Sky is the limit for Jordanian mountaineer who is helping Arab women reach new heights

Dolores El-Shelleh: ‘As an Arab woman I always wanted to do something challenging.’
Updated 08 March 2018
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Sky is the limit for Jordanian mountaineer who is helping Arab women reach new heights

DUBAI: When most people take on a challenge, they usually start small before moving on to tougher and more demanding feats.
But from the start, Dolores El-Shelleh set her sights as high as possible, literally, by deciding to climb the world’s tallest mountain, Everest.
“As an Arab woman I always wanted to do something challenging and new from my perspective that will distinguish me among my community,” said the 27-year-old Jordanian. “Then I found my ambition. Mountaineering is a new trend in Arab culture. Not many women get the chance to do this activity and a lot of people are amazed that I come from the Middle East and I am in my 20s.
“I really wanted to step in and try something totally different, something out of my comfort zone and my family’s and community’s beliefs.”
However, not everyone was supportive of her passion as she set out to achieve her dream.
“I faced two different-sided opinions in my family: Those who encouraged and those who were against it, especially at the beginning,” said El-Shelleh. “Relatives have approached my father saying, ‘What are you doing, letting your daughter go to the Himalayas — it’s dangerous.’”
Women from traditionally conservative countries in the Arab world often feel pressure to conform to the cultural norms of their families and societies, such as marrying young or keeping their personal or career aspirations in fields deemed more “suitable for women.”
El-Shelleh is determined to break the mold and hopes to inspire others to follow suit.
“I want to be an inspiration and have the honor of raising the flags of both my beloved home country Jordan and the country of opportunities, the UAE, on the world’s highest mountain,” she said. “I want to make every person in my country proud, and empower other women in my society to have the courage to speak with loud voices and overcome the fear of resistance, no matter what their ambitions in life.”
El-Shelleh has already scaled smaller peaks in the Himalayas, and Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, one of the so-called seven summits, the highest mountains on each continent. She has also completed a technical winter mountaineering course in the Alps.
Her dream of conquering Everest has attracted support from, and helped to inspire, women in her native Jordan and across the region.
“A lot of women come back to me and say, ‘Dolores, we never thought we would do something that challenging and now we want to go full force and try it’,” said El-Shelleh.
She also revealed that her dream is about much more than just the climb.
“It is not only about reaching the mountain’s summit,” she said. “It is the adventure itself and learning about the different cultures in this world, which will bring us closer to humanity.”
As she continues her training to prepare for Everest, the next summit she will tackle is Elbrus, the highest mountain in Europe. She will climb it with a team as part of an initiative for Jordan’s King Hussein Cancer Foundation, titled “From the Lowest point to the Highest point against Cancer.”
El-Shelleh’s Everest climb is scheduled for 2019, which means her training schedule is rigorous and involves some personal hardship.
“It takes compromise and sacrifice,” she said. “People don’t see the frustration in it — finding true believers to be part of this journey is time-consuming and a lot of people won’t understand that.”
El-Shelleh fits her strict training regime and schedule around her full-time job in advertising.
“I felt like I was going to quit a couple of times — and I still feel a lot of frustration — but I just keep remembering that I’ve come so far on this path and I also have a lot of supporters who are true leaders so why should I stop now?” she said. “I keep thinking why should I stop now if I truly believe that nothing is impossible?”
Perseverance is key to her successes so far and is, she believes, “something everyone should have to conquer any type of goal in life.”


Delhi’s last elephants await marching orders

Updated 21 September 2018
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Delhi’s last elephants await marching orders

  • Authorities have ordered the seizure of the elephants
  • Fifty years ago the Indian capital housed more than 200 elephants

NEW DELHI: The mighty Heera marched through a crowded slum chewing bamboo, oblivious that freedom from life as one of Delhi’s last six elephants at work in the polluted city could be just around the corner.
After years of pressure from activists who accuse the animals’ owners of flouting wildlife regulations by keeping them in a city, authorities have ordered the seizure of the elephants.
They plan to move the 40-year-old tusker — along with Dharamvati, Laxmi, Gangaram, Moti and Chandni — out of the smoggy Indian capital but warn it could take months to find a new home for them.
“They are kept away from their natural habitat,” a senior Forest Department official said, highlighting “reports of insufficient food, water, shelter and veterinary care, all which could expose them to disease.”
Fifty years ago the Indian capital housed more than 200 elephants, covered in garlands and carrying grooms to weddings, or being sought by the faithful for blessings at temples.
But now the city — overcome by cars, a population of 20 million and choking on pollution — is no longer a suitable home for the animals, with Heera and his five bedraggled companions the last elephants to live there.
Media reports say authorities are struggling to relocate the elephants because four are sick.
Officials hope to find a new home resembling the luxuriant farm belonging to consumer goods tycoon Vivek Chand Burman in Delhi where a seventh, female street elephant was recently taken.
She has her own mud pool and quarters complete with fans and sprinklers, a world away from her poorer relatives who wade in the Yamuna, one of the world’s most polluted rivers.

Animal Rights

But while animal rights campaigners welcome the move, it is a difficult moment for their owners — who deny any neglect.
Mehboob Ali likened it to snatching a legacy passed on by his ancestors.
“My family has been keeping elephants for six generations,” he said. “They are like our family and have been with us through thick and thin. We cannot live without each other.”
Heera’s keeper Mukesh Yadav has been looking after elephants since he was a child.
“I was so in love with elephants that I even decided not to marry. I felt that I must dedicate my life to the service of this holy animal,” he said.
The animals hold a special place in Indian culture, and elephant-headed Ganesha is one of Hinduism’s most revered gods.
Yadav bemoaned the loss of traditions that once allowed elephant keepers like him to work freely across the country.
“Earlier, people had a genuine fondness for these animals. A single village could have up to 20 elephants.
“We used to take a parade to graze in the fields and leave them to roam in the jungles. We would proudly present them at weddings and feasts. And now the government comes to us claiming that they are their property?” he said angrily.

Constant Inspections

Ali is infuriated by constant inspections of his elephants, which he believes are being done under pressure from activists.
He claimed that he has been harassed on several occasions by animal welfare groups.
“They are behaving as if we have stolen these elephants whereas they belong to us,” he said.
“Do you know that my great-grandfather was often given elephants as gifts by the maharajahs? And we have continued to trade them at animal fairs in various parts of the country.”
But activists counter that such claims mask a murky nexus of commercial exploitation, where little interest is paid to the animals’ welfare.
Kartick Satyanarayan, co-founder of Wildlife SOS, said the elephants had spent most of their lives in deplorable conditions and must be taken back to the forests.
“If people are actually made aware of the brutal methods used to capture, tame and bring these elephants to the city, they would never want to see them here again,” he said.
“What would you choose, the joy of seeing an elephant rolling in the mud and walking the jungles, or seeing an abused and captive creature on the streets of Delhi outside a temple or a circus?“