the closing ceremonies at the hangar of the Royal Jordanian Falcons, national aerobatic team. We entertained our sponsors, met the team, presented the awards and took lots of photos in our evening regalia. It was quite the evening for us 99s and we enjoyed little bites while viewing the Extra 300 aircraft that the team flies.
The following day, it was another beautiful resort and boat ride around the bay of Aquaba, where we were treated to an exclusive Royal Jordanian Falcons aerobatic program just for us.
As a life member of the 99s, this was one of the most memorable experiences ever. I don’t come as much for the sights as for the experiences and the people, 99s. Although the events and venues were fabulous, the real enjoyment comes from the camaraderie and friendships that evolve from these types of gatherings. This helps to make the world smaller and easier to respect each other and understand that we all have basically the same wants and needs for a comfortable life.
These women pilots from Jordan, Sudan, Spain, Germany, Tunisia, Canada, Belgium, to name only a few, are my friends. Many are captains, co-pilots, aeronautical engineers, mechanics, and some fly helicopters or general aviation aircraft. But we all have one thing in common: “the love of flight.”