Who is Somaya G? Get to know the story of Yemen's first digital nomad
Not only is Somaya Gamal (Somaya G) Yemen's first digital nomad, she's also a woman - and that comes with its own set of challenges and obstacles. Somaya decided to stand up to the world by breaking stereotypes and challenging traditions that aren't always fair to women. She decided to follow her passion of traveling and exploring and started to travel from one place to another and documenting her journey online, while inspiring a lot of women (and men) in Yemen and in the Arab world.
This is our conversation with Somaya as she tells us the challenges of standing up for her choices and deciding to live the life she wants despite what others say.
Somaya Gamal, as the first Yemeni digital nomad you have broken so many barriers and stereotypes. Tell us about your childhood and upbringing and how your passion for travel started.
My childhood was just the typical childhood of a Yemeni girl; from home, to school, to Quran lessons. Playing on the street with my neighbors and cousins ended at puberty, and so began the life of responsibilities and wearing the hijab. Perhaps the only difference I had from the average Yemeni child is that I used to read a lot, and watch a lot of movies. I grew up in an intellectual home, full of books that exceed a thousand. My father taught my sisters and I the Sharia (Islamic) studies in episodes between Maghrib prayers and Isha prayers. And so this was my life with my family until I decided to fly away from the nest and make a life for myself. As for my passion with travel, it's been a companion of mine ever since I can remember. Ever since I knew myself, I have felt love for travel and exploring. However, I was only able to actually travel when I reached the age of 19 after working long to achieve this step.
What gave you the courage to go through this experience and defy the norm? Especially with you being a Yemeni woman and a lot will see what you do as going against our cultural values and traditions?
I still ask myself this question, what gave me the courage? Because this courage caused me so much pain and made my life difficult. It may take an entire book to answer this question, but maybe I can provide a glimpse of it.
I am an independent and conscious person, so when I realized that what I want in my life is contrary to what fate has given me, I took a risk. Emotional independence was a necessity for the next steps, so I taught myself how to be emotionally independent in order to be able to deal rationally with my love to my family and society. Then I taught myself financial independence so I can have the ability to make my own decisions and choices ... between this and that, I felt a great awareness of responsibility and individualism. That is, if I fail, I will fall alone and bear all the consequences myself. So I also had to teach myself to take full responsibility without restlessness or blaming anyone else. Everything I did was my own choice and my own decision. No one was deciding it for me, and so I had to bear the full consequences. In every step, fear was the feeling I had, not courage. But I learned from it and made peace with it, until the final result of every fear I reconciled with became total courage. I did everything that frightened me, until I became what I am now. And I still do that, as growth and progress do not end on this earth until the human body is gone.
As mentioned in the question, everything that I do is contrary to our customs and traditions and there is nothing wrong with that as long as I have love for my family, my country and my land. Because we, as a people, aren’t created by our customs and traditions, we make our own customs and traditions in a way that suits our goals and makes us happy and at peace with ourselves.
When did you start considering yourself a "nomad" and documenting your travels online? What is the first step you took in this path?
Perhaps this is a problem with labels, when can I call myself a nomad? Who is a nomad? Well, I will not go into the philosophical details much, but I can say that I began embracing my nomadic spirit at 17 years old when I decided to work for two years instead of going to university. At 19 I decided to travel as a celebration of my work the past two years. That’s when I met the vast land and did not have a single geographical spot to settle in. I traveled around Turkey in conjunction with my undergraduate studies, which was just an excuse to be able to obtain official residency that would enable me to move more freely. I traveled alone, I was my own companion without documenting anything and I moved around in secret without anyone knowing.
Then, around September of 2019, I decided to document my travels online and share the knowledge and experience that I gained from traveling. In fact, I had made previous attempts to document and post online, but I hesitated because I was not ready at the time for the response that I would get from the society. It took me a while to train myself to endure the cruelty and hatred that I will face in the future. When I felt confident and resilient, I opened a YouTube channel and published my first video. The reaction from viewers was just as I expected, so I was not affected much since I trained enough to face that moment.
What was the most difficult challenge you faced and how did you deal with it?
My answer seems unreal but I will say it, my whole life is full of challenges. The things that I got so easily are the things that I can count with fingers and talk about. It sounds funny but it’s the truth. I fought for almost everything, I cannot decide which was the most difficult .. But perhaps the most difficult thing was facing my family and my community with my decision in the life I want. That’s because my enemy was love; the love that I had for them and that they used against me. I still love them and I always will. But I suffered a lot, faced a lot, and it took years of effort and patience to reach the relationship we have today. Today our relationship is excellent, but it was not always so, so I am thankful for that.
Tell us about a time you faced a failure. How did you overcome this experience and what did you learn from it?
I failed many times and learned from them all, but I will mention one of them to you.
During my university studies, my financial savings that I saved from my own free work here and there were almost over. So, I stopped a semester in order to work full time to save enough for the remaining two years of studies and to be able to travel as well, since I was traveling internally (in Turkey) most of the time and attending exams only at the university. I managed to get a full-time job from 9 am to 5 pm with a very high salary. But I failed to hold on to it, I couldn't continue so I resigned a month after starting. I got depressed, and I felt that I had lost my ability to understand what my boss wanted, I blamed myself and called myself a failure. It was one of the most difficult experiences.
But I remembered that I have no one but me, so I gradually removed myself from this situation and thought more logically about what happened to understand the cause of the problem and how I can learn and improve myself. After a long isolation, contemplation, and news from the employees of that company about its closure, I realized that it was not only my fault, what caused my failure were a lot of administrative problems, misunderstandings and unfairness in treatment in addition to my little experience in working. I realized how hard I was on myself, I apologized to myself and embraced it, but I also identified weaknesses in my personality and experiences and developed myself. I took many lessons online and worked on every weakness in me and strengthened it in preparation for the next job opportunity.
But I also realized that self-employment (freelance work) is more suitable for me than a job, so I developed myself in this aspect and built a system that enables me to work in moderation with my studies and nomadic lifestyle. I went through successful and failed projects with many clients until I got to the experience and balance that I have now. I still have a lot to learn and further improvement and development, but I grow with every failure no matter how harsh and for this I am also grateful.
We see from the accounts of some digital nomads that their content has often become just a promotion for hotels, restaurants and others. But your content in our view is very beautiful, as we find you documenting your own spiritual experience as well, you often write content that is filled with many beautiful feelings and transparency. Tell us more about what travel means to you?
For me, traveling is my way of life. After many experiences and listening to my inner self, I realized that it is what’s best for me. I am not one who longs for a home or a place to settle down, I find the vast world a place for my soul. If I lived in the ancient world, I would have been a Bedouin who moved from one place to another in search of food and knowledge and set up tents for a few days then leave. I wouldn’t be a farmer with a house and possessions that extends her roots somewhere and call it a homeland. I am more alive with the movement of wheels and the sounds of trains and observing many different faces of geographically spaced races. In nature and spaces with infinite horizons, I find a haven and the freedom to breathe.
Traveling is my only school in life, my way to learn about me and answer the big existential questions.
How do you deal with your Yemeni passport and the difficulty in obtaining visas for Yemenis? Is there a country that you wish to visit but couldn't get a visa?
The Yemeni passport is one of the biggest barriers to my nomadic freedom, and I have gone through various emotional stages towards it. I started to hate it and search for another passport that I can use, but during that process I realized that I had to sacrifice 3 to 5 years (on average) of travel. You have to settle in a country for a while to get its passport. I cannot obtain a Turkish passport because I have exceeded the period allowed to travel abroad and I suspected that this would also be the case in other countries. I have to be super rich to buy another passport without having to stay long. The methods seemed difficult so I gave up this option. Then I felt a feeling of responsibility towards others who have the same passport. I told myself that if I got another passport and traveled with it, then I’m basically telling everyone that it is impossible for us to travel with the Yemeni passport.
So I decided to go the hardest way, which is to carry this passport and stamp it from every country, despite the difficult process. It is not impossible to travel with a weak passport, but the process takes more time, effort and money to obtain an entry visa.
So for this I started putting in a lot of effort, such as obtaining a training grant in Spain only to not be able to enter Europe or applying for a program to be invited from a university in Indonesia. And this is how I do it on every visa I get because obtaining a tourist visa is almost impossible with my passport and the savings I carry In my bank account. I am also ethical about each situation, so I attend every program or training I apply to in order to keep a good record. For example, I did my full training in Spain. Also, I completed the Indonesia program exclusively without any failure so as not to close opportunities to other Yemenis who actually apply for the purpose of learning and then get rejected because a Yemeni before them used the opportunity of education to apply for asylum. That is why I travel slowly, and I do not count my nomadic experiences in the number of countries but rather the quality of the experience.
As for the countries I wish to visit and I did not get the visa, I applied twice to obtain a British visa, but it was rejected in both cases. I don’t know whether I will be able to enter that country or not, but I will take it slow and let fate take its course. I am not in a hurry; there is a lot of beauty in the world apart from that geographical area. Currently I want to visit India for at least 3 months.
What is your advice for whoever wants to travel but does not have enough money? Do you have a side business as your source of income to help you continue your passion?
Money is not a barrier to travel. A person must first know why she/he wants to travel and what kind of travel they will do. Based on this, they can address the issue of money. You can travel with a budget of $100 a month or millions of dollars in days. It depends on the person. Low-cost travel exists and I have talked about it a lot in my content (and still do), as well as many other content makers who are exploring different ways of doing this.
Everyone must know that inexpensive travel is exhausting and challenging and requires a lot of effort to search for free alternatives. Personally, I enjoy this challenge while others may find it unnecessary.
As for the source of my income, I am a digital traveler in the sense that I travel and work at the same time. Traveling is not a recreation for me. I work every day, but my digital work on the Internet does not link me to a specific geographical spot. This allows me to work from anywhere, as long as there is internet and electricity to charge my computer. Currently I work in content design and trip planning, both of which are digital and do not require me to have a continuous physical location. Previously, I worked in many fields such as import and export, web design and programming, writing and reviewing research and other free projects for which I taught myself the skills needed to do them and make income from them.
What is your advice to all Yemeni women and girls whose goals and dreams might be hindered by cultural traditions?
First, you have to understand yourself, take all the time you need to do so, because without self awareness, the consequences are dire. With your self-confidence and enough awareness to make decisions, design the life you want for yourself, away from all external influences, be it family or community. If that life is contrary to customs and traditions, then you are faced with a difficult choice. Either you choose the life you want which may require many sacrifices, including the loss of those you love, or you keep the ones you love and settle to their desires and live under their set customs and traditions. There is nothing wrong with either option, they are both appropriate and beautiful because the most important thing is your satisfaction with it. I know many people who have given up their desires and passions just to satisfy those who love, and they are perfectly happy with their lives. That’s because their passion wasn’t so strong to the point that it pushes them to make the sacrifice. But, if your passion makes you flare up and ignites and becomes more and more ignited day after day, you must make the decision then. I always prefer to use peace and diplomacy to deal with all obstacles, but if it is necessary to cut off someone, then you should know that freedom has a high price, so be sure to understand your ability to bear the consequences if you decide to be completely independent.
Also, take great care of your mind, knowledge increases your strength, awareness and understanding. Always make sure to invest in yourself and know that your value is in your mind, not your appearance. A smart knowledgeable woman can always achieve her goals no matter what she faces. Because knowledge is the most powerful weapon against all obstacles.
Finally, know that I personally and many other women have given ourselves the responsibility of building a just society, so if you see attempts by us to do so, it is recommended for you to stand on our side because we grow stronger when we work together. Together, we will have a safe and just place to live in, with our beautiful dreams. Those customs and traditions will succumb to our efforts one day. All the love to you my dears, and my prayers to you for inner peace and balance.
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