September 18, 2012

Taking Flight Over Africa

Rebecca Moran BA ’99 finds adventure as a pilot in Tanzania.

Rebecca Moran BA ’99 finds adventure as a pilot in Tanzania.

Tense and ever vigilant for wind shear, Rebecca Moran began her final approach into Ndulele, Tanzania. She skillfully landed her Cessna 206 on the bumpy dirt runway, free of wandering goats and cows that day.

No one was in sight, not even the person who had placed an emergency call to her at Flying Medical Services. Moran hopped out of the plane and propped a rock against the front wheel.

From afar, over the ridges behind her, Moran saw a large red mass—a group of Maasai draped in their traditional bright red blankets. As they got closer, she could see them carrying the patient: a small woman, about 19, who was pregnant with twins. She had lost the first twin and was in danger of losing the second—as well as her own life.

“One man could have carried her,” says Moran. “But it seemed that the entire village, and 10 more villages, accompanied her. Adult men dropped to the ground, and women threw up their arms in despair.”

“In a culture known for ranking cows higher than women, the community seemed to hold this young mother in unusually high esteem, more so than even an elder Maasai man,” she says. “Tanzania had once again challenged my expectations and assumptions.”

Moran flew her passengers to a hospital in Arusha. The young woman survived, but her second baby did not.

Since 2004, Moran has been flying planes over Africa—both as a volunteer and as a commercial pilot.

Moran’s interest in life overseas blossomed at Lewis & Clark, where she studied international affairs and economics. One of her instructors, Cyrus Partovi BA ’67, senior lecturer in social sciences, encouraged her to live and work overseas. Moran chose the Peace Corps, serving two years in the Republic of Kiribati, an island nation located at the equator, northeast of Australia.

She then traveled for two years, stopping in Tanzania to visit her childhood babysitter. Through her, Moran met Pat Patten, the director of Flying Medical Services, a nonprofit that provides health services and education to the Arusha region of Tanzania. It also airlifts patients in medical emergencies.

“I went on flight clinics with him and immediately decided to get my pilot’s license specifically to work for his agency,” she says. Moran ended up working as a volunteer pilot for four years.

In 2010, after the birth of her son, Eli, Moran changed direction. Needing to provide for her family, she became a commercial pilot for Tanganyika Flying Company. Her husband, Ezra, is a full-time stay-at-home father, who occasionally volunteers for Flying Medical Services.

Moran loves her work. “I enjoy flying tourists over the Serengeti, where millions of wildebeests and zebra roam,” she says. “Adults scream with joy like little kids when they see elephants, giraffes, and the wildebeest migration below.”

Moran, too, has learned to embrace life’s changing patterns. In December, she, Ezra, and Eli will return to the States to live.

“My son speaks mostly Swahili. He sees people of all different colors and hears so many diverse languages,” says Moran.

“I would love to raise him here if it weren’t for the great distance between us and our families.”

Moran hopes to instill the Tanzanian sense of community in her son, regardless of their location. “Being in Africa changes the core of people,” she says. “They become more open and accepting.”

Pattie Pace is an Ohio-based freelance writer.