Town: Salt Lake City, Utah
Quote: “When I dare to be powerful, to use my strength in the service of my vision, it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.” – Audre Lorde
About Ariana: I am an Iranian American, born in northern California and raised from the west coast to an island off of Malaysia. Moving often while also maintaining a strong sense of cultural identity in my home planted the seeds that inspire me as a SheJumper today.
I set out a few years ago with the dream of combining exploration, anthropology, eco-psychology and activism. I have identified strongly with my Iranian roots and being a woman. Today, as I continue to aspire, I am juggling many projects all in the name of facilitating more opportunities for women empowerment and gender equality, social justice, environmentalism and youth leadership. I currently work as an outdoor educator, chiseling away towards my IFMGA, fighting towards more diversity and inclusion in the outdoors, and having the fortune to collaborate on powerful projects with an organization and group of inspiring individuals in Pakistan.
Like the quote I shared and cling to, jumping is a whole lot easier when I live beyond myself. When I choose to be powerful for the sake of a vision I share with a community. I choose to jump both feet in and live with a whole heart, because there are so many things worth fighting for in this world today that I cannot afford to just check out and disappear into my adventures. I choose to show up with my adventures. Even if it means I am standing alone for a little bit…or a while. It is important to me that make what I do a creative demonstration of what I believe.
A way I try to encourage others to live intentionally is to actively contribute to a community, whether that is volunteering, collective group healing, or being involved in supporting or fighting policies around issues they are passionate about. Also teaching that community isn’t just your neighborhood, it is your tribe that you invest yourself into and stand for something together. This is how I got connected to SheJumps while living in Salt Lake City, UT. With my transient lifestyle, SheJumps is one of the more powerful ways I stay connected to people who are passionate about the same issues I am, who are investing in self-growth, interested in the same activities, and share the same sense of playfulness surrounding life that I appreciate. It is a community full of opportunity and support.
A story that exemplifies these same qualities is about a community and group of women I met this past month in a small village tucked away in the Karakoram. Shimshal Village is located in the remote northern regions of Pakistan in the Karakoram Mountain Range, and they are known to raise a special breed. Two of which were the brains and power behind the reason I was there. Mirza Ali Baig, social worker and founder of Pakistan Youth Outreach Foundation (PYOF) and Karakoram Expeditions, and his sister Samina Baig, first Pakistani female and Muslim woman to summit Mt. Everest, and first Pakistani to complete the Seven Summits.
While there is a misconception of oppression of women in Pakistan, I would argue that my experience lent itself to a rite of passage into a kinship of culturally rich, independent, innovative and compassionate thinkers. Shimshal (which took me a 24 hour bus ride on the Karakoram Highway and a bumpy 5 hour jeep ride down a dirt road) especially is part of a region where the literacy rate is almost 100%, equal for both boys and girls (in a country where 55% of the people are literate and many girls don’t have the opportunity to go to school). The village comes together as a family to raise independent and strong women who know the definition of hard work and perseverance – having been raised in a village of harsh winters, land to be tended after, and herds to be lead over mountain passes.
PYOF also organizes all-girl sports competitions in their community. Mirza and Samina are working specifically with the girls (and youth in general) to train potential prospects to be mountaineers, ice climbers, and skiers. So far, there is only one female mountaineer, and outdoor sports are yet to be validated as such in the country. Shimshal exemplifies a community that rallies behind gender equality and women empowerment to raise a generation of forward thinkers, doers and mountain-movers.
I had the honor to attend their 6th Basic Mountaineering Training in Pakistan (so far the only of its kind nationally), the 2nd annual Pakistan National Ice Climbing Competition, and apart of a women-lead winter first ascent expedition. The actual expedition was an outreach for female participation from all 4 provinces of Pakistan, namely Sindh, Punjab, Balochistan, KPK, AJK and Gilgit-Baltistan. Ultimately there were four local participants, Sadaf Riaz, Komal Uzair, Bismah Hassan, and Afia Younas. In addition, an International Global Outreach Iniative component was added with both myself and a Norwegian woman named Siv Heiberg.
The main theme of this women lead winter expedition was in solidarity of women empowerment and to continue towards gender equality. Many encountered hurdles before even arriving, but persisted to show up. Not to mention the obstacles we faced during, but we always found a way to sing and dance about it every night. It was a cause beyond ourselves, and in that was born our strength. Although, in the end, not everyone physically stood on the summit, we collectively as a team made a first ascent of an unnamed, unclimbed peak, establishing a historical event in Pakistani history as an all women-team. The peak was calculated at 5,600 m and was named Koh-e-Zamiston, which means Mount Winter in the native Wakhi tongue of the Shimshali village.
That is one of the many lessons the mountain teaches me. That when we invest in our team, we result in reaching new thresholds as individuals. And it isn’t always the summit every time. But growth nonetheless. When I say collectively we reached the summit, I literally mean the nursing to health of one member to her sick counterpart for hours, the hand holding during difficult times, the sacrificing and sharing of gear, and the scrambling around of women in the morning as the others were departing to High Camp to pass along their most useful items; the delivering of hot tea and last minute massages and the endless hugs and tears. “Your success is my success.”
Throughout the training, competition, and expedition I met women who had never seen snow or ice, never been camping, never left too far from home. We braved freezing temperatures (-35 to -42C to be exact), some lacked proper gear, got sick and yet many lead their first ice climb after just a week of training. Some reached an elevation of 5000 m for their first time ever being exposed to high altitude. Samina is a woman of graceful grit and humble power. Who chose a path with no examples before her, but with her brother, achieved something that had been perceived impossible. Now giving the confidence to thousands of girls and women across her country to take jumps into the unknown as she. I met an incredibly inspiring woman from Norway who jumps into adventure to show her children that a life of adventure is the only one worth living and that requires taking some risk. Now the women are preparing for their next expedition this summer to train as the first National Pakistani Women Mountaineering Team while others are working hard to train for the Olympics in sports that Pakistani women have never competed in. Some are even training to become the country’s first female high altitude porters. They are pioneers.
So what are you passionate about that you are willing to set aside fear for? How do you invest in or rally beside your community or tribe? And are you willing to take some jumps to do so? Living courageously isn’t a secret. It isn’t gifted to some and not to others. And it sure as hell isn’t something passive to be awaited on. Although maybe it is something magical they put in their spiced milk tea in Shimshal…