A Fly Girl is the memoire of a brave Black lady that set out to sail the world and stand up to challenge various stereotypes, chauvinism, and prejudice. In doing so, the British born author of Nigerian heritage, Amanda Epe, takes us on a memorable virtual tour of various destinations across continents as experienced by an enviable Flight Attendant with the British Airways.
Writing a personal memoire can be really challenging as you contemplate how much of your personal life you wish to put in the lime light, as well as what mundane things to leave out.
What I find fascinating about the book is the honesty and openness of the author to give you a good piece of her mind with little hesitation. It is like watching a twenty something year old lady think out loud as she explores varying subject areas as race, sex, farting, alcohol addiction, citizenship, and therapy among other things.
As she takes you through her encounters and characters, she drops her two cents on societal norms such as gender roles, the right time for a girl to get married, and how much close you can get to a male work colleague without him suspecting that you are in need of “sexercise”, and being spoilt for choice in creating meaningful relationships.
She also goes on a very philosophical monologue on the idealistic definition of what beauty means beyond the usual visuals. In the same philosophical approach, she is not shy to cast doubts about religious beliefs and even gives herself the liberty to draw her own conclusions and principles.
It is of interest that she notes that a lot of the stereotypes towards women are being reinforced by the women themselves. Her use of “United Queendom” made me laugh. As a brave girl who did not mind walking into all the exotic locations on her own when her colleagues declined to join, there could have been no better way to explore the world.
You learn so much about other cultures such as the cross dressers in India, the Chinese marketers pushing bleaching cream as if she had to feel guilty for her brown skin, sightseeing in the US and perceived childhood link with African Americans; and in West Africa, engaging with real people, talking and learning from them instead of just taking tourist photo shoots. You even learn about colleagues being “Naijaphobic”.
The issue of race and identity seem to be a preoccupation throughout the novel and probably for very good reasons. Working as a Black flight attendant on British Airways meant both being an Ambassador to showcase the diversity of the “United Queendom” as well as a source of inspiration to those who thought it was not achievable.
It was also about trying to fit in in terms of your look such as hairstyle or insisting that you have the right to be different. The author does realise, especially from her Asia trips, that race was not just about black on white, but has skin complexion perspectives.
Identity is even more complex especially when one holds multiple citizenships or is a second generation immigrant or British “with a prefix”. The book does confirm my long held assertion that the true test of nation loyalty is which team you would support in a football match between the two.
The lifestyle of crew members away from the passengers is something I could not have imagined. Perhaps the excessive use of alcohol and fight for male attention are compensations for the forced smiles they have to endure during the flights. In general, it was a luxurious lifestyle with lots of perks. Her decision to quit after three years was another brave step of someone on a mission.
The book seem to have been written for the purpose of therapy: “to write would be a healer of my soul”. There seemed to be a continuous hunt for therapy as the writer severally uses the word “therapeutic” to describe experiences such as night life in a club with a stranger, a drive through the greenery, panoramic views from the bridge of clear skylines, sexual love and nourishment. The books ends with what I would call her 10 commandments.
The book is written in a very good style with so many interesting coinages, quotable moments and other moments that get you laughing. After reading the book, you get the impression that you have been teased to start thinking of which of those exotic definitions you would like to visit for your next holiday.
However, the wind range of questions and challenges raised will occupy your mind for a while. I suppose the biggest lesson from the book is that in reaching to learn about the world and other people, we come to get a better understanding of ourselves.