Embracing the Uphills
By Dalia Kaikashraw
Like most of the professionals around the world, I work 5 days a week and over 8 hours a day. Unlike most, instead of sleeping in on the weekends, my routine is waking up at 5 am to get ready and head to the mountains, no matter what the temperature or the perception is!
The question that I get asked most is; why? Why don’t I choose to rest in my bed on a Saturday morning instead of waking so early to go to the mountains? Why take such big risks? Isn’t this an egotistic pursuit? As a matter of fact, I thought about these questions a lot!
As a woman, coming from a region of the world where women have little say in their own lives, climbing mountains is such an empowering pursuit! Waking up early in the morning, packing my snacks and going out to ascend a 2000- 3000-meter high mountain! Such a privilege!
But the truth is, I go to the mountains to see what I have not seen before, some things external but mostly internal. In addition to enjoying the beautiful views, clean air and meeting great people, I have a chance to see myself and how I react to difficulties. Difficulties that have presented themselves every step of my life since I was born in a small village on Iran- Iraq border in 1978. A village that shortly after my birth my family were evacuated from and moved to a “Collective Town” near the city of Halabja. A village where my family lost all the farms they were living on.
I remember, my first mountain ever to climb was when I was 9 years old when we were refugees in Iran after the 1988 Chemical Bombardment of Halabja. With all our wounds from the bombardment still fresh, the waterfalls, snow crevasses and endless uphill trails of Qandil Mountain seemed safe and fascinating to me. Most of the people rented horses, but as we had lost everything in Halabja, we had to march on our tired feet for over 30 kilometers which took us about 15 hours. Later, we decided to return to Iraq, to catch up on school and not miss a school year. Education is the one thing that my, NOT literate, parents always made a priority. Priority enough to put our lives at risk and cross the Iran-Iraq boarders illegally! Today as I hold two master degrees, one bachelor degree and a half dozen diplomas, I understand and appreciate my parent’s efforts more than ever. I often wonder, if you have never been to school yourself, where do you get that vision from?
Climbing mountains is a very demanding activity that involves taking a lot of risks, but the rewards are far greater and it is the risks that make it such a powerful experience. Looking back at my beginning from a small village and being able to stand on the summits of 6000 meter high mountains around the world today makes me grateful for those who have gone before me and paved the way for my success. I am hoping there will be other women after me who also make it their objective to reach the summit of whatever their mountain is in life.
After all, it is the parallel between life and climbing mountains that keeps me going. More than exploring outdoors it is the inward exploration that makes me learn about my limits and helps me to grow. I am a firm believer of Sir Edmond Hillary’s statement: “it is not the mountains we conquer, but ourselves”.