In this exclusive interview, Miss Isa Fatimat Abiola also known as ‘Bai Yang’ spoke to our correspondent on her journey with the Chinese construction firm, CCCECC and how she broke the jinx to become the first-ever female train driver in Nigeria.
Q: Who is Bai Yang?
Bai Yang: I am Miss Isa Fatima Abiola but my Chinese name is Bai Yang. I am from Kwara state, Ilorin to be precise. I work with China Civil Engineering Construction Company (CCECC) under the operations department in Abuja.
Q. Can you introduce us to your work experience and growth with CCECC?
Bai Yang: Hmmmmmmm! I started work at CCECC as a domestic staff in 2008. That was before I finished my studies. But after, I continued as Secretary where I started learning Chinese right here in Nigeria. In 2013, I applied to the Abuja-Kaduna train modernization in Jere, Kaduna. This is what I want to do. To learn how to drive a train. So I was happy to be admitted to the department because it is an opportunity for me. With time, I told one of my bosses on our trip to Kaduna that I would love to try this. So he looked at me and said even in China, I don’t think we have a female train driver. I told him to just let me try. So I started looking at my bosses and understanding them whenever we travel. So with time, I started catching up and later they discussed how to tutor me into a train driver.
Q. So how long did it take for you to perfect the training?
Bai Yang: I think three years.
Q. How was your first experience of driving?
Bai Yang: It was not hard because I have been on the train sitting with the pilot for like many months. So handling that was not difficult for me because that is what I wanted to do.
Q. What was the reaction of the passengers the first time they discovered that a female was piloting them?
Bai Yang: Hmmmmmm! that day was amazing because normally passengers don’t see their pilot. But there was a day I decided to introduce myself to the passengers and they were all amazed. That day I drove them from Churchgate to the airport.
Q. What are the personal changes you have experienced since picking this job?
Bai Yang: When I was a secretary, I earned lesser, but my salary increased since becoming a train driver. So I am now able to take care of my family and my retired parents more than before.
Q. What can you say about this job?
Bai Yang: This job is not only beneficial to me, but it has also helped the economy to grow. This rail here has opened up this environment to huge economic activities.
Q. How do you get along with your Chinese colleagues?
Bai Yang: I think very well. I love one thing about them. They have been very nice and easygoing ever since I met them. Through them, I learnt a new culture, the food, and even the name Bai Yang was given to me by my Chinese colleagues because I have a kind of adopted Chinese parents.
Q. What does Bai Yang me?
Bai Yang: Bai Yang is a kind of tree. A long tree in China. Bai is something white and tree is Yang.
Q. What kind of Chinese Delicacy do you like?
Bai Yang: I think Kwogwo and Chaozo. Chaozo is made of flour and beef. The Kwogwo is a kind of hot pot where people eat from.
Q. What is the difference between your Chinese and Nigerian colleagues?
Bai Yang: You know being a Nigerian, I am already used to my Nigerian colleagues. But adopting a Chinese friend is like learning more about their culture, and their environment. I think it is interesting and that is why I find it comfortable with them
Q. How do you feel about China?
Bai Yang: China is a good country, especially from a Global aspect. They are very fast in the global world. I feel very good any time I travel to China because I learn more. I am the kind of person that always likes learning. China is a very good country and the people are very hospitable.
Q. How many times have you visited China?
Bai Yang: I think twice.
Q. How many Chinese cities have you visited?
Bai Yang: I think five. I have been to Siang, Guangzhou, Lanzhou, Beijing and Shanghai.
Q. How was the reception like?
Bai Yang: Nice, good.
Q. So Chinese People are very hospitable, right?
Bai Yang: Very very!
Q. And you were treated as one of them?
Bai Yang: Ya like one of them. Chinese people are very friendly and they don’t discriminate. When I was in China, I intended to go to only three cities. But my Chinese friends kept on telling me to explore new cities and they took me around. I think they are very nice people.
Q. How will you describe the contribution of Chinese companies to the Nigerian people?
Bai Yang: I give kudos to them. Because Chinese companies in Nigeria have employed lots of citizens hence reducing the level of unemployment and enhancing our economy. They have also trained many Nigerians with relevant skills needed for productivity.
Q. What are your plans for the future?
Bai Yang: I plan to travel to China to learn more about how to drive a train. Because the train we have here is just 150 speedometer. In China, they have more than 350 speedometers. I plan to go to China to train more. I also have the vision to employ more than 100 females and teach them how to drive a train because this work does not belong to only men.
Q. What is your message for aspiring female train drivers?
Bai Yang: The message I have for females out there is not to be scared of unfamiliar things. Because some people believe this particular work belongs to men. What a man can do, a woman can do better. My advice to them is to go straight to whatever they want to do. Be determined and do whatever you want to do and don’t believe this work belongs to a man or a woman.
Q. Finally, what are your parting words on the relations between Nigeria and China?
Bai Yang: I want both countries to maintain more friendship for the betterment of all.