As the country's only woman licensed to drive a motorcycle in Oman, Nashwa al Kindy draws starest and contempt. But the criticism does not faze the 27-year-old high school dropout. In fact, she is hoping to launch an all-female bikers club. MUSCAT // While most young women her age are expected to marry, raise children and obey their husbands, Nashwa al Kindy - the only known female Omani biker - prefers to zip down the motorway at high speeds. With her helmet glittering in the sun as she tears down roads with male bikers, the 27-year-old high school dropout is largely met with contempt by compatriots in this intensely conservative country.
"Because I was the first one, authorities were trying to look for an excuse not to grant me a motor bike licence but they couldn't find any law that forbids Omani women not to get one," Ms al Kindy said. According to the motor vehicle licensing records, Ms al Kindy is the only licensed Omani female biker in the country, a year after she passed her riding test. But Ms al Kindy has plans to ensure she is not the last.
"Many women want to jump on a bike and zoom out on the road to enjoy themselves, but their men will not let them. I want to start the first women bikers club in the country, with the help of the corporate houses as sponsors," she said. Ms al Kindy has travelled the country on her Yamaha and has ridden several times to Dubai. "At the recent bike exhibition in Dubai, I met most of the bikers in the region but none of them are women with GCC nationalities," she said.
The contempt and disapproving looks she gets from Omanis as a lone female biker does not deter Ms al Kindy in her quest to form an all- female biking club. Her immediate plan is to bike around the country in a sponsored tour - something she is considering repeating in all GCC countries - to find female nationals with suppressed ambitions to run the roads with a bike. "I am convinced they will join me. After all it is only a sport and if men could do it, why not women?"
In rural towns in particular, she said, eyebrows are raised when she removes her helmet to reveal her uncovered head. "It is not comfortable to wear a hijab with a helmet on. Besides, I am a jeans and T-shirt woman even when I am not riding," she said. In a country where the vast majority of women above the age of 20 wear hijab and abaya, Ms al Kindy, though born and bred in Oman, would probably not be an ideal traditional wife.
"The man to marry me must accept who I am. Not many of them approve of a woman riding a bike with men. Ideally he should be a biker and share many of my interests and pursuits," she said. Ms al Kindy is also training for a black belt in karate - she has yellow already - and encourages other Omani women to take part in active sports. She has only been riding her 650cc Yamaha only since 2008, but it was a long-burning ambition that was finally realised 13 years after her father refused to buy her a motorbike. As a high school drop out, she could not afford to buy her own.
Cruiser or sport bikes are expensive, and the Yamaha, together with all the accessories, cost over 5,000 rials (Dh4,900). With no university degree, Ms al Kindy accepted work as a driving instructor in 2004 when she could not find any other job. It was a gruelling 6am to 12 midnight job that not many women in Oman would be willing to take. "The pay was terrible and I stayed on only for a year because it left me with no time to socialise."
In 2005, she took a job as a photographer, becoming probably the only Omani woman to work in a photo studio in the country. She liked the work and stayed on for three years until she found an opportunity for better pay. In 2008, she joined the customer service department of Nawras Telecommunications. Though she still lives with her parents, the prospect of being in a steady job gave her the financial freedom to buy the bike.
Many of Ms al Kindy's friends consider her a rebel with a passion women do not normally express in Oman. "She is simply defiant, and perhaps challenging local traditions [in order] to suit women as well, not just men," one of her female friends, who did not want to be identified, said. But Ms al Kindy does not see herself as a rebel, she simply wants women to be brave and come out of the shadows cast by men - at 132kph.