Meet Najira Noushad: homemaker, avid traveller, blogger and YouTuber. That’s not all. She’s a huge football fan: an ardent supporter of Argentina and Lionel Messi. Little wonder she’s in Qatar for the World Cup.
Football fans who can afford match tickets and air tickets are in Doha for the World Cup, which brings together the best footballers. Some enthusiasts go to great lengths to attend matches. For others, the journey to the host nation is part of the experience.
Two French fans pedalled 8,000km from Paris to Doha on their cycles. A Saudi fan walked from Jeddah to watch the World Cup. There are others like Najira, who opted to drive from the southern Indian state of Kerala.
The Keralite drove around 3,000km from Kannur to Doha to watch her favourite team. She brought along her five children for the drive in an SUV, named Olu (she or girl in Malayalam language). With a vehicle stocked with groceries, utensils, a stove and a bed, Najira has turned her Mahindra Thar into a home on wheels.
The 33-year-old started her journey on October 15 with Kerala minister Anthony Raju flagging her off in Kannur. Najira headed to Mumbai via Coimbatore and caught a ship to Oman. She then drove through the UAE and Saudi Arabia before entering Qatar.
The social media influencer has been documenting her 49-day trip and posting photos and videos on Instagram (@naajinoushi_solo_momtraveller). In the UAE, she even hitched a ride on a truck. Najira also found time to snap selfies at the Burj Khalifa and Museum of the Future in Dubai.
The Qatari government, impressed by her passion for football, waived off all charges and welcomed her at the Abu Samra border between Saudi Arabia and Qatar. She’s become a media darling with television stations and newspapers seeking interviews.
Najira is no stranger to the Gulf countries. She lives in Oman and holds an Omani driving licence, valid in Gulf Cooperation Council countries. So she’s familiar with the roads in the region.
“I live in Oman with my husband and children, but I wanted to start this drive from my hometown of Thalaserry in Kannur. So I came down to India,” Najira told The Hindu newspaper in India.
How did she catch the football bug? “My mother’s sister [aunt] and brothers are crazy about it [football], and I remember them shouting and clapping and shrieking in delight when their team won.” Their enthusiasm rubbed off on Najira at age 14.
Football is not her only passion. Najira is an intrepid traveller too. Last year, she drove around exploring India with a friend, covering 13,000km from Kerala to Ladakh crossing 17 states and five Union territories. In February, Najira hitch-hiked from Kuttanad in Kerala to the Everest Base camp in Nepal. She says her 50-day solo trip was aimed at highlighting the message: India is the safest country for a solo woman traveller.
Najira’s Qatar road trip is also part of her efforts to spread the message that it’s safe for women to travel anywhere in the world. She hopes that her trips inspire other women to travel.
“If a woman like me — a homemaker, a wife and a mother of five — can realise my dreams, any woman can chase her dreams confidently,” the Keralite says, adding: “Sometimes kids only think of their fathers as role models. I want my kids to say, ‘My mama is my role model.’”
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Najira credits her husband Noushad for encouraging her wanderlust. “He is my biggest support system, along with my mother,” she told the Global Indian website. “He has always pushed me to do what makes me feel happier, and travel tops the list. Even with my five kids in tow, I have never hesitated to take the road.”
The Qatar World Cup 2022 brought two of Najira’s passions together. She didn’t hesitate to hit the road to Doha. The prospect of seeing Messi and Argentina was the catalyst. “I am a hardcore Argentina and Lionel Messi fan. [I] really want to see my favourite team lifting the cup [in Qatar], Najira says.
The World Cup final is on December 18. Najira will be in Doha to discover whether her dream will come true.