Speeding through Palestine and glass ceilings: Maysoon Jayyusi

Speed Sisters is world’s first all-female race car driving team. After the success of the namesake documentary, the Palestinian team has received attention and enthusiasm from all over the world. And Maysoon Jayyusi is the woman behind their success. Team manager and race car driver Jayyusi tells Lasikatto.Club about the challenges of being a woman in a man’s world.

Could you tell us a bit about your background?

I am from Palestine. I studied business in university. Then I started to work for the United Nations in the refugee camps. My father is from Tulkarm. And my mother is from Jerusalem. My father is a teacher as well as my mother.

How did you become interested in racecar driving?

I was going from my father’s house in Ramallah to the United Nations offices in Jerusalem. Sometimes I also had to go to university there. And I had to wait in the line at the checkpoints for many hours to cross from Ramallah to Jerusalem. I had to go through Qalandia checkpoint which is always crowded with many cars. After the soldiers allowed me to cross the checkpoint and checked my papers, I would start to drive fast not to be late to work, university or anything else important I had.

You are the first all female race car driving team in the world. What kind of difficulties did you face?

We are living in an Arabic world. So it is not easy for a woman to do what she wants.People are not familiar with seeing woman racing. This sport especially was just for men in our country. At the first race, we were wearing helmets while racing. So they didn’t know that there were women in the cars. After we finished and got out from the cars, they became shocked that the person who raced was a woman. Then they got used to us racing. Other racers also accept us. They encourage us to continue. And we have many fans.

Something that grabs the attention of many people is that some of you wear makeup and acrylic nails while others are more conservative. It is refreshing to see. How do you get along?

My team has many different women. We have Christians and Muslims. We had a woman who wore a  hijab at the beginning. But she quit after a couple of months. She was busy, she had a family and kids. So she didn’t continue with us. But we have girls from different backgrounds, religions… The girls are also from many different cities. And there are different mentalities in the team. You can find different personalities in the team. But all of us have the same aim of becoming a professional racer. And we have the same habit to race. We are sisters. We love each other.

“We live freely in Palestine. Not like women live in New York. But at least we can do what we want without anyone annoying us.”

How did your family and friends react when you said you wanted to become a race-car driver?

At the beginning, I didn’t tell my family that I wanted to become a rally driver or racer. Because I know them and I know their mentality. And they wouldn’t accept it. First of all, because I am a girl and in an Arabic traditional family. They wouldn’t accept that I wanted to be in a team in a racing event with 50-60 male racers. 90 percent of racers are men. Just me and the other girls. We are just five women. And 95 percent of the audience watching are men. So that wasn’t easy to accept for them. They were afraid.

But it is not only in Arab world, but all around the world. If any girl goes to her parents and tells them “I will be a rally driver.” they will not accept it easily. Because this sport is not an easy sport. It is dangerous sometimes. I was travelling to many film festivals around the world after the film, I have seen that people get surprised when they see  that we are women and we are racing. They weren’t Arabs and they were open minded. But they thought this was a tough sport. So it is not easy for women.

And are they used to it now that you are successful?

My family and friends didn’t know at the beginning. They learned from the newspaper. After that, they didn’t accept it, but they also didn’t refuse it. I talked to them and told them that it is not dangerous sport, that we wear helmets. And that the speed race in circuit is not like a rally on the TV. So it is not dangerous and all of these things. After that, they became a little more accepting. And they become proud of me when they see the news and they hear people talking about what we do and how we become champions. They become happy.

My friends are also happy and proud. They ask me about my experience and my adventures. Since I started, I got married to a guy I met. He came from Jordan, Jericho.  He was a member of the Jordanian motorsport club. After we got married, I moved to Jordan. And I started to race with my husband there. In The Middle East Rally. It was a new experience for me and it was the first time that I raced in a real rally and not just in a regular circuit.

How is life in Palestine for a woman?

I feel that living in Palestine is great for women. It is not like other Arab countries. Women here can do the same sports that men do. If anyone doesn’t like what you do, they don’t stop you. Maybe in their minds, they refuse you. But no one can come to you and tell you what to do. I think in our country, the Palestinian mentality is becoming more open. More than other Arab countries. I often travel around the world and in Arab countries, I can live freely well in Palestine more so than in other countries.

Palestinian men respect women very much. And they encourage women.Everyday we can see in the news that women become ministers, women become judges… So we don’t face the problem of others telling us what to do. I know that in many other societies, people do not accept others. But in our country they don’t have the right to stop you from doing what you want. In Saudi Arabia or in Afghanistan or in other Arab countries, they don’t allow women to do some sports or some things like that but here no. They  encourage us and they respect us. We live freely in Palestine. Not like women live in New York. But at least we can do what we want without anyone annoying us.

“They say “We wish we were women.” We make men jealous that we are racing, not the other way around.”

You had a documentary made about you and received a lot of interest from international press. What else would you like to achieve with your careers?

We wish that we could race in many countries and not just in Palestine. But it is not easy to move our cars from the borders of our country to other countries. We hope that one day we can race and participate in international races and improve our skills and ourselves.

We also encourage other women to become racers and to join our team. And we also go to schools and talk to the kids about road safety. That if they like driving fast, they can become racers and join races. It is dangerous to race on the streets but if you like to speed you can go and participate in racing events. With safety to save yourself and others.

Have you made any sacrifices for your career?

For me, I know that sometimes women give up. And they become convinced that this not good for them. But we didn’t achieve what we are now easily. We work hard to become strong racers. We didn’t let other people convince us to give up. We just faced our problems and all the challenges. For example, this is an expensive sport. We do what we can to get sponsored. Or we use old, cheap cars to use as race cars. We never gave up.

 

There are many challenges. I was working with United Nations in the refugee offices in Jerusalem. And I had my own store in Ramallah. I worked from 8 o’clock until 3 o’clock. Then I was in my store from 3 o’clock to 9 o’clock. I got home in the middle of the night. Sometimes I also had interviews, training, meeting with a girl or meeting with a federation. It wasn’t easy for me to leave my store to go to a meeting or leave my work to race. But I tried my best to arrange all these things. To use all my time in a good way and don’t waste an hour in my day.

 

We had many people all around the world, journalists and people interested in the sport who were sending us emails, calling us to make interviews and sometimes to invite us to festivals and to races to talk to us. So it wasn’t easy for me to answer all these huge emails, huge question and interviews from all around the world. Journalists came here to Palestine a couple of times to record interviews for TV or radio interviews. So I was under a lot of pressure. And I was depressed. I had my work, I had a store, I was a team manager. It was not easy for me to arrange all these things. But I did it.

Why do you think many women shy away from fields that are mainly occupied by men?

You know I think women become shy if they lose. But if they win, they will not become shy to participate in a race or an event that men work at. Especially in our experience, after male racers have seen that we win, we get sponsored by the British Consulate in Jerusalem, we got trained in The United Kingdom, we went to London to Silverstone circuit, they become jealous of us. They told us that we get all these sponsoring because we are women. They say “We wish we were women.” We make men jealous that we are racing, not the other way around.

 

Lastly, what is the one thing you would want people to know?

We work hard to race and train. If anyone can sponsor us to take any  training in any country. Or to sponsor us to buy our professional equipment like helmets. We need all these things to continue racing. We had some racers in team like Marah. She stopped racing because her father had to sell her car. He needed money to build their house. So if anyone can help us with anything we would be very happy and proud. We love seeing women especially Arab women racing. We wish that we could talk to other racers all around the world and exchange our experience. We also invite all racers to come to our country. We will be very happy to see them here.

 

Support Speed Sisters through their Facebook page here.

By | 2018-02-03T20:34:01+00:00 August 29th, 2017|

About the Author:

Aslı Bildirici is a freelance producer currently working and studying in The Netherlands. She has worked in several companies and cultural projects that value creativity and social impact.

Leave A Comment