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Q&A with Zenith Irfan: Pakistan’s fearless motorcycle girl

In this interview, we caught up with Zenith Irfan, the first Pakistani woman to travel solo across the country on a motorbike. Her inspiring story inspired the film “Motorcycle Girl,” directed by Adnan Sarwar, which the Abbasi Program in Islamic Studies screened this year as part of the Stanford Global Studies Summer Film Festival.

In 2015, you became the first woman to travel across Pakistan alone on a motorcycle. What inspired you to embark on this dangerous journey, and what lessons did you learn along the way?

I was inspired by my late father’s dream to ride all across the world on a motorbike. My father passed away when I was only 10 months old, leaving behind a dream that he could never fulfill. When I first heard from my mother how he wanted to ride and was never able to, I thought to myself, “Why can’t I do this for him?” It will be a great way to connect with him spiritually and, at the same time, find myself.

One of the main lessons I learned was patience. Before embarking on my journey, I was a very impatient person, and traveling meant I had to face the unknown. I had to be patient with my journey, and I was. In these past five years of riding across Pakistan, I have not only learned to be patient, but I’ve also learned to go with the flow and not be too hard on myself.

You documented your 10-day trip on Facebook and Instagram. How did you leverage these platforms to share your experience with a global audience and promote female empowerment?

I used social media as a diary. Before leaving for my journey, I opened up my Facebook page and began writing about how I wanted to know who my father was, explore Pakistan, and know the stories of the people of the mountain. It not only helped me document my journey but also gave a positive image of Pakistan. A lot of people in the West began visiting my page and telling me how I changed their view about Pakistan and Muslim women. At the same time, the blog also encouraged Pakistani women. It gave them an example of how a woman can do whatever she desires. She too can pursue her passions.

What has been the reaction of people in Pakistan and across the world who have learned of your journey?

There are always two reactions. In the real world, everyone encourages me to ride more and tells me how I have inspired them to embark on their own personal journeys to achieve their passions. However, a segment of people does tend to give a lot of hate, and it’s mostly online. In the beginning, the hateful comments would bother me, but with time I realized that the best way to answer back is by continuing your journey and never stopping.

How did Adnan Sarwar, the director of Motorcycle Girl, get in touch with you?

Adnan wrote to me on Facebook on how he was inspired by my personal story and wanted to make a film about it. He told me how a story like this can inspire thousands of girls in Pakistan and change the course of Pakistani cinema.

How has your life changed since the biopic was released?

I feel a sense of responsibility now. A responsibility that I am representing my country to a much wider audience.

Motorcycle trips provide an opportunity to travel along a road of self-discovery. What did you learn about yourself along the way?

I learned I had the power to be mutable in my circumstances. I also learned how I can influence people’s emotions by narrating stories from the road. I have a hard time fitting in in the city. I find a lot of solace from being on the road.

What are your future plans? Do you hope to fulfill your father’s dream of traveling across the globe on a motorcycle?

YES! There is no room for a no. I do plan to ride all across the world one day.

Interested in learning more about “Motorcycle Girl”? Read this Q&A with the film’s director Adnan Sarwar.