When she stepped up to become a leader for a mountain trip where the organiser did not come, Zainab al Kiyumi discovered that she has what it takes to take care of people and ensure their safety while out and about in the wild.
“I was invited by a friend to join this mountain trip. It includes hiking and climbing, they said. The participants were there but the organiser wasn’t,” she said.
The first time leading the group didn’t come easy. Not knowing where to go, they end up getting lost but she has the presence of mind to figure out what they are meant to do.
“The trip was about exploring some mountains and the wadi in Samayil. It was also in the itinerary to check out this waterfall that the villagers reported was very nice and worth a visit. When we lost our way, we have to thank a goat for leading us. The goat was headed to where we were going,” she said.
Zainab graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Biotechnology from the College of Science of Sultan Qaboos University. She worked for about 10 years in the private sector, transferred to a government company as a ministry employee but later realised that she was meant to be out and about doing amazing adventures.
She said that while the government sector offered good, reliable pay and convenient lifestyle, she felt like she didn’t belong in an office.
“I don’t find myself invested on it,” she said.
She added, “I didn’t like the routine. It was a killer. You leave the house at a specific hour, arrive in your office at a designated time, punch in to record your attendance — it was confining. I love freedom and that includes being free to pursue my passion for the great outdoors.”
She founded Wanderlust Oman five years ago with a vision of making it a “ladies only” adventure group creating a safe space for women who are interested to explore amazing places not only in the Sultanate but other countries as well.
As an Omani, Zainab is aware of cultural and societal limitations. For so long, she knew of a lot of women who wanted to go on adventures but are hindered from doing so because of the question of safety.
Since the time it was established, Wanderlust Oman has grown tremendously and they had covered different destinations. Her team is now comprised of six girls coming from different countries including a team member from Saudi and a doctor from Sudan.
Like a lot of women, Zainab said that newer generations not only of Omani but women, in general, are discovering that they have a passion for adventure. She said she can relate well with others who cannot seem to find happiness working a 9 to 5 job and where their creativity and sense of adventure is curtailed.
“There are a lot of things that can change in five years. From that first trip that I stepped in to lead the group, now I am full time leading this adventure group bringing women to places they wouldn’t have been comfortable exploring on their own,” she said.
“I feel like I belong here — making this journey, leading this team. I feel the freedom I was looking for,” she said.
In Oman, Zainab and her team and other participants had been to almost all of the wadis and mountains in the country. They have summitted the highest peak of Jabal Shams, explored the caves of Jabal Akhdhar, and ventured in the sweet, green realm of Dhofar.
Outside of the country, the team had conquered the waters of Bali in Indonesia, tried the country’s paragliding adventure, explored and experienced the sprawling safari of Tanzania, climbed the challenging peaks of Lebanon, and even walked a portion of the wide expanse of the walls of China amongst others.
And they are not done yet. They are planning a trip soon to far South America and if things work according to plan explore Peru and all the historical wonders of the said place.
Maitha al Jabri, a student from SQU said that she will not forget her trip with Zainab and the team.
“I felt happy because it was my first experience in climbing mountains. What added to the excitement was that we explored the cave of Amer, which is about 600 metres long and one of the most popular caves in the country. I was amazed to see the terrain inside the cave. A totally different experience,” she said.
Maitha said that going on an adventure like the one she joined required fitness and patience.
“Girls are always viewed by society as weak but with dedication and will power, they can also do great adventures,” she said.
Fatema al Hadabi, another participant in the group said that while the community frown upon women going on outdoor adventures, it’s no longer stopping new generations of women who believe in their capacity to conquer peaks and explore the world.
“I made the group ‘ladies only’ because we have to respect the customs and traditions of Oman. Families often ask who is going on the trips and when they know that only women are coming, they allow their daughters or family members to come,” she said.
“By making it ladies only, we are also sending a clear message that women are capable of organising their own trips and become triumphant in their own endeavours,” she said.
When Zainab climbed the highest tower in China along the great wall, she was so proud of herself to be perhaps the first Omani woman who jumped from 233 metres off the wall.
She wanted this same empowerment to all participants of the group.
In the future, Zainab wishes to expand the scope of adventures outside of Oman and looking forward to organising more trips to countries like Japan, the Philippines, Mexico and Tanzania among other countries.
BY Angham al Matrushi