Photo Courtesy: Wasfia Nazreen
Tell us a little bit about your educational background.
My schooling was done in Khulna, Chittagong and Dhaka. I always had a deep calling to explore the world, and partly that's why I wanted to do higher studies abroad. To break free from the shackles of the familiar, and see the world as it is on my own, and in the process, find myself too.
To obtain a Bachelors degree abroad, I went with the intention to pursue a double major in Theatre and Aeronautical Science because at that point of time that was what my heart's calling was. However, that very semester, I got a chance to represent my university's volleyball team in National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) - which was a very big turning point for me.
But at one point I had to weigh out priorities, since my grades were falling! My volleyball career was over by third year if I recall correctly. By the turn of second year, my passion shifted and I ended up double majoring in Studio Art and Social Psychology. Outside university, I got involved with African Dance Theatre, which I pursued part-time.
What inspired you to become a climber?
Well, I have always loved the mountains. I was raised in Chittagong and occasionally visited the Hill Tracts from a very young age. My career took me first, to the Scottish Highlands, then to the Appalachians of North America, and then finally to the Himalayas. To live in the mountains, one needs to know how to mindfully tread upon them. I am grateful to the indigenous communities I lived with, in these different places, where many pursued the lifestyle of a mountaineer or was in full harmony with nature. I continue to learn from them till today.
Which mountains have you climbed so far?
Triund (northern India), Look Ri (Gokyo), Island Peak (Everest region, Nepal), Mount Elbrus (Russia) and Kala Patthar. I have also been part of several expeditions to places like Mera Peak and Everest base camp and some other smaller peaks.
What projects are you working on right now?
Since January 2011, I have my 24/7 dedicated for a campaign called Bangladesh on Seven Summits, where I am climbing the seven highest points of every continent in celebration of 40 years of Bangladesh's Independence. It is a project dedicated to our freedom fighters and all the martyrs - women and men, who went through intense amount of challenge to give birth to our Motherland. Hopefully at the same time, we can highlight to the world, the progress of women reached over the last four decades too.
Tell us a little more about your future plans.
I don't have any future plans, honestly. I live for the moment and take things as they come. Currently I am so engrossed in planning and training for these climbs that I barely have time to think about anything else. The Bangladesh on Seven Summits Foundation that I formed along with several key people, to handle the legal aspects of these journeys, does have big goals in the next 3-4 years, to equip Bangladeshi women so they are empowered to embrace high-altitude experiences.
Has your family been by your side throughout your many journeys?
Yes and no, because I chose to not depend on them for the sake of my own growth and independent learning. I supported myself from a very young age, and lived on my own. And I respect that, no matter the headaches, they have always allowed me the freedom to choose my own path.
Who has been your biggest inspiration?
The achievements of women mountaineers in the world are shockingly small in number. For example, out of the few hundreds who have completed Seven Summits since the 80s, there are only 37 women to have done it. Junko Tabei, the first woman to have ever climbed the Everest, is definitely an inspiration. I also follow Edurne Pasaban, the 21st person and the first woman to climb all of the fourteen 8000er peaks in the world. But my biggest inspiration must be Richard Parks, the first person to have conquered both the Seven Summits and reach the two geographic poles in a record-breaking time - 6 months. I was blessed to meet him in person and was blown away by his humility and generosity. His epic journey was set up to raise money for Cancer cure, and I am a proud supporter of this 737 Challenge, as it is called.
What advice would you like to give to the young, thriving women who aspire to do great things like you did?
I don't necessarily think that the things I did, or the ways I have chosen to live my life, have to be 'great' in the eyes of anyone. They are the experience of an ordinary person. I just followed my heart, my instincts and embraced my dreams as wholly as I could. Women must realise and truly feel that anything IS possible. They must search within themselves and know that we are all capable, despite what our society, traditions and class barriers would like to condition us to think. So believe in yourself and break free