Messi-mad Indian mom driving to Qatar to see hero in his final World Cup

NEW DELHI: A homemaker mom and die-hard Lionel Messi fan has set out on a solo trip from southern India to Qatar to watch the FIFA World Cup and motivate other Indian women to dream big.

Naaji Noushi, 33, started her journey from Kannur district in Kerala last week. She is traveling in an Indian-made Mahindra Thar SUV, which was modified to include a kitchen. After driving her four-wheel drive, nicknamed “Ollu” (woman), to Mumbai, the car will be shipped to Oman, from where Noushi will continue her trip.

Her route takes her through the UAE, Bahrain, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, and she hopes to arrive in Qatar in the first week of December, when the tournament will already be in full swing.

“I am a big fan of football and a big fan of FIFA. And the World Cup is an occasion for all countries to come to one ground and show their courage and performance,” Noushi told Arab News on Monday, as she made a stop in Karnataka on the first leg of her journey — the 1,400 km drive to Mumbai.

“My favorite team is Argentina. When I started watching football, the only person I wanted to focus on was Messi,” she said. “This is his last (international) match and I wish him victory.”

Messi has won just about every prize in football, except the World Cup. As this will be his last tournament, victory for Argentina would be a sweet end to a glittering international career.

Noushi started preparing for her Qatar trip in September, but this is not her first ambitious solo journey.

In February she went to Nepal and reached the base camp of Mount Everest, the world’s highest peak, in just five days. Last year she drove 13,000 km from Kerala to the Himalayan region of Ladakh, which borders China.

Noushi said that her thirst for adventure was a result of her not being able to travel much as a child.

“I come from a typical Muslim middle-class family. My mother never had money to send me on any school trips,” she said.

Noushi’s first trips were sponsored by her husband, who works in Oman, but more recently she has been able to finance her adventures with the money she earns from a video travel blog.

While she is looking forward to her Qatar trip, Noushi said she was also a little nervous about it.

“I have been spending sleepless nights because it is a dream. This is a long journey.”

And just like the phrase with which her footballing hero is associated — “When you have a dream to chase, nothing can stop you” — Noushi hopes her journeys will give more women the courage to dream big.

“Adventure is a self-discovery for me and aimed at motivating all women who now are staying at their home, not having any dreams,” she said.

“I want to show that women can do anything. Women have more power, and as a mother, they can make their own life.”

And she means it. After Qatar, Noushi’s next goal is to visit 100 countries on seven continents … with help from “Ollu,” of course.

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