How to keep a hijab on when skydiving in Dubai: Part two of a four-part story

Taking things to the extreme is not uncommon in Dubai. It is home to the tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa; indulgent man-made islands, the Palm Jumeirah being one collection; and was the fifth most-visited city in the world in 2014. Being bold here is expected. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the city is a hub for skydiving — particularly for Muslim women.

Accommodating these daredevils requires some logistical foresight; many Muslim women are not willing to do a tandem jump with a male instructor. Skydive Dubai actively recruits female instructors, and Brittany Bell, from Halifax, in eastern Canada, is one of those women. This week, in four parts, we share Bell’s observations of being a Canadian female skydiving instructor in Dubai. Today, Part 2.

Read Part 1 here.

Hamdah Khalid is a petite 25-year-old from Dubai. Her parents were aware she was going skydiving and offered support, but at the same time could not understand her ambition. “But my dream was to fly, and I did it,” she said, upon landing safely on the ground.

As a first-time jumper, Khalid was required by Skydive Dubai to be paired with an instructor. With others in her group, she spent about three hours from start to finish, learning proper falling positions and how to communicate effectively in the air before finally suiting up and boarding the plane. Each jump costs about $480, which is comparable to prices in Canada. Included with this payment are photos and video footage of each diver, mid-air, with the picturesque Palm Islands down below.

Often, instructor Brittany Bell finds herself paired with women who are more conservative than Khalid, usually from Saudi Arabia. Many of them arrive at the drop zone wearing abayas — traditional, full-length black robes — and express concern when informed they must remove these before a jump.

“I had two girls who would only take off their abayas in front of me, with no one else around,” says Bell, “so I geared them up in a private changing area, strapped on their harnesses, then let them put their abayas back over top and wear them all the way to the plane. We also made sure there was a woman waiting just beside the landing area, so they could cover up again right away.”

Extreme sports are being taken up by conservative Muslim women in increasing numbers. The trend is slowly gaining traction in the Arab world, be it in the sprawling U.A.E. or a restricted Palestinian territory such as the West Bank.

In Ramallah, for example, a group of young Arab women known as the Speed Sisters recently became the first all-female Palestinian race car driving team; a couple of the girls even hold ambitions to race in Formula One. Maysoon Jayyusi, a 38-year-old member of the group, once explained in an interview that when she drives, she feel as though she can run away from all her problems.

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