Ain’t no mountain high enough for this Saudi woman
Dubai// Raha Moharrak jokes that she ran away from a ring and ended up on top of the world. At 27, she is the youngest Arab and the first Saudi woman to conquer Mount Everest.
Ms Moharrak made it to top of the world’s tallest mountain on May 18, 2013 from the Nepalese side. But she says it would never have happened if her determination to prove those who told her “no” – like her father – or that she couldn’t – because she was a Saudi woman – wrong.
“I always start with the word ‘no’,” said Ms Moharrak, speaking at the Arab Women in Leadership and Business Summit on Monday. “No is such a simple, two-letter word that has the power to enrage the spirit and fuel the soul, a two-bladed sword that can either hurt you or heal you. The best thing anyone ever told me once was ‘no’, I never thought such a negative comment could open so many positive doors.”
Born in Jeddah, Ms Moharrak is the youngest of five siblings. She graduated from the American University of Sharjah with a degree in graphic design. She spoke about overcoming emotional, social and physical obstacles to reach her goals.
“I was always surrounded by the social expectations of what a Saudi woman should feel. As I grew so did the walls my gender imposed on me.”
Ms Moharrak said she tried to fit in and conform to the norm, but nothing could hold back her love of adventure.
“I was at a crossroads, either go and do the craziest thing and take the biggest risk of my life pursuing this enigmatic calling; or go for the more traditional route of waiting for prince charming to come pick me out of a line-up of an army of equally deserving women, wedding to wedding, waiting for him to come knocking at the door,” she said.
“As fate would have it, I wasn’t meant to walk a path – I was meant to climb one.”
Ms Moharrak said just a few years ago she didn’t even know what Kilamanjaro was, let alone have thoughts of tackling its 8,848-metre climb.
“People ask me when did it start? I said it was the moment they told me I couldn’t do it because I was born a woman with a green passport. That was the spark.”
Telling her father that she wanted to climb a mountain, she said was even more daunting than the climb itself. “He just simply said ‘no’.
“It’s amazing how something so simple can really trigger you to push and go beyond your comfort zone. So I took that ‘no’ as an invitation, and I stayed up till dawn writing this long email [to my father] throwing back everything he has taught me, achieving greatness, doing what you want, believing in yourself, I threw that straight back at him. I remember the anxiety, if you think climbing Everest was scary, sending that email was much more scary.”
“I hit send, and I felt fear and nervousness, but never regret.”
After a day of not hearing from her father, he finally replied to the email with just one line: “You’re crazy, I love you, go for it”.
Since then, Ms Moharrak has reached the summit of 14 mountains.
Updated: September 22, 2014 04:00 AM