It was the middle of the night. After the tormenting heat of daytime, the weather of Guinea-Conakry, a tropical country in West Africa, started freezing in that November night. A group of eight adventurers was weak and starving in a mangrove jungle by then, a nine-hour long journey from Guinea Bissau extended to two entire days because of the almost inaccessible transport system.
Among the travellers, Najmun Nahar was the only woman and Bangladeshi. So the midnight jungle was not a safe place for her. She was told to search for a safe stay in the neighbourhood. After a long walk of three hours, Najmun ended up having shelter at a kind tribal lady's house. The kind lady also offered her a slice of yam potato which saved Najmun's life that night.
The solo explorer, Najmun Nahar, has endured hundreds of experiences like this through her 18 years' journey to 135 countries around the globe and still counting. She is well known as the "Flag Girl" as she carries our national flag to her destination countries or places and introduce people with our flag and country.
How it all started
After completing her school education in Lakshmipur district, Najmun started her undergraduate studies at the department of political science in the University of Rajshahi, Bangladesh. Enthusiastic Najmun has always been interested in extra-curricular activities since her childhood. At the university, being chosen as the leader of the Girl Guide Association, RU Unit, Najmun got an opportunity to visit India International Adventure Program at Pachmarhi, Bhopal in India in 2000.
"I was the representative of our country there with 80 other countries. We did all sorts of adventurous things as rock-climbing, physical exercise on hills in the morning, walking 20 kilometres, living in a tent, and so many challenging things in a forest. I felt keen to the gypsy life here and felt a calling for travelling unknown places. The beauty of nature and diverse people started attracting me," said passionate Najmun.
Book-lover Najmun was also inspired by numerous travel stories by the writers home and abroad. Her father also encouraged her in travelling.
The opportunity for further travelling came when Najmun went to Sweden for her post-graduation in Asian Studies from Lund University. She also studied Human Rights and Asia at Seoul National University, South Korea. Working as research coordinator at Swedwatch – a non-profit organization in Sweden, and a researcher at many different research projects, Najmun deposited enough fund and started her world expedition.
Starting with India as the first country she travelled to, Zimbabwe was 100th, and the last country she visited as her 135th is Costarica.
Through this journey, the Bangladeshi woman has visited every single country of South America, West Africa, South Africa and East Africa. She has travelled to most of the European and Asian countries too.
Exploring 35 countries in 2016 and 2017, Najmun visited 32 countries in 2018 alone.
The road was not smooth
During her world travel, Najmun had to go through numerous experiences. Sometimes she got lost, followed a wrong route, her skin got burnt while being under the open sky in the desert, had to eat raw meat, got bitten by dangerous insects, had breathing problem on a 14,000ft high mountain, escaped an armed robbery in Guatemala city.
"Nothing could change my passion regarding travelling. These incidents made me stronger in surviving any challenging atmosphere," said a determined Najmun.
Besides her strong willpower, the helpful behaviour of people across the world made her more confident.
"No matter how bad the situation is, I always find a helping hand of stranger towards me. It happened so many times that I ended up at the local peoples' houses, got rescued and accompanied by strangers, shared their food. All of them are my friends now," said Najmun.
Spreading the message of peace became the motto
After travelling to many countries and having the opportunity of being close to different kind of people, Najmun felt that the idea of "oneness" among all the human beings across the world should be spread.
The rich culture and harmony among the people in different communities and culture made her take the decision of talking about the necessity of peace among people.
Wherever she visits, Najmun tries to converse with people, especially children. She talks to them of one earth and a relationship of love, respect, and empathy – how it all can make the earth harmonious for all human beings.
"As a solo traveller, as an Asian, as a Muslim, as a woman – I have broken all the stereotypes of being trapped in one identity and one culture. I have embraced the oneness of the universe. I want to spread the message that all human beings are same," said Najmun.
For her incredible journey across the world and working on ensuring harmony among people, this globetrotter received the prestigious award – "Peace Torch Award" after she visited the 135th country.
For carrying the flag of Bangladesh and representing us as a peace-loving nation, Najmun received the "Flag Girl" award and recognition from the Governor of Zambia.
In 2018, she received the prestigious Ananya Top Ten Awards. She also received Zonta International Game Changer Award (2019), Atish Dipankar Award (2019), and Red Crescent Motivational Award (2019).
Long way to go
Najmun is now on her way to ticking off all the countries across the globe on her to-be-visited list.
Recently she has signed an agreement with Zonta International as an ambassador to work in global platform contributing in stopping child marriage, empowering women and eradicating violence against them.
Najmun is planning to establish a platform named "Inspiration Global Platform" through which she wants to connect the youth worldwide and wants to work restlessly in achieving her motto of ensuring world-peace.