|Alimra Jumadel (first from left), a Kazak woman who serves on the PLA navy’s amphibian landing craft Changbaishan, is on duty on the navigation bridge. (China Daily/Gan Jun)|
Crew members say experience has given them sense of pride
A sailor's life on the ocean waves was once beyond the wildest dreams of women like Alimra Jumadel, who comes from a small city on the China-Kazakhstan border.
"I had never thought about being a sailor with the People's Liberation Army navy," the 20-year-old woman from the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous said as she monitored apparatus displaying the course of the Changbaishan, a large amphibious landing craft in the South Sea Fleet.
"When I signed up, I thought I was going to be in the army. But now, as you can see, I watch the immense, blue ocean every day. Sometimes I even see dolphins," she said.
Born and reared in Bole, a city close to Kazakhstan, she was familiar with the sight of mountains and grasslands but she never saw the sea or smelled its breeze. When she graduated from high school in 2012, she joined the PLA in the hope of "fulfilling my childhood dream".
"I liked watching movies when I was a little girl that depicted life in the PLA. I often saluted, as a child, in front of my mirror and each time I heard military songs, I was inspired."
Like many other sailors, she had to overcome early seasickness before she found her sea legs.
"I endured nearly two months of nausea and dizziness from the first day I boarded this ship," she recalled. "I didn't want to quit or even ask to be transferred to a post on land because there are only two female sailors in the navy that come from my hometown. We are our family's pride and must earn honor and respect."
The navy began to recruit and deploy female sailors on combat ships in 2012 and most now have women onboard.
There are 10 Muslims serving on the Changbaishan, she said, adding that their religious and ethnic customs are respected.
"The ship has allocated a special kitchen and designated a cook to make halal food for us. We are from different ethnic groups and different places, but that doesn't prevent us from becoming good friends."
She said the navy has made her stronger and more independent, and these changes have been noticed by her officers.
"Alimra Jumadel is learning new things much quicker than before and has proved herself capable of commanding complicated skills even though her education is not as high as university graduates," said Lieutenant Junior Grade Yuan Xian, who is responsible of the 26 female sailors on the Changbaishan.