She is the first Saudi woman to conquer Everest, and is therefore one of the spearheads of female emancipation in the Kingdom and the surrounding Arabian region. A position that earned her a nomination among the 100 most influential Arab women under 40. From the shores of Jeddah, where she grew up in a conservative family, to the Roof of the World, Raha Moharrak looks back on her adventures and forward to her starry dreams.
What drives a designer to aim for the highest rocky summits on the planet?
I’m extremely stubborn. The best way to get me to do something is by telling me that I can’t do it, or that I’m not allowed to do it. And that’s exactly what happened. I was told that I couldn’t climb this mountain, that I shouldn’t climb it, and that this is not what girls from where we are do. I wasn’t going to live by the rules of others. That was the main driver: wanting to prove to myself that I’m capable of doing it, and to prove to others that I’m more than what they see. And what better way to prove people wrong than climbing to the top of the world. It’s a great feeling to realize your dream and to prove people wrong at the same time.
You’re said to have been raised by a quite conservative family. Did you have to convince them to let you fulfill your climbing ambitions?
Needing to convince my family is the understatement of the century. I didn’t just have to convince them. I needed to change their entire mindset. Can you imagine a Saudi father’s reaction to his daughter—not even a boy—asking him if she could climb the highest mountain in the world? It wasn’t easy in the beginning. He had no idea why I wanted to do this. I don’t even think he gets it now. But after so many discussions and arguments, he looked at me once and said: “I don’t understand why you do this to yourself, but I understand that you need to.”
[quote]My mom jokes and say : “I hope one day you’ll look at your mother the same way you look at that mountain.”[/quote]
You reached Everest with a group of 10 Saudi females including Princess Reema who ran the initiative. Can you tell us more about this experience?
I absolutely loved that experience, because it was one of the first times I had represented my country. I also highlighted an issue that was absolutely worthy. And I got to know Princess Reema, who now holds a very important position with respect to very crucial aspects of the Saudi society, which are sports and women. The whole thing was just life changing. It was during that climb that I saw the Everest and I fell in love. My mom jokes and say : “I hope one day you’ll look at your mother the same way you look at that mountain.”
What were the reactions in your homeland after your multiple successes?
Like all trailblazers and rebels, I was received with as much praise as criticism. I didn’t expect any less from my country’s men and women… But I do appreciate both sides of the coin. Because even the negative naysayers can’t deny my existence. Even the Saudi people that I don’t agree with can’t deny that a Saudi woman stood on the top of the world. And that is really a powerful thing.
Did you have a role model that inspired your achievements?
Besides the big role models we have now, I grew up idealizing the people around me: my mom, my sister, my dad as well… Sometimes the best role models you’ll have are your family members. I also find inspiration in every corner of everyday life. A stranger’s smile can inspire me, or someone like Queen Rania… I’m constantly keeping my mind and my heart open for inspiration. Finding role models wasn’t an issue. But finding role models that were like me—athletic, Arab, Muslim and Saudi—was.
[quote]My dream has always been to reach the stars, to find a way to go to space.[/quote]
After climbing the Everest, what would your next goal be?
You would really be underestimating my craziness, my love of adventure, if you think that Everest is the craziest thing I could think of. My dream has always been to reach the stars, to find a way to go to space. Maybe Everest was just once the closest place for me to touch the sky. On a more immediate and tangible goal, I’m hoping to finally publish the book I’ve been writing for the last couple of years. It was a challenge, even more daunting than the actual mountains. Somehow, it is my emotional mountain. I hope to get my story out there in a way that could touch more people’s hearts and minds.
Could you tell us more about this book?
It’s called a book but in reality it’s a massive overdue thank you letter for my parents and hopefully a beacon for all the little misfit girls, specifically in the region and genuinely in the world. It is meant to show the reality and to then lead by example, to show that if you want something bad enough, then you have to fight for it, work for it… It’s not easy, you can’t always get what you what, and it involves a lot of pain and suffering to get it. But if a Saudi woman could stand on the top of the world, then what makes all our other dreams beyond our reach?