This girl is packed with so much positivity! Zeina Amatish loves to reach out to her sisters in Islam, sharing love and peace. In fact, she thinks it is important to show the positive side of anything rather the bad one thus she started her blog ”The Zeina Diary”. She also wants to showcase her country Iraq as a country of love rather than a country torn by war. You can check out her Instagram too for tales of her travels.
Do you have a support group that helps you to achieve your dream of travelling the world?
I have two actually, one is GirlsLoveTravel Facebook group and the second is an Arab travellers group called Travelers Without Limits (I am the admin of this group).
What is the most essential part of planning your trip?
The most essential part of my planning a trip is figuring out the places that will give me a more cultural experience. I love to be a tourist but I also love to explore unpopular places. I ask myself: what’s the most important attraction I should visit? Or what this country or place has to offer to me?
What do you on the trip to make it more a mindful journey?
A part of having a mindful travel is meeting the locals! Having a local to show you around will make your trip more fun and joyful! How do I meet the locals? I literally meet them on the streets and try to strike a conversation. If we connect, we become friends instantly! After that, they would show me their secret places, restaurants and even tips for moving around their city.
Have you had any encounters of unexpected kindness and how did you pay-it-forward?
I remember one time I was walking in Istanbul trying to discover some unknown area. I had no idea that the area was filled with stray dogs – and they started to bark and follow me! I was so scared! I started running and some people out of nowhere stopped to help. I didn’t know any Turkish at that time, but they bought me water and food, tried to calm me down, then drove me back to my accommodation. Until this day I am so grateful for them and, of course, for Allah for sending them to help me. We didn’t talk much because of the language barrier but their kindness and love were more than enough.
How do I pay it forward? I try as much as I can to help people in bad situations hoping someday Allah will send me someone that can help me in need. For example, I help lost travellers in Amman and feed cats in Istanbul.
What is your view of Muslim women travellers as the group that can combat Islamophobia and promote more intercultural understanding?
I have a friend who is French and who have been told all his life that Muslims are terrorist and bad! He came to Turkey and met me and my friends, and then slowly he realized that we are normal people, love food and travelling, love to chat just like him, only with different views. We respect him and his faith and I just expect to be respected in return. He went home to tell all of his friends that the media is lying, that Muslims are people like us. Truly, one person can make a difference.
How do you deal with disappointment and hurdles during your travel?
I try to be optimistic as much as I can!
When I reached Lebanon, I was so shocked on the first day. It wasn’t as I imagined and I thought I had spent my money for nothing. Although I did research a lot before I visited the country but still, in reality, it was something else. I ended up spending 3 hours that evening searching on blogs to know what to do and guess what, Lebanon posts are the most viewable posts on my blog!
Another difficulty I usually face is feeling like a stranger. Wearing hijab for me is part of my identity rather than just a scarf. Sometimes I feel like I am the only one wearing hijab in the places I go and it was hard for me to accept myself and also to have enough confidence to let people like me the way I am.
Thanks and safe travels, Zeina!
About the Writer, Hanani: Inspired by her parents who wrestled their way out of a very rural area to obtain national scholarships and to have a high-flying career, Hanani believes that everything is possible once you set your mind into it. She has embarked on solo travels and treks to Peru, Iran, New Zealand, Turkey, Morocco and other countries since 2009. Her love of mountains has taken her to the likes of Mount Yong Belar, Mount Semeru to Annapurna Base Camp on which she proudly donned the traditional baju kurung or kebaya.