Arab women to take part in North Pole expedition

Expedition is brainchild of Felicity Aston, polar ex­plorer who entered Guinness Book of World Records in 2012 as first woman to ski across Antarctica alone.

The expedition is the brainchild of polar explorer Felicity Aston.(Courtesy of Felicity Aston)

2016/12/18 Issue: 86 Page: 20

The Arab Weekly
Roufan Nahhas

Amman - A group of resolute wom­en are set to battle sub-zero temperatures and threats from polar bears when they embark on a mission to reach the North Pole aimed at building a “bridge of un­derstanding” between women from the West and the Arab world.

The 11-woman team representing Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emir­ates, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Britain, France, Germany, Slovenia, Sweden and Cyprus plans to ski across the shifting pack ice of the Arctic Ocean, dodge the threats of the unforgiving environment of the North Pole and prove that women can have fun do­ing such adventurous things.

The expedition is the brainchild of Felicity Aston, a British polar ex­plorer who entered the Guinness Book of World Records in 2012 as the first woman to ski across Ant­arctica alone, a journey that took 59 days.

“I know from experience that on polar expeditions everyone feels vulnerable, meaning that it is possi­ble to get to know people very well and very quickly,” Aston told The Arab Weekly in an e-mail conversa­tion that included other members of the expedition team. “I hope that this expedition will challenge pre­conceptions and stereotypes and provide some insight into how we can become better connected and inspire efforts for greater cultural understanding.

“Like many people, I am curious about the relationship between Europe and the Arab world. As a woman, it is particularly the rela­tionship between women of these two different cultural regions that interests me.”

Aston’s team started training in September in Iceland for their April 2017 journey, learning how to deal with extreme cold, to sleep in tents on ice, ski long distances and pull heavy sledges packed with supplies.

Team members were chosen from among 1,000 women who respond­ed to an online ad.

“I think this demonstrates that there is a desire to show what wom­en are capable of and how much we can achieve when we work togeth­er,” Aston said.

The team, which includes a sci­entist, a journalist, an educator, a designer, a marketing and commu­nications director, a community en­trepreneur among others, will join hands in Longyearbyen in Norway and fly to Barneo, a floating base camp on the Arctic ice where they will ski from a latitude of about 89 degrees north to the geographic North Pole, covering approximately 100 km in about ten days.

“The broad range of backgrounds, ages, occupations and experience within the team is deliberate,” As­ton said. “I want the expedition to demonstrate that these things are not important when it comes to achieving goals. Anyone can ski to the North Pole if they have the will.”

Arab participants include the UAE’s Maryam al-Ansari, 28; Qa­tar’s Asma al-Thani, 27; Mariam Hamidaddin, 30 from Saudi Arabia; Kuwait’s Lamees Nijem, 26; and Oman’s Anisa al-Raissi, 32.

Nijem said part of her motiva­tion was wanting to be a part of a “mixed-cultural” journey. “We might all come from different parts of the world, but we all have the same instinct. We want to chal­lenge ourselves to ski to the North Pole,” she said. “Unity and sticking together as human beings is a very crucial act that we need nowadays and I am honoured to represent my country and my culture on this ex­pedition.”

Ansari said the expedition offers a chance to be surrounded by like-minded women. “I can see an op­portunity to share our similar goals regardless of differences in culture, religion and background,” she said. “Also, I want to experience a differ­ent environment in the North Pole, very different from our desert.”

Aston stressed the “overwhelm­ingly positive” feedback to the ini­tiative. “Despite turbulent global politics, there is a sense that people are ready for more tolerance and better understanding… and women want to be more involved in shaping the world around them,” she said.

There are other hurdles for the team to conquer besides the moun­tains and bone-chilling tempera­tures.

“The biggest challenge by far has been funding the expedition,” As­ton said. “The expedition will be funded by corporate sponsorship and we are still seeking companies and organisations who are inter­ested in supporting the expedition and having a high-profile associa­tion with the team and the project. Individuals who would like to sup­port us can also get involved by becoming ‘Virtual Team Members’ There are details on our website at helpus/.”

“At the moment, all my energy is focused on this current project, making it happen and ensuring it is done well and with lasting im­pact. There are lots more projects I would like to do in the future, but I must make a success of just one at a time,” she added.

Technology will play a big part in the promotion of the expedition, including the daily life of the team with podcasts recorded on the ice and regular updates on social net­works and live satellite phone calls.

Roufan Nahhas, based in Jordan, has been covering cultural issues in Jordan for more than two decades.

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