Why San Antonio, Texas Is the Perfect Place to Learn About Hispanic History & Culture in America

CheapOAir Miles Away. Sept 2019.

The city of San Antonio, Texas goes back 300 years. It’s where the Spanish claimed the New World and set up missions to colonize the indigenous people. Today, it’s a multicultural metropolis that celebrates its Hispanic heritage through historic neighborhoods, traditional food, unique festivals, and more. So if you’re looking to learn about the Hispanic experience in the United States, you need only to take a trip to the Lone Star state and immerse yourself in San Antonio history and culture.

Don’t believe us? Here are five reasons why San Antonio is THE destination for when it comes to Hispanic history & culture in America. Continue reading…

Jérôme Aké Béda’s Journey to Switzerland’s Historic Winegrowers Festival

Cuisine Noir Magazine. Sept 2019.

Twenty thousand spectators gather in an open-air arena built along the shore of Lake Geneva in Switzerland. The colorful display of costumes, floats, dances and music, feels no less festive than Carnival in Rio de Janeiro. More than 7,000 local actors, singers and musicians participate in a two-and-a-half-hour show staged by Daniele Finzi Pasca who is known for his direction at the Sochi and Turin Olympic ceremonies.

This is Fête des Vignerons, a traditional winegrowers’ festival held roughly every 20 years in the lakeside town of Vevey. The festival, which connects people from the villages, countryside and vineyards, is recognized by UNESCO on its list of intangible cultural heritage.

Jérôme Aké Béda’s Journey to Switzerland’s Historic Winegrowers Festival
Photo credit: Sucheta Rawal

This year, for the first time in the Fête’s 400-year old history, a black African played a leading role. Jerome Aké Beda was one of three professionals tapped to portray doctors on stage as they explained the history of winemaking and argued in their funny banter (in French) how wine should be made while connecting the 21 different acts of the orchestrated performance.

Making History in Wine and Switzerland

Beda was born in Côte d’Ivoire and moved to Switzerland in 1990. He worked as maître d’ at a restaurant and worked his way up to be named Sommelier of the Year by the Swiss Gault & Millau Guide in 2015 and Commander of the Vaudois Wine Order in 2018. Beda is the author of two books, “50 Best Winemakers of Switzerland” and “The 99 Chasselas to Drink Before Dying.”  He still works as a sommelier at Auberge de l’Onde, an upscale restaurant located in the heart of Lavaux region, between Lausanne and Vevey, surrounded by terraced vineyards that make up a UNESCO World Heritage site.

I caught up with Beda soon after his seventh performance on a warm sunny afternoon outside the stadium in Vevey. Fête des Vignerons has twelve shows held over three weeks on some mornings and evenings.

“The artistic director and president of Fête des Vignerons came to eat at my restaurant three years ago. They drank a lot of wine and after that, came back and said to me, I’m picturing you on stage! At first, I didn’t take him seriously, but he came back three times. I consulted my friends and they all encouraged me to do it,” Beda says about how he was selected to play a lead role in the 2019 Fête. “An African person has never participated as an actor before, so I agreed to try it,” adds Beda. When I asked him why he thinks they picked him for the role, he said, “When you make your cinema production, you create a costume and then find the right person to fit in it. They probably saw me as one of the three doctors (who in real life, work as a journalist, a teacher, and Beda as a sommelier).”

A Somm Life to be Proud of

Though Beda had no background in acting, as an award-winning sommelier, he considers himself somewhat of an actor. “I present wines on stage and in interviews.” For the Fête, the three actors practiced in hiding to keep their identities from the public until the first day of the performance. “In Switzerland, everyone knows me as the only black sommelier,” he laughs.

3 Actors on stage at Fête des Vignerons in Switzerland
Photo credit: Sucheta Rawal

Beda’s grew up in a country that does not make wine or even grow grapes. He attended Abidjan’s Hospitality School and worked as a butler at Wafou, a famous restaurant in the Ivorian capital. His mentor got him a job in France, and later Switzerland, where he trained with expert sommeliers. Today, Beda oversees 4,000 bottles of fine wines in his cellar and hosts wine dinners and wine tasting classes.

“What attracted me about wine is that you learn about geology, history, culture and meet all kinds of people,” he says. His secret to learning about the wines is meeting the growers themselves, hearing their stories of how they make the wine and visiting the vineyards.

“Our former president of Côte d’Ivoire once said that anybody can achieve something if they believed in it. That’s my philosophy. When I came to Switzerland, I decided I will be the best sommelier. I accomplished that. Now, I feel I became a part of history again. I am proud.”

~ Written for & published by Cuisine Noir Magazine. All rights reserved.

Exploring the Charm and Culture of Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula

Cuisine Noir Magazine. Aug 2019.

Here’s how you can skip the beaches to experience the real charm of the Yucatán Peninsula.

With sunny weather, historic ruins and beautiful beaches along the Gulf of Mexico, the state of Yucatán in Eastern Mexico is popular among international tourists. The most commonly known beach towns here are Cancún, Playa del Carmel and Cozumel. However, if you are not looking for all-inclusive beach destinations and an energetic party atmosphere, there is rich Mexican culture and cuisine to be discovered in the Yucatán Peninsula.

Charming Magic Towns

Cobblestone streets, colorful buildings and colonial-era cathedrals make Valladolid one of the Pueblos Mágicos (or “magic towns”) of Mexico. These are a series of cities that preserve the history and culture, making them “magical” in some ways. While the gridlike downtown offers a variety of handicraft shops, art galleries and restaurants, Valladolid is also a good base for visiting Mayan ruins and cenotes in the Yucatán.

Most buildings are painted yellow in Izamal, a small city that was a site of pilgrimage for the Maya dedicated to the creator god “Itzamna” and sun god “Kinich Ahau.” Here you can see a colonial Franciscan monastery from the 1500s, Maya ruins and cultural museum. Sundays are especially great to visit as the Parque Zamna is filled with live music, shops and vendors selling local food.

Ancient Mayan Ruins

Yucatán has a higher concentration of Mayan descendants than other parts of Mexico, and you can see many ruins of pyramids and temples here. The most famous one is Chichén Itzá, the largest pyramid and a stone temple site. If you want to get away from the crowd of visitors, go to Uxmal, one of the most important cities in the Mayan world with well-preserved rounded-edge pyramids.

Ruins of Tulum in Mexican on the Yucatan Peninsula
Pictured: Ruins of Tulum | Photo credit: Sucheta Rawal

The ruins of the ancient Mayan holy city of Tulum stand on rugged cliffs overlooking the sea. Ek’Balam, translating to “the black jaguar,” is less known but still an impressive archaeological site, bustling from 660 BC to 1600 AD. You can see the city walls and ruins of about 45 structures surrounded by a dense forest here.

Cultural Capital 

Mérida is the capital of Yucatán and one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the country. It is home to educated, higher-income Mexicans and ex-pats who live in renovated Spanish bungalows, as well as newly constructed modern flats. As you make your way down from the main avenue, Paseo de Montejo, you can see featured art commissions, leading into a row of boutiques, theaters and museums. There are free cultural events every weekend from music and dance to art exhibits and Mexican festivals.

The Gran Museo del Mundo Maya in Mérida is one of the best museums that preserve Maya culture, with more than 1100 artifacts. There is also a free light and sound show in the evening.

A Cenote in Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula
Pictured: A cenote (natural pool) in the Yucatan | Photo credit: Sucheta Rawal
Refreshing Cenotes 

Swim and snorkel in one of more than 5,000 natural pools called cenotes, located all around the Yucatán. Cenotes are sinkholes resulting from collapsing limestone bedrocks and were often used by the ancient Maya for sacrificial rituals. Today, they are tourist attractions, offering a refuge from the heat and a chance to be one with nature. Cenote Xkeken and Cenote Samula are two of the most well-known cenotes around Valladolid, because of their blue water and striking cave formations.

Luxurious Haciendas

Another great way to enjoy the authentic charm of the Yucatán is by staying at Hacienda Sotuta de Peon.  This 19th-century working plantation and estate was converted into a villa-hotel and restaurant that retains an old-world charm. Stroll around the henequen plants, take a dip in the cenote, or soak in the scenery from your ceramic tiled deck. The beautiful setting of the hacienda makes it an ideal place for weddings and retreats.

Lunchtimes are busier at the haciendas as day-trippers stop by for tours and gourmet meals served in the garden.

Yucatecan Cuisine

Another reason to visit Yucatán is for its food! The cuisine of the Yucatán is somewhat different from what you would find in the rest of Mexico. Mayan, Caribbean, Spanish, North African, and Middle Eastern cultures are reflected in the spicy and well-rounded dishes, such as sopa de lima, pauchos, salbutes, poc chuc and cochinita pibil (the national dish).

Salbutes from the Yucatan Peninsula
Pictured: Salbutes | Photo credit: Sucheta Rawal

All of the destinations in the Yucatán are within a couple of hours drive from each other. There are many local hotels and haciendas around the state where you stay as a base for day trips to experience a few different locations. The Yucatán is also the safest state in Mexico and is easy to travel on your own, though some knowledge of Spanish will come in handy.

Visit Travel Yucatán at https://travelyucatan.com to “Find Your Inner Peace” and start planning your next Mexican getaway.

~ Written for & published by Cuisine Noir Magazine. All rights reserved.

Rich with Culture and History – Senegal at a Glance

Cuisine Noir Magazine. Sept 2019.

Senegal is one of the most peaceful and well-developed countries in West Africa and there was only one reported case of Ebola in 2014 (according to WHO). This French-speaking country in the westernmost part of Africa is relatively easy to navigate and friendly toward tourists. It offers pristine beaches, large fishing villages, heritage sites and new museums. It is also one of the best places to learn about African-American history.

Weekend on Goree Island
Pictured: Weekend at Goree Island | Photo credit: Sucheta Rawal
Dakar

Unlike other capital cities on the African continent, Dakar is relatively quiet and clean, especially on the weekends. Plan to spend a couple of days exploring the city’s French architecture, museums, markets and restaurants. Wander around the streets where you can see French bakeries selling fresh baguettes, hole-in-the-wall shawarma stalls and upscale coffee and gelato shops. Grab lunch in the courtyard of the French Institute and check out their schedule of daily music and cultural performances.

The recently opened Museum of Black Civilizations offers a good overview from the birth of humanity and early civilizations to textiles, fashion and modern art. The African Renaissance Monument is the tallest statue in Africa and was designed by a Senegalese architect. The 160- foot bronze monument is a symbol of Africa’s readiness to take its destiny into its own hands.

A short ferry ride from Dakar is Goree Island, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Here, colorful Dutch slave trader houses, cobblestone streets dotted with pink bougainvillea and blue Atlantic waters make it a scenic location. Take a guided tour of Maison des Ésclaves (Slave House) to learn about the Atlantic slave trade that originated from the island.

The Pink Lake 

The second most popular destination in Senegal is Lac Rose (Lake Retba), also known as the Pink Lake. Here you can see seasonal workers collecting salt on long summer days while ladies dressed in bright traditional clothes sell souvenirs and homemade snacks. Spend a few hours watching the color of the dense saltwater turn into shades of pink, float in the lake, take a boat ride or spend the night at Hotel De Crostaux Roses to enjoy a peaceful ambiance away from the city.

Women in Senegal working around The Pink Lake
Pictured: Women working around The Pink Lake | Photo credit: Sucheta Rawal
Lompoul Desert 

White sand dunes make for a scenic setting in Lompoul, where the local village community also runs a luxurious eco-lodge, equipped with en suite bathrooms, a restaurant and bar. Explore by foot, ATV or on camelback, relax with a cocktail or enjoy a traditional Senegalese meal. The village men entertain guests each night with drumming and jambe dancing under the stars.

Kaya Fisherman Village 

Stop at one of the largest fishing villages in West Africa to see the daily life of fishermen and their families. Afternoons are the best time to witness the bustling of the locals when fishermen return and pull their reels in. Hundreds of colorful boats dot the busy beach where men reel in nets, sort, bid and sell. Most of the seafood is exported to Europe.

As you pass through the villages, kids will wave and run up to greet you with “bonjour” in their soft, innocent voices. People in Senegal are extremely friendly and will strike up conversations or invite you to see their shops. The Senegalese people are proud of their teranga, the Wolof word for hospitality.

Saint Louis

The former capital of Senegal, with its French Colonial buildings and lively music scene, resembles the city of New Orleans. Many of the historic buildings in the UNESCO city of Saint Louis have been turned into hotels and restaurants. Though there are a few art galleries and African boutiques, most people spend a few hours observing pelicans, flamingos, seagulls and eagles at the Djoudj National Bird Sanctuary.

Also, the Saint Louis Jazz Festival held in April is one of the most popular music events in Africa and requires reservations months in advance.

Touba

Touba is a holy pilgrimage site for the Mouride brotherhood, a Sufi order. The main attraction in this holy city is one of the largest mosques in Africa with a capacity of 7,000 people. With its intricately designed ceilings, minarets and large domes, the mosque is an architectural marvel and a revered pilgrimage site.

Touba Mosque in Senegal
Pictured: Touba Mosque | Photo credit: Sucheta Rawal

If you don’t speak French and are traveling in this part of Africa for the first time, it is encouraged to have a local tour guide or travel with a trusted company. There are few international tour operators offering sustainable tours to West Africa. Canada-based G Adventures recently launched its Senegal and The Gambia itinerary that includes highlights of both countries in a small group setting. G Adventures’ Planeterra Foundation helps kickstart and support social enterprises in Africa and around the world, which are embedded in their tours as customer experiences.

~ Written for & published by Cuisine Noir Magazine. All rights reserved.

Discover Western Australia on a One-of-a-Kind Road Trip

CheapOAir Miles Away. August 2019.

The western state of Australia boasts a dramatic coastline making it one of the best places to take a road trip. Here, you can pick your own fruits, drink incredible wines, sunbathe with kangaroos on the beach, and learn about the Second World War. If an Australia road trip is on your bucket list, then we’re here to guide you through the hidden wonders of Western Australia. Fasten your seat belts and enjoy the ride!

Continue reading on CheapOAir Miles Away….

How to Get Out of Aruba’s All-Inclusive Mode and Truly Experience the Island

Cuisine Noir. August 2019.

Aruba is a Dutch-Caribbean island known for its beautiful white sand beaches, tropical sea breezes and dry temperate climate. With a strip of all-inclusive resorts and vacation rentals, it is a popular destination among honeymooners and summer vacationers. The “One Happy Island” is also emerging as a cultural getaway.

Downtown Aruba and the capital city of Oranjestad, mainly cater to cruise ship passengers. While docked, they spend a few hours walking around the bright pink and yellow buildings filled with designer stores and friendly bars. Time your visit to early morning or late afternoon to avoid the rush.

Downtown Oranjestad in Aruba
Pictured: Downtown Oranjestad | Photo credit: Sucheta Rawal

Manchebo Resort and Spa, one of the smaller boutique and eco-friendly resorts, is located only 2.5 miles from the main street. Here you will find modern Dutch-inspired décor across spacious bedrooms with unobstructed views of the Caribbean Sea from your private balcony. Manchebo has one of the best beaches on the island.  With only 72 guest rooms, you will always have enough space to lie under a beach umbrella, sit by the pool or grab a seat at the bar. Free yoga and Pilates classes, as well as a Balinese spa overlooking Eagle Beach, attract locals as well as guests to the resort.

The on-site restaurant, Ike’s Bistro,  offers Caribbean as well as vegan menus paired with top-shelf mixed drinks using local ingredients, such as mangoes, lychee and cashews. The rooms come with picnic coolers so you can fill them with snacks and drinks before heading out on an adventure around the island.

Shop for aloe-made products at the Aruba Aloe and crafts handmade by artists at Cosecha Aruban Craft Design & Heritage for original souvenirs to take back home.

Cosecha Aruban Craft Design and Heritage
Pictured: Cosecha Aruban Craft Design and Heritage | Photo credit: Sucheta Rawal
Island Adventure

The best way to explore Aruba is by driving around its 20-some miles. Most of the roads are well maintained, but it is recommended to use a four-wheel SUV in certain areas, including the famous Natural Bridge, Natural Pools and Arihok National Park.

From Oranjestad, head north to the Carolina lighthouse for a 360-degree view of the island and get your bearings. Nearby, Boca Catalina and Hadicuran beaches are good pit stops to swim or snorkel.

As you make your way to Paradera, take a hike at the giant tonalite Ayo and Casibari Rock Formations. The Alto Vista Chapel on the horizon is said to be the first church to be established in Aruba around 1750.

Casibari Rock Formations in Aruba
Pictured: Casibari Rock Formations | Photo credit: Sucheta Rawal

To learn about how stray donkeys are rescued and kept off the streets, visit the Aruba Donkey Sanctuary. Home to 150 donkeys, this volunteer-run nonprofit allows visitors to feed the affectionate donkeys or observe them from a covered porch.

Head to the restaurant Zeerover in the town of Savaneta for a late lunch.  The local catch that is sold and cooked by the pound by the fisherman who caught it that day. This casual oceanfront kitchen is a favorite hangout to eat, drink, shoot pool and meet friends.

Local Charm of San Nicolas

San Nicolas is the second largest city on the island, around a 30-minute drive from Oranjestad. What was once a bustling town fueled by ample employment by a Venezuelan-owned refinery is now sparse with a few residents and old shops. The main street of the city recently got a facelift thanks to global artists who participated in the Aruba Art Fair, creating colorful murals inspired by the island’s culture. Each year more stunning murals replace decapitated buildings with artwork that brightens up San Nicolas, aka ‘Sunrise City,” because the sun rises on the eastern side of the island.

How to Get Out of Aruba’s All-Inclusive Mode and Truly Experience the Island

A few locally-run restaurants are in the area, including Charlie’s Bar which has an eclectic display of memorabilia that the owners have been collecting for more than 80 years. Nearby, Baby Beach is a shallow, family-friendly beach, where you can find Arubans with family and friends, especially on the weekends.

To see kite surfers in action, head to Boca Grandi and for body surfing and bodyboarding, watch the waves at Nanki. Hardly any tourists make it out to these parts of the island, so you will mostly find locals relaxing at the peaceful Roger’s Beach.

~ Written for & published by Cuisine Noir Magazine. All rights reserved.

St. Croix Is the Caribbean Island Where Celebrities Go…and You Can Too!

CheapOAir Miles Away. July 2019.

The island of St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands is a quick escape for those looking for beach, sun, and anonymity. At first glance, the former volcanic island may look like a quiet town with neglected neighborhoods and abandoned buildings (mainly due to frequent hurricanes and closing of the Hovensa oil refinery). But as you drive past the flatlands into the two main cities of Christiansted and Frederiksted, the scenery changes to colorful Danish-style buildings, narrow cobblestone streets, art galleries, and fine boutiques selling handmade jewelry and duty-free products.

Continue reading on CheapOAir Miles Away.

Planning Your First Trip to Mexico? Your Guide to Mexico City and its Surroundings

For Cuisine Noir. July 2019.

From white sand beaches and Pacific blue waters in the west and ancient Mayan ruins in the east to traditional cuisine and tequila distilleries in the south, Mexico has a variety of landscapes and experiences to offer. However, it can be hard to decide where to begin and how to navigate this Spanish-speaking neighbor, and you will likely have to plan a few trips to see it all.

Mexico City, the capital of Mexico, is the largest metropolis in the country and often overlooked by tourists. Originally built by the Aztecs in 1325 A.D., it is the oldest capital in the Americas and one of the best places to learn about the country’s history, culture and food, while still having a big-city feel. There is a range of accommodations and more than 100 museums, art galleries, award-winning restaurants and performing art venues to choose from.

Most major airlines fly directly to Mexico City’s Juarez International airport, which receives thousands of business travelers each day. There’s no visa needed to enter Mexico (for visits up to 6 months) but you need to carry your passport.

Due to its high altitude, Mexico City enjoys pleasant summers and mild winters. Note that Mexico City sits about 7,382 feet above sea level, so you may want to drink plenty of water and avoid alcohol as you get acclimatized. Remember to bring a sweater even in the summer months.

Mexican City Skyline
Pictured: Mexican City Skyline | Photo credit: Sucheta Rawal
Stay in Fashionable Neighborhoods

It’s best to stay in one of the centrally located areas accessible by walking or taxi, to avoid traffic during peak hours.

La Condesa, with its largest city square, Zocalo, is lively from dawn to dusk. The streets are crowded with old-fashioned organ players, street vendors selling tacos and elotes (Mexican grilled corn) and businessmen and women chatting in bars after work. Local Mexicans also gather at Zocalo to eat dinner, listen to live music and dance the night away.

The Colonia Roma neighborhood was built by wealthy Mexicans who traveled to Europe in the 1800s. Here you will find French-inspired buildings, European cafes, bistros and gelato shops. Even if you are not staying in Roma, make sure to go for a visit or take a guided walking tour.

Savor One of the Biggest Art Scenes in the World

Art lovers can easily spend a week visiting more than150 museums dedicated to pre-Columbian, colonial and contemporary arts. The Anthropology and History Museum, the Natural History Museum, the Modern Art Museum, the San Ildefonso Museum and the Templo Mayor Museum, are some of the most popular ones. A must stop is at Frida Kahlo’s private home, Casa Azul, where you can see some of her paintings and personal belongings.

Enjoy Live Music and Dance

Watch a colorful Mexican folklore ballet at the Tiffany-designed stained glass Palacio De Bellas Artes, or head to Plaza Garibaldi, known for its mariachi musicians. It is hard to find a restaurant or bar that doesn’t have live music in Mexico City.

Take a Day Trip Outside the City

There are many historic and natural sites within driving distance of Mexico City that make for perfect day trips.

Canals of Xochimilco in Mexico City
Pictured: Canals of Xochimilco | Photo credit: Sucheta Rawal

Escape to the colorful towns of Puebla and Cholula, known for their beautiful Baroque-style old churches, busy craft markets and traditional restaurants.

You will find many Mexican families renting party boats, or trajineras, meandering through the canals of Xochimilco with food and music on board. This “Venice of Mexico,” a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site, is about an hour’s drive from Mexico City. You can access it via taxi (about $20 round trip) if you want to avoid booking through a tour company.

Continue to Charming Colonial Towns

While there’s plenty to do in Mexico City, it is also a gateway to smaller towns in Mexico, where you can extend your stay.

Take a flight (1 hour) or road trip (6 hours) from Mexico City to Guadalajara, where you can hop on the Jose Cuervo Express, also known as the “tequila train.” This two-hour journey takes you through picturesque agave fields to the “Magic Town” of Tequila, also the birthplace of the spirit, where you can visit distilleries and enjoy tequila-based cocktails. Stay at luxurious hotel Solar de Las Animas, overlooking the main square for rooftop views of the town. You can watch traditional music and dance every evening as you smell the aroma of roasting agave molasses.

Jose Cuervo Express Train in Mexico City
Pictured: Jose Cuervo Express Train | Photo credit: Sucheta Rawal

Puerto Vallarta is a popular resort destination on the Pacific west coast. It is known for its white sand beaches, artsy neighborhoods, water sports and nightlife. From Guadalajara, take a flight (50 mins) or drive five hours to Puerto Vallarta, once named as The Friendliest City in the World.” It is a popular destination with domestic as well as international tourists.

Whether you choose to go to Mexico City for a week or a weekend, you will find that the city and the surrounding areas offer a wide variety of attractions for all interests.

~ Written for & published by Cuisine Noir Magazine. All rights reserved. 

Priscilla Russell – One of the First Black Women Air Traffic Controllers

Cuisine Noir Magazine. July 2019.

When we get on an airplane, we may acknowledge the flight attendants and the pilot, but very rarely do we think about the crew on the ground that enables a fleet of planes to crisscross the globe. Priscilla Russell is the first Black woman in the history of Atlanta Air Route Traffic Control Center (ARTCC) to work as a frontline manager. In her recent novel, “In Control: On a Wing and a Prayer,” Russell gives a firsthand account of what it takes to work in air traffic control while inspiring other women of color to pursue careers in aviation.

“When I started, the only thing I knew about the FAA was that president Ronald Raegan had fired 11,345 striking air traffic controllers in 1981and banned them from federal service for life. Though it struck as breaking news as one of the most important events in late 21st century U.S. labor history, it also ended up changing the landscape of Air Traffic Control (ATC) as we know it. Because of the workers strike, there was mass recruiting, and for the first time, minorities and women were encouraged to apply,” recalls Russell. The compensation package offering of a $50,000 annual salary (which was a lot in the 1980s), made it a pretty attractive career choice to this Black teen who had grown up in a large, low-income family in Birmingham, Ala.

High Demands
Retired Air Traffic Controller Priscilla Russell
Photo credit: Priscilla Russell

In her book, Russell describes the high-pressure job of an air traffic controller. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, air traffic controllers’ primary concern is safety, but they also must direct aircraft efficiently to minimize delays. They manage the flow of aircraft into and out of the airport airspace, guide pilots during takeoff and landing and monitor aircraft as they travel through the skies.

“It was only when I went to work that I found out there was so much more than towers and planes involved.” Russell discovered this during her grueling exams and vigorous trainings that spanned two and a half years. There is a lot of information to learn in a short time, and senior officials weren’t very confident of her abilities. “They didn’t bother to learn my name thinking I won’t be there too long,” she recalls.

Russell had a steep learning curve to become a certified professional controller (CPC).

One needs to be good at math, 3-D imagination, cognition, problem-solving, taking standardized tests and thinking on your feet. “Believe it or not I made a lot of bad choices and my journeys is a testament that it doesn’t matter where you are in life, you can still turn your life around and achieve whatever you want,” says Russell.

Diversity in the Control Room

At the time, there was not much ethnic or gender diversity, and moving up the career ladder was rather difficult. When Russell arrived at ARTCC in Hampton, Ga., which is the busiest control center in the world, there had been only one Black female in training to be certified. Russell was the first Black woman in the history of Atlanta ARTCC selected as a front-line manager in 1994.

At 55, Russell is retired after working at the Federal Aviation Administration for more than 32 years and lives in the suburbs of Atlanta with her husband. She spends most of her time writing and spending time with her grandchildren.

“In Control: On a Wing and a Prayer,” is the first of a two-part series. In this book, Russell talks about how she set her mind to join the FAA academy as a young adult, overcame her drug addiction and worked tirelessly in her classes to become fully certified. She is working on her next book which she plans to release in December 2019, where she addresses her experiences with sexual harassment and on-the-job discrimination.

“In Control: On a Wing and a Prayer” is available on Amazon.

~ Written for Cuisine Noir Magazine. All rights reserved.