In a league of her own: Yara Shalaby - Egypt's first rally champion

Salonaz Sami, Tuesday 19 Oct 2021

In a patriarchal world, where women struggle on daily basis to prove they can excel in all fields, a few women continue to get more and more recognition every day. Yara Shalaby is certainly one of those women.

Yara Shalaby
Yara Shalaby celebrates as she got the first position in one of the rallies.

Over the past 10 years, Shalaby have managed to keep her name under the spot lights continuously. Known, mostly, as Egypt's only female desert-racing champion, Shalby, who is 39, is also an IT specialist at a bank and a single mother of an 11-years-old boy.

When Shalaby first started racing she would occasionally hear sexist comments from opponents that she would never be able to survive the courses or that she had no business off-roading because women can't even drive on paved roads not to mention in rallies.

But with every race, she proved herself and forced them to respect what she did and who she was. "Both genders make mistakes, both genders have weaknesses. This ridiculous stereotype has got to stop," she said.

 

Prior to rally driving, Shalaby, the adrenaline junkie used to do parachuting, parasailing and mountain climbing.  In 2015, Shalaby created her own rally team, Gazelle Rally Team, with a keen eye on having the majority of the team members females.

She then gave motorbikes a go and became the first Egyptian woman to participate in a motorcycle rally, where she ranked 2nd in her group and 7th in the whole race of 2015. Soon after, she got into an accident that needed a number of operations and a four-month wheelchair rest which made her stick with cars.

However, after proving herself in the desert rally world, being the adventures soul that she is, Shalaby decided to venture into a new adventure that no man dared to do before.

Following a lot of research and data-gathering, for two whole years, she decided to follow her passion for adventure, buy an old bus and turn it into a home for her and her son. "I have always loved traveling and camping and the idea that you could do that within the comfort of your own home was overwhelming," she explained. Shalaby spent two months searching for her perfect bus. "There are a lot of shops and online websites for buying and selling old cars," Shalaby said. However, "It's not that easy when it comes to buses," she added.

Thankfully, Shalaby found her perfect 1996 bus in the coastal city of Ismailia and bought it for a 100k. "It was an old, but working and durable bus that transported employees from Ismailia to Port Said and back," she explained. Shalaby, who was always hands-on with her cars, was optimistic and thought she would be able to do the transformation herself. "That was until I came to realize that there were major changes that had to be done to the metal body of the bus and I didn't have neither the experience nor the tools to do it myself," she added.

However, Shalaby found the support she needed from her family and friends who were very excited about the idea. The bus was stripped out and everything was removed from seats to floor, walls and ceiling. "Like most buses it had two levels of floor, the seats level and the isle level and we had to take it all off to level it out on the lower level," Shalaby said.

Shalaby also made adjustments on the height of the ceiling to give more headroom to the place. "This created space for another separate room, above the driver area for my son, so that he could have his private space away from my room, located at the back of the bus." For six month, Shalaby worked day and night on her new home, running from electricians to carpenters to blacksmiths and everything in-between to get the job done.

And it was indeed a well-done job. Shalaby's bus has two separate bedrooms, bathroom, fully equipped kitchen, solar panels for electricity, plenty of storage space, an isolating glass that is treated against breakage and heat, central air-condition, 360 degrees security cameras and double doors with several locks. She even went the extra mile and also installed an online motion sensor that can detect movement from as far as 10 cm away from the bus. "It's connected all around and even if I'm not physically there I get an alarm on my phone and the camera automatically opens so that I get to see what's happening no matter where I am," she explained. "It's a headache because more often than not it's just a dog just passing by but it makes me feel safe," she added.

 

Shalaby is currently parked under her old apartment building, in a safe and quite neighborhood. "I have lived in this area for over 10 years, everyone around knows me and it is safe enough that sometimes I would be traveling abroad and come back to find that I have forgot to lock my car and yet it wasn't stolen," Shalaby said. And since all her furniture and appliances wouldn't fit in her new home, Shalaby was thoughtful and kind enough to donate all her belongings to charity.

What is left now is for Shalaby to change the bus's license from a transportation bus into an RV or a caravan. However, although she was able to pass the technical committee test, she was faced with another dilemma.

According to the Egyptian law, no one can modify a motor vehicle other than its manufacturer. So Shalaby contacted the manufacturing company in Turkey. "They had a branch in Egypt but it closed years ago, so I sent them an e-mail with the modification I have done to the bus, explaining everything and they approved it and sent me the official letters required by law," Shalaby explained. "And now we are just waiting for the routine paperwork to take its course," she added.

Moreover, Shalaby, who is Egypt's ambassador to the Women in Motorsports Organization, still dreams of taking part in world rally championships and of creating her own race school to share her experience with fellow race enthusiasms. 

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