The Arab World through the eyes of two adventurous women bikers
Pamela Nabhan and Chantal Asaad, two young Arab women on a dream journey. Actually, it’s more like a dream come true for the exploring duo who spent the best part of this year on the roads of Lebanon, Jordan and the UAE, seeing places that most of us hear about without really trying to visit, and doing things that a few of us dare to even imagine. So far so good? It gets better. Pamela and Chantal made their journey on their Harley Davidson motorcycles, rubbing shoulders with fellow bikers across the region, and sharing their story in The Open Road, the first Fox Arabia Original Production to come out of the region, which premiered on October 13.
By Souha Abbas
Traveling by motorcycle is one of the most liberating ways of exploring the world. The art of adventure riding a motorcycle is both a convenient, fun, independent and flexible way of traveling. The level of freedom and excitement that can be felt on a bike compares with very little out there in the world of travel. It is a feeling that Pamela Nabhan and Chantal Asaad both are familiar with and appreciate so much that when they got contacted to star in The Open Road , the first female led motorcycle documentary series in the region, they were on from the get-go.
Pamela Nabhan hails from Beirut, Lebanon. She was a working in the media sector and had been a prominent member of Harley Davidson Owners Group for the past 5 years. Earlier this year she was appointed as the Director of Ladies of Harley in Lebanon.
Chantal Asaad is Emirati with Palestinian roots and Canadian upbringing. Based in the UAE where she has lived for the last 6 years, Chantal is of Arab parents and culture. In Canada, she’s used to being the only hijab-wearing girl on a bike, although she says that people in the Arab countries have no objection whatsoever to women riding bikes, a fact that was proven more than once throughout The Open Road series.
When asked about the show, Pamela says “it is about two ladies on a bike discovering the cultures of the countries we’re visiting, all the hidden gems. It is also about us, the way we live the way we dress, our boots, our jackets, the helmets etc. All the challenges we went through, the rain, the hot weather.”
Their trip took off at Cafe Rider in Dubai, and the road took them on many adventures where thay had to endure the weather and all the challenges that come from travelling on a bike from one country to another. Chantal whose love for adventure overcomes everything else says: “We roughened up. We really did. I think the other part is that you get to see the road in a different manner. It is about two girls, riding around the Arab world, on motorcycles, experiencing the road, culture, food, nature.” However, the series revealed other human and social aspects to it. “This show is also about meeting other bikers. In every destination we went to, we met local biker groups. They showed us the hidden gems of that locality, and from there we went through experiencing things for the first time, even though we had been there before. So imagine, you have been somewhere in a car, you get on a bike where you experience the same thing but on bike, there is nothing restricting you, no doors, no windows, you live everything, you smell it, you feel it.”
Pamela also enjoyed meeting fellow riders, making new friendships. “When we see riders, and because we are riders, we get along very well with them because we share the same passion. The passion of riding, and living the adventure, it is like meeting family members. They gave us tips and advices on what to see and where to go. We are still in touch with them!”
Logistically, touring three countries on bikes required getting different bikes in every country. A necessity that was most welcomed by Pamela and Chantal who enjoyed riding beautiful Harley Davidson bikes, just like many prominent personalities as Pamela puts it: “In every country we were riding different bikes. Many Arab personalities have Harley Davidson, in Jordan, in Lebanon, in the UAE. Many bikers groups are owned and managed by prominent figures.”
Of course, luxury wasn’t the only aspect that the girls enjoyed greatly during their adventures. They also had to experience extreme sports, even zip-lining between two mountains! For Chantal, it wasn’t always easy, but she enjoyed it nevertheless: “We have experienced things that completely changed us. For myself, I did things I never thought that I would do. I forced myself to do things and live adventures that I normally would have never thought of doing. Some of the things that happened on the show made me grow as a person”, she says.
Although the episodes are not scripted, but they are divided into different categories from adventure, to culture, and even food. For Pamela, it was quite enriching: “We did many things, we even made apple jam in Douma in Lebanon with the local women there. It’s delicious! In the UAE we learned about calligraphy. We discovered the culture and history of every place we have been to.”
Despite being with a production team, Pamela and Chantal were able to live their own adventures, such as losing their way in Sharjah, as Chantal remembers: “I got confused and I didn’t like it. Pamela was following me so we both got lost! Eventually, two police officers who showed us the way. They even asked us to take pictures with us. They were very nice and helpful.”
Chantal also appreciated meeting people along the way, was also very informative about Arab’s perception of women bikers. “The show is not scripted, it’s very organic. In Lebanon, a woman and her husband stopped us and she was very interested in riding a bike. And her husband was all for the idea. It felt great to be inspiring for other women to do something that you are so passionate about”, she says.
Pamela, who’s also director of The Ladies of Harley In Lebanon (LOH) -a program sponsored by the Harley Owners Group (H.O.G) to support women motorcycle enthusiasts – she recently participated in a four-day event that was held in Lebanon for bikers from all over the Arab countries. “We had bikers from many countries on 300 bikes. I met one biker from Saudi Arabia, and he has his own show. We went live for fifteen minutes and he asked me questions about the show, about the women bikers, as he says there are many Saudi women who are interested in riding bikes”, she says.
The Open Road took Pamela and Chantal from Ras Al Khaima Jabal Al Jais, to the vast valley of Wadi Rum east of Aqaba, and many places in between. The longest stretch of road was from Amman to Petra, and with the production crew in tow, it took us eight hours to film the episode.
Living those adventures, and bonding throughout the journey brought both Pamela and Chantal closer than ever. When asked about the most important thing about this show, they say almost at the same time: “The fact that women can identify with us, unlike with any fashion or entertainment icon. It is not about feminism, and we are not trying to make a statement. It is a show that everyone can watch; it is a show about experiencing culture and adventure and fun, on a bike!”
*You can watch The Open Road in the UAE every Saturday at 8pm on Fox, Fox Life, Fox Rewayat, Fox Family, Fox Crime, Fox Movies, FX, Fox Action, National Geographic Abu Dhabi, Star Movies and Star World. Subsequent episodes will air weekly, only on Fox Life, Fox Rewayat, National Geographic Abu Dhabi and Star World.