I’ve landed in an hotel near the Istanbul airport and the journey feels like it has at last begun. The best way to visually represent the complexity of cultures in this region is to describe the outfits of women. I’ve seen the standard range western attire - including very scantily clad ladies that look like they’d better fit in on a beachside resort on the Riviera. But perhaps it is just that they stand out so profoundly against the women in dark black silk Arab Burqa - with only the narrow slits of their eyes visible. I’ve heard these are far more comfortable than the stiff light blue Afghani Burqa that I will soon see everywhere - but likely not have to wear? My favorite however are the brightly colored Persian Hijabs artistically wrapped to highlight a face’s features and accent the clothes. This is what I will wear most of the time - though likely I won't look quite so fashionable. But let me not forget to mention the simple outfits of Bhuddist and Christian Nun’s I see. And then there are the foreign women like myself trying to look reasonable appropriate as we travel into cultures that are not our own with an effort of respect and blending in. It will feel strange to wear a hijab again.
Most of you know what I am doing. But let me explain briefly for those who don’t. There is a team of 12 young (16-22) Afghan ladies who are training to climb the tallest peak in Afganistan - Noshaq. http://www.ascendathletics.org They have been at it for part of a year. We’ve had to change our original plan due to some unrelated logistics (like landslides in the Whakan) and security risks in the area. Instead, we've redirected our attention to more of a training camp style climb. This will allow us to focus on skill development as we try to climb a series of increasingly difficult peaks with all the girls. Then - hopefully - the girls will attempt Noshaq next year with more skills and experience. They have 2 American guides assisting them: Danika Gilbert and IFMGA certified Emelie Drinkwater.
There is an HBO / VICE film crew that is following the girls and I’ve been asked to be their lead guide on the the expedition. It seems like a great team of very skilled filmmakers and video folks and I look forward to working with them. VICE has a great reputation of telling cutting edge documentaries and we are hoping to create a powerful film looking at women empowerment in Afg. Joining me will be my colleague Emily Sternberg - a Sweedish born and Canadian trained Ski and Hiking guide - who will help with all the logistics of such a massive expedition, help with running basecamp and carrying loads, and generally support the project with some of the less technical aspects of the trip. We will also be working with a locally based secirty team - SEPAR. These guys are ex-British Special Forces and bring an incredible amount of experience working in conflict zones.
I’m being intentionally vague at this point about the details of the trip - as one of our critical risk management tactics has been to maintain discretion with the dates, movement and even location of the expedition. This is a powerful expedition with the opportunity to really highlight the stories of these brave young women who are challenging themselves in so many ways. It is a story of women empowerment in a country known to be the worst place in the world to be a woman. While there is some danger by just being in this country, we have taken many measures to reduce our risks and I am comfortable with where we are at. E.g. We have considerable local support from the surrounding region of where we will be climbing and our security team is carefully monitoring and advising on the situation. http://www.separinternational.com/afghanistan/
Part of why security is so important lies beyond the general conflict raging in Afghanistan. It also has to do with the hostile views towards women that some in this society hold. Recently a young woman was innocently accused of burning a koran. Some saw this accusation was becasue she spoke out against men who tried to voilate her or perhaps for merely speaking out against a Mullah. Regardless, she was guilty of no mis-deeds but was attatcked in the streets and brutally beaten and burned. The photo below is this street alongside the filthy Kabul River, a common spot for shopping and a busy street.
Here is an article : http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3008987/Afghan-woman-beaten-death-streets-murdered-dared-speak-against-superstitious-mullah-NOT-burned-Koran.html
Here is a view of her memorial:
If any of you are interested in learning more about the general region and situation of women currently in Afg here are a few recent reads I have enjoyed:
- Mountain to Mountain by Sharon Glieson. Available in Audible, Kindle and normal. She’s also given a great Ted Talk
- A short walk in the Hindu Kush by Eric Newby - this is a classic piece of travel literature set somewhat close to where we will be. Available in Kindle and normal.
- My name is Bosha Post - by Stephanie Lebrun - an incredible book about the practice of raising young girls as boys in poor villages in Afg. As an Audible / kindle or normal book.
- The favored Daughter - by Nadeno Ghoud - another great book about a young girl who was left to die as a newborn and who survived to become an influential politician.
- Kabul Girls - this is another book on gender roles in Afganistan and the Basha Posh in particular. It is more of an academic influenced book - but still reads very well.
And a fun article for the glacier geeks of the team!