Raha Moharrak made history by being the first Saudi and youngest Arab woman to ever climb Mount Everest the world’s’ highest mountain, proving we all can attempt the impossible and achieve it no matter who we are and where we came from.
Her courage not to conform, test her limits and design her own life in a country where girls/and women are restricted and still face a variety of barriers is truly inspirational.
An interview with Raha Moharrak,
You were an art director in an advertising agency. Do you remember the moment that you decided to climb the highest mountain in the world at the age of 25? What was the trigger, and why mountains?
At that point in my life, everybody was expecting me to go back to Saudi Arabia and get married, but it just didn’t feel right. Sure, I’d love to settle down one day, but when the time is right, and with the right person.
I didn’t want to conform – instead, I decided to do something new and different. I was curious about mountains and climbing because it’s a sport, it’s outdoors, it’s about adventure and it’s a bit dangerous, so I thought it was a great way to get my mind out of the situation I was in.
Can you describe the difference between challenging yourself (inner) and challenging your society, your culture and preconceived notions (outer) of what a girl/woman should be and do? And how did you respond to prejudice and negative comments?
For me, the most difficult challenge was the inner challenge and mine also manifested into challenging the norms and stereotypes of my country. I was experiencing both at the same time.
Prejudice and negativity are everywhere. It’s your decision and only your responsibility if it brings you down or pulls you up. I know it’s easy to say, “Don’t take it personally,” but I also know that it requires a lot of work to overcome challenges. It’s the need and the want to do something more than conforming and becoming a perfectly fitting stereotype – it’s a state of mind and that what makes a big difference.
How do you go from the decision to do the ‘impossible’ and make it possible? How did you take the idea to action?
It’s not a decision as much as a belief. You have to believe that you’re capable of doing the impossible or at least believe enough to attempt the impossible. In my case, I was too afraid to end up like one of those boring people with a boring life, unhappy and uncomfortable in their own skin and that pushed me to want the impossible. It was never about other people. Later on, it becomes a mini-rebellion and a movement, but personally, it was just what I wanted to do. And it just happened to be mountains, adventure and doing seemingly impossible and crazy things.
While on Everest, which did you find the hardest to deal with – the physical aspects of the climb or the mental aspects?
One of the most difficult things is the mental strain, not just on Everest, but on any big, difficult mountain. Your body is what gets you there, but your mind is what keeps you alive and keeps you going. They are both equally important elements in being able to climb mountains. There were times when I was so cold that I couldn’t focus on how tired I was, and sometimes, I was too tired to focus on how much my body hurt. So, both aspects are important, however, mental strength was far more important for me because I’ve seen physically strong people with a weak mind that couldn’t finish. It’s definitely mind over matter in this situation.
You designed your life and you live based on your own rules. What would be one message to girls in the world dreaming about an adventurous and independent life?
First of all, know all the rules so that you know which ones are worth breaking. You don’t need to have a loud voice, you need to have a loud passion, a loud soul, a loud spirit. You don’t have to be loud to get people to listen to you – as a matter of fact, the more you scream, the more people won’t listen to you.
Never be afraid of failing. It’s the worse thing you can do to yourself. Don’t be afraid, wear your scars with pride. It means that you have tried and failed and tried and won.
Pick your battles. Be very smart and be very vigilant in what you can and cannot live with.