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Who is Rafiki?​

Obviously this is not my given name - it's a nickname. It has nothing to do with 'The Lion King' film, which came long after I was given the nickname!  I am called Rowena.

​Although born on the northern bank of the River Tyne towards the end of World War two, my life has been somewhat peripatetic as I left England just before my seventh birthday and moved to Cyprus and enjoyed the sun and sea, where I learnt to swim long distances at an early age.


Four years later the family moved to Northern Rhodesia which meant another change of school, but as I had peviously sat and passed the Counties Minor examination before leaving Cyprus, I was immediately put in the Secondary School section where I was over two years younger than the next oldest in my class. 


After two years I was packed off to school in Surrey, only to discover that the form I joined was the equivalent of the one I'd finished over a year earlier in Northern Rhodesia - and I was repeating all that all over again.

The family then moved to Kenya and I joined them out there to start another school, in Nairobi, starting the year I'd finished in Northern Rhodesia before starting in Surrey.  Confused?  I was, as I seemed just to go round in circles! I joined the school's Brass Band as a bass player, eventually becoming First Bass.

After finishing school in Nairobi and before arriving in Londonderry for University, I taught at an African Secondary School in the North west of Kenya - where I also acted as a census enumerator before Kenya's Independence.  And then University called, but as I'd taken the daft decision to drop Latin just before School Certificate, I discovered I would be unable to read for the degree I wanted.  (I'd started to learn Latin in Cyprus at the tender age of 7 so by this stage I'd already studied the language for over 9 years and had become quite bored with the language.)

So I went off to Magee University College in Londonderry to read for a General BA.

My Professional Career

By the end of my first year at Magee, I decided that the course was not what I was really interested in and applied to join the RAF as an aircrew officer, hoping for pilot training. 


However the experts decided that my strengths were in communications, so I was offered a commission as an Air Electronics Officer (AEO), which I accepted - and then started Officer Training, duly completed and followed by my training as an AEO.

After two years of flying training I gained my flying badge (aka my 'Wings') and was posted onto the Shackleton force, serving in Northern Ireland and Malta. 


After Malta I was selected to undergo a three year language course, which resulted in a secondment to the Foreign Office and three years in Hong Kong.  I was posted to the Vulcan Operational Conversion Unit (OCU) at the end of which I was asked to be part of RAF Cranwell's Commandant's team, which hosted a visit of the Chinese Air Force's Training College - this included hand writing a resume of all the RAF's Training aircraft in Chinese, to be presented to the visitors.

Towards the end of my service I was head hunted by a British Defence Electronics company to manage its office in Beijing, China. On joining I discovered that this opportunity had disappeared and I became an Export Executive travelling round the Far East and China.


I left the company on redundancy terms and over the next five years I travelled the same route for a number of Defence and Marine telecommunications firms, eventually taking voluntary redundancy in order to take up my offer of a place at Manchester College, University of Oxford as a mature student to read for a BA (Hons) degree in Oriental Studies with Chinese.  After four years of fairly hard studying I managed to gain my degree and started to do a bit of 'job hunting', although I was attached to the MOD organizing team for both the Farnborough Air Show and British Army and Royal Navy Defence Exhibition at Farnborough before being headhunted to become Business Manager for a small electronics company in China, although I lived in Hong Kong where the admin centre of the company operated.

Prior to starting my degree course I had been commissioned into the Royal Auxiliary Air Force (RAuxAF) as a maritime operations officer. 


Two highlights of my Reserve service were the occasions in 1994 and 1995 to lead the RAuxAF contingent at both the Festival of Remembrance at the Royal Albert Hall, when I led my flight across the floor of the hall, and the Remembrance Day Service at the Cenotaph, marching behind the massed bands and parading outside the Foreign Office building. Both were very emotional occasions.

After I returned to the UK, I accepted a post as a Full Time Reserve Officer with responsibility for administering a number of RAuxAF squadrons during which time I was presented with the Air Efficiency Award (AE), a specific RAuxAF award and the 2002 Queen's Golden Jubilee Medal. I was also appointed to the Chief of Air Staff's staff as adviser and interpreter to a visit of the Chinese Air Force (PLAAF) Higher Staff College to the RAF and spent time on the organizing staff for the Farnborough Air Show.

Who is Rafiki?
My Professional Career

My studies.

As mentioned earlier, my first efforts at University finished at the start of my second year when I came down to join the RAF as an aircrew officer.  However, life was not all bad as I managed to represent Magee at hockey; badminton; and small bore shooting. I also represented Londonderry as a member of the City of Derry Amateur Swimming Club winning all my races against a Belfast side.  (Unfortunately Londonderry was a divided city and I was asked to leave the club as I did not accord with its religious views.  Apparently the clue was in the name!)

I was also a member of the college debating team and represented the College in the inter-universities debating championship, helping it to win its place in the second round as well as winning the solo speaker commendation.

27 years later I was back at University, this time to read a BA (Hons) in Oriental Studies with Chinese at Harris Manchester College, Oxford.

For the next four years I spent most of my working days engrossed in various books on and texts in Chinese; I also spent time in Taibei (including studying under a Taiwan Government scholarship).  I was also an active member of the Oxford University Strategic Studies Group which included visits to NATO HQ in Brussels and meeting some very interesting speakers.


At the end of the four years I gained my BA (Hons) and three years later, my Masters (MA) degree. After graduating, I lectured at both Portsmouth and Southampton Universities before moving to Hong Kong to become General Manager of an electronics factory based in China - until Hong Kong was returned to China and I returned to Britain and resumed my duties with the RAuxAF.


After eight years of Full Time Reserve Service, my contract with the RAF came to an end and retirement beckoned.  In total I had spent nearly 40 years of active and reserve service, although with a nine year break to experience commercial life, which I did not enjoy, although those nine years gave me many opportunities to travel round the Far East on business; such wonderful holiday venues as Dalian in China and Qinghai in South Korea.  But I can add China; Thailand; the Philippines; South Korea and Japan to Hong Kong where I'd previouly spent many happy years.

I moved to the Lincolnshire Wolds, where I became a Freelance Tutor of GCSE English as well as marking GCSE English examination papers for AQA. I am now a Parish Councillor and member of our local Women's Institute.

And I maintained my long lasting interest in motorsport through rallying my 1966 Porsche 912 and being selected to become a member of Motorsport UK's LGBTQ+ sub-committee.

My Studies


My story doesn't end there.

Yes - I am a transgender female, and currently one of only two trans competitors holding a Motorsport UK competition licence, but I believe I am the only rally competitor.  I would like to be able to reach out to other transmen and transwomen who are interested in becoming involved in any of the many disciplines covered by motorsport.  Whilst I am lucky to have been able to continue my motorsport participation during and after transition, with the support of family; friends; and fellow motorsport competitors and officials, I am aware that there could be many within the LGBT+ community who would like to have a go at motorsport competition, but are loathe to try.  All I would say to them is: "Come and join us. Motorsport is open to all."

I was diagnosed with Gender Dysphoria after a long and happy career in the RAF and the RAuxAF and after I'd fully retired.  We are now very aware of mental health issues and my issues eventually led to me getting help and eventually transitioning from male to female. This was not an easy decision to take, but life continues and I still have masses of support from many within and outside the LGBT+ Community - and not only the motorsport community.


This new identity has allowed me to become a member of Motorsport UK's (MUK) LGBT+ sub-committee, which is an integral part of MUK's diversity, equality and Inclusivity committee - a very important and transparent part of its sporting policy.

Post script: Why  Rafiki?​

So why Rafiki and where does it come from? 


The nickname was given to me when I was in the RAF and I met up with a Kenyan Asian navigator who was having all sorts of issues as a Kenyan in the RAF. 


Once we'd had a chat over a beer or two, he felt that I had helped him understand the ethos of the RAF and how to accept his place in it, and annointed me with the nickname 'rafiki' which in Swahili means 'friend'. 


Some years later he was killed in a Shackleton crash and in a way, this is also my way of remembering him.  RIP my rafiki.

Since then I have always used it as my nickname - and still do.

Why Rafiki?

My Hobbies & Interests

My Hobbies & Interests

Amateur Radio

Having spent my aircrew career around, inter alia, radios, I took my Amateur Radio City and Guilds exam just after retirement, followed by the morse test, both of which I passed hence gaining my Advanced Class Amateur Radio licence (G4RBP). 


Since then I have held a Hong Kong licence (VS6BP; VR2BP; and VR97RBP).  I have also been fotunate to operate from China (BY1QH) and Taiwan (BV0ARL) as well as America - and always using morse code and preferably low power operating.


Another one of my interests, although on a minor scale as I do not practice as much as I should! I have in the past sung in choirs from school halls to cathedrals. 


I was the first bass (Eb tuba in orchestral terms) in my school brass band. 


Since then I've tried to teach myself to play guitar, both acoustic and electric and I also play electric bass, playing in my college groups as well as guesting in a Philippino band in Korea.


I started sailing in Fowey in Cornwall learning to crew and helm the local Fowey River dinghies and whilst at Oxford represented my college in the inter-college sailing competiton crewing a Laser 2.


I have twice attempted the Level One training for the Round the World Clipper Race, injuring myself both times!


I have since sailed with the Tall Ships Youth Trust on its Challenger yachts gaining its Watch Leader qualification.  In smaller yachts I have sailed in the Solent and spent a week sailing in Greece.


I am an enthusiastic amateur, although I have managed to be published and have a couple of magazine cover photos. 


I started in monochrome in Hong Kong with my own darkroom which added to the enjoyment, but now do mostly digital photography.


Having said I'd never get into an aircraft which had no engines, I have flown and piloted a glider, under supervision. 


I've changed my mind, as I throughly enjoyed the experience and should have done it sooner!


I have also piloted a Tiger Moth and a Cessna, again under supervision


I also support a number of charities - not only motorsport but also conservation.


Spinal Track is a charity run by a friend of mine who is a tetraplegic race and rally driver with the aim of supporting and encouraging people with disabilities of any sort who wish to drive a race car.  She is also supported by Stanley tools.

Tusk is a Kenyan charity which is a leader in African wildlife conservation - not only elephants.

The RAF Benevolent Fund - obviously!

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