| 1. Tell me a little about your background.
My name is Haifa, and I just turned 25. It’s hard for me to answer the question, “where are you from?” or “who are you?”–should I refer to my nationality, or the place I grew up in? But I identify more with my free spirit. So I am Haifa, the free spirited girl with Palestinian origins. But I consider myself more international. I feel that I am international more than anything, maybe considering the fact that I grew up in Dubai, a very diverse city. I studied digital production and storytelling at the American University of Dubai. The university is so diverse, and this added to my international identity as well. After that, I worked in TV for a couple of years but I quit my job to focus on my show.
| 2. Tell me about getting to work with Ahmad Al-Shugairi and how did it happen?
I am a really big fan of him and his show, so I thought I should reach out to him in a way that would get his attention. I couldn’t just apply via e-mail or call him, that wouldn’t have been good enough. I woke up one day and I was like, let me make a campaign on social media! At that time, I didn’t have many followers. I wasn’t a social media influence or anything, and I thought let me start it with my friends. So I only told one girl, and we just started tweeting Shugairi.
| 3. After using social media to get Shugairi’s attention and also as a platform for Fly with Haifa, do you feel social media has changed the playing field?
Social media has opened up the chance for people everywhere to just show what they have. I compare it to an open air theater or street theater where people can perform their art. Whether it be a business, design, art, cooking, or inventions, people can do it through social media and reach more people. Social media links the performance with the audience, and the best part is that it does not discriminate-it doesn’t ask where you are from, your age, your passport, and your papers. It just asks you to go ahead.
| 4. Tell me about your first video for Fly with Haifa and how the idea came about?
I got the chance to work on a travel show with a team touring Asia. We toured nine countries in a month and a half. My dream of having a job that allows me to travel came true, and I was able to see nine different countries around Asia, which I could not have done on my own. We went from India to Japan, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, and countries I had never heard of such as Nepal. At the time, I wasn’t to be a presenter, but they wouldn’t allow me to or even five em the chance of hosting a show without trying to change me. They wanted me to speak another language or take off the hijab, but I didn’t want to change. I wanted to present just the way I am and be transparent with my ideas. So I decided, since I was traveling and visiting these beautiful countries, that I would start my own show. I was pretty young at the time, but I did it on my own. I did all the filming on my own. When I returned back home, I chose a theme for my show: Dreams Around the World. I thought of asking people about their dreams, since my dream had come true. I didn’t know what to expect or how best to approach people. The first video I filmed was in Japan. I jumped off a cliff and I asked the trainer with me what is his dream but he didn’t hear me.
| 5. What was your most amazing experience?
Zanzibar. I fell in love with Zanzibar and its people. They are so happy and it’s a safe place. One of the most amazing things was when we heard music while we were in the forest, and we followed it and found a wedding in the middle of the forest. We were invited to take part in it and met the bride who was wearing a green wedding dress. Also, one of the most amazing experiences was when I ate at the freshest sushi restaurant in the world in Japan, right beside the fish market. We waited in line for 3 hours to get into the restaurant, which only fit 12 people.
| 6. How has traveling changed you?
Traveling is a university of life. It sure opened up my mind. There’s a quote that I love which says, “When you travel you learn more about your country than when you are in it.” That’s true, I became more open minded. I was already open minded, but it broadened my horizon. I got to see and understand so many cultures and love and accept the differences. Indulging in our differences is a blessing, because if we were all the same then traveling wouldn’t be as valuable and beautiful. It made me want to learn more, and it’s only the beginning, I am just starting out. When I traveled I became hungrier to share my stories as well as hear everybody’s story. I want to hear and share.
| 7. Where did you travel and where else do you want to go?
I have been to so many countries: India, Japan, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Malaysia, South Korea, Nepal, Singapore, the United States, England, Tanzania, a few Arab countries except in North Africa, Austria, Scotland, and Turkey. I dream of going to Cuba, I really want to visit Latin America, Jamaica, and more of Africa. Basically, I want to travel the world, but not Alaska, because I am afraid of the cold.
| 8. What effect has your hijab had on your travels?
Traveling with hijab just gave me a responsibility. It made me feel like I am representing Islam, like I am walking around with a flag rapped around my head, It just made me feel the responsibility to speak up, smile, look pretty, communicate, and to say hello in the native language. It acted like a bridge between me and other cultures, and I felt that I must share with them things. How do I feel about the hijab? Like any other hijabies, I’ve had my ups and downs deep down inside. Yet, as a whole, I feel very blessed to wear it because it has protected me from so many things and helped me. It acts like a reminder stuck to my head. I am actually very grateful for it. I want to stick to it throughout my life and just keep traveling with it and speaking to people with it.
| 9. Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
Having my own show, with a big crew of creative people and doing things on the go. Also married and living in a van for some time, going around, maybe teaching English on the side. I would love to have a fashion line and have travel ‘Fly with Haifa’ back bags and cases. I want them to look stylish, with pockets. I also hope my show reaches the West; I really want to speak to them as an Arab lady.
| 10. What advice for young Muslim women who are also interested in media and traveling?
For the girls who want to do what I do, my secret recipe so far has been to put it in my mind that I have to make my dream happen no matter what. It does require a little bit of pocket money and finding ways to travel, so do your research, like finding work outside, making connections, and making it happen. Make people believe you are worth traveling for a cause such as volunteering or teaching a language abroad. A lot of people can get certified to teach English abroad. For me, I travel for volunteering and for work. I didn’t start off with a miraculous cash amount. I don’t come from a rich family or anything. It was all about me making it happen after setting my intention right and tawfeeq from Allah, which is the most important thing. Also, I am not highly sponsored; I just make each trip happen on my own. You should also never give up. Its not easy and it’s normal to have hard days-it’s part of the equation to success. Anybody building something should be very patient, stay focused and never give up. If they use this secret recipe, with the right intentions, a clear vision, and persistence they will make it Inshallah.