Lebanese mountaineer Fatima Deryan is planning to climb Mount Everest in the spring. The 26-year-old spoke to DW about her passion for the sport and the message she is aiming to spread to other Arab women.
DW: What does mountaineering mean to you?
Fatima Deryan: I honestly wish mountaineering was my job but this isn't possible in my world. My dreams are big and I need to earn a lot of money to be able to achieve them. So now mountaineering for me is an escape from everyday city life and the mainstream world. It‘s when I regenerate all of my positive energy and boost my confidence. It‘s when I'm at peace with myself and I happily push all boundaries. It‘s when I rebalance my thoughts and mentally heal. Mountaineering is literally my heaven on earth and my happy place.
How did you become a mountaineer?
I was born in Kuwait, my family moved to Lebanon when I was two years old and then moved to Dubai when I was nine. I've always been into sports in general. During my teenage years, I was into bodybuilding and then started bungee jumping by the age of 16. I then started scuba diving and got my advanced PADI [Professional Association of Diving Instructors] license, then I thought I should also get my skydiving license and I did.
In 2015 I attended a speech by Omar Samra, the first Egyptian man to climb Everest [in 2007] and I was reminded about my goal; I've wanted to climb Everest ever since I was 14. I have visited Nepal five times and flown over Everest twice and I always said 'I will climb to the top of this mountain one day'. So I took the first step to see if I like mountaineering or not and took off to climb Mount Elbrus in Russia. This was when I got hooked and my mountaineering journey started.
There are not many women mountaineers in the Arab world. What obstacles have you had to overcome?
I always say the Arab world is in a transitional phase. It is true that it is male-dominated but women are rising up in all domains. Women in the Middle East are achieving what was once impossible, be it in fitness, business, culture, or music and entertainment.
When I started my mountaineering journey, it was difficult to convince my family to let me travel alone knowing that I would be offline and they might not hear from me for a while. It was very hard for them to accept, but I managed to convince them. Otherwise, I did not really face a lot of difficulties kick-starting my passion.
As for society, I usually receive a lot of respect from both men and women. Just like in any other part of the world, some people think I'm crazy and this will make for a complicated future. I can't be bothered to try to explain myself. Instead, I just keep climbing and prove them wrong. At the end of the day, it's all about action rather than words.
How have Arab men and women reacted to your success in mountain climbing?
Both Arab men and women react in a beautiful way towards my summit successes. It makes me so happy when someone says: "We are proud of you." I must admit, some men challenge me to try to prove that they have the upper hand in terms of fitness. I go along with it, just for fun. Whether I lose or win doesn't matter to me, but I do make sure I get my message across, which is: women are strong beings with a high threshold for pain.
How would you describe your character?
I'm am a strong woman both physically and mentally. I love laughing and I enjoy the simple things in life. I'm a minimalist, so to me it's all about the experience rather than material things. I have two jobs when I'm not on the mountain, one is in finance; the other is my own business, so I work hard for my money.
I can be loud person when I'm happy but I try not to be too loud. I consider myself both an extrovert and introvert at this stage of my life. I believe in "mind over matter." A positive, balanced and happy life is what I try to achieve all the time.
Which of your qualities do help you the most in the mountains?
Believing in my strength, being positive and laughter (especially when the altitude hits me) and, of course, now it's all about "mind over matter" which I actually have tattooed on my hand as a reminder.
How are you preparing to tackle Everest?
I do my strength training from 6 a.m. to 7 a.m. then I'm off for a long day at work. When I come home in the evening I do my HIIT [High Intensity Interval Training]. I run 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) one or two times a week, do indoor climbing two or three times a week and I always go hiking on the weekend.
What are your expectations for Everest?
I think anyone wanting to climb a mountain would have the ultimate goal of reaching the top. For Everest, my ultimate goal is definitely reaching the top but I am very well aware that things might not go as expected. The fact that I have the chance to spend around 50 days on the mountain, be there and live the experience, is way too beautiful. But to put the cherry on the cake, it would be great to return having reached the summit.
Is there also a specific message that you hope to send to Arab women by climbing Everest?
Yes. Through my Everest climb I would like to demonstrate that an Arab woman is able to fight against all sorts of limitations that society imposes upon her. She can only earn her freedom through actions. If she wants something, she must work really hard to get it! Being strong doesn't mean not being feminine enough. Being strong is way more attractive than being soft.
Arab women are still going through the phase of gaining independence and learning to do things on their own. Most women still find it difficult to rely solely on themselves. So If I can climb Everest and be self dependent on the mountain, then they can do anything. All it takes is courage and hard work.
I want Arab women to know that they are beautiful, they are strong and they can conquer the world – but only with the right mindset.
Fatima Deryan, 26, is a Lebanese mountaineer who has already scaled five of what's known as the "Seven Summits," the highest mountain on each continent. Only Mount Everest and Mount Vinson in Antarctica are missing from her collection. Last year Deryan, who lives in Dubai, founded an online portal for services in the cleaning industry. She plans to embark on her mission to conquer Mount Everest in March. If she is successful, she will become just the second Arab woman to climb Everest, after Palestinian Suzanne Al Houby, who reached the highest point at 8850 meters in the spring of 2011.
The interview was conducted by Stefan Nestler.