Game Changers The Hope Issue

Dana Al Ali: The Emirati conquering mountains

‘Keep moving forward’ is a motto emblazoned in Danah’s mind.

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By Georgie Bradley

“Dare to be different”. Emirati Danah Al Ali very neatly and boldly, brings this phrase to life. As a single mother of two, an engineer in the tech industry, and a mountaineer with an impressive resume of razor sharp peaks to her name, Danah is a force to be reckoned with.

In February of this year, ahead of Covid-19 putting the world on lockdown, Danah was in Georgia, doing some essential ice and rock climbing training for Mt. Everest in May. Now that the season has been wiped out until next year, Danah’s dream of being only among a handful of Emirati women to summit the world’s tallest peak, has been deferred – for the fifth time.

Climbing mountains wasn’t at the top of Danah’s dream list growing up but it evolved very quickly. She displayed an innate prowess for sports – “ I played volley ball, basketball, hand ball, and took figure skating lessons too” – which then escalated to extreme sports.

“I tried everything from snowboarding to getting my licence in sky diving. It wasn’t until I decided to combine my passion for both sport and travel, that research landed me on the idea of Mt. Kilimanjaro” – the roof of Africa.

At this point, Danah was deep within cultural parameters and by extension, obstacles. “As I started to climb and the community became aware of it, I had mixed reviews, mostly because I am a woman. And a woman with kids. But I was determined to prove to people that Arab women can still be great achievers in their careers and great mothers and inspire other Arab women to pursue their dreams and not hold back because of the challenges we face by society to get where we want to be.”

The first real test of her mountain mettle, as well as her defiance against community backlash, was in 2013, when she took on Africa’s highest peak. “It was a big step for me. I was working full time, and my children were only 3 and 5 years old back then. The idea of being away from my children for a week worried me, but I convinced myself that I am always there for them and they were always my priority in life, so this one week away was okay. It was also the great support I received from my family. I knew my parents and my sister would take really good care of them.”

Since she conquered Mt. Kilimanjaro, Danah has had a steady stream of high altitude successes: Russia’s Mt. Elbrus in 2015 and Mt. Aconcagua in 2017 – both of which sit within the 7 summits of the world – a goal many climbers seek to annihilate. And while many climbers – especially the pseudo variety who simply have the ready cash for it – pursue self-aggrandising expeditions for the glory of earning a title, Danah has a more respectful and ‘patience is a virtue’ attitude towards the sport.

Acquiring endurance and persistence has been a steep learning curve for Danah. Every expedition Danah approaches, she tirelessly scopes out the health and safety measures required for it – which pacifies her Health and Safety Engineer father. “We sit and talk about it so that not only am I educating myself, I pass on that information to my family.”

They say that if you catch the climbing bug, it’s only uphill thereafter – literally. “My family thought if I climb Mt. Kilimanjaro and got it out of my system, that this chapter in my life would close. Little did they know it would be the start of my Everest journey. But still, my family are my biggest supporters and are very proud of my achievements.”

Outside of the family realm, Danah has found solace and support in the peer mentoring platform, Top of her Game, a space for Arab women to pursue their ambitions. “It has been critical for getting my Everest campaign off the ground. Christina Ioannidis, the CEO, has been a pillar of unwavering support; she has been a commercial advisor, mentor, friend and kept me sane through this roller-coaster of a journey.”

‘Keep moving forward’ is a motto emblazoned in Danah’s mind. Image: courtesy.

By now, Danah had expected to summit Mt. Everest. The anticipated hurdles of getting sponsorship, not having enough funds, permit issues, or trying to get the time off work, or simply  just straight up bad timing (like Covid-19 crisis now) has pushed Danah’s dream of actualising it.

However, the journey has already taught her so much about herself despite not reaching the destination yet. Just as changeable the weather conditions can be on the mountain, the same applies to circumstances down at sea level. “I’ve learnt that I’m not someone who gives up easily on their dreams, no matter how long or how hard it is to get there.”

“Nothing worth having comes easy. But with the right formula you can still be a working mother and achieve your goals.”

As a pioneering figure in society, it’s Danah’s mission to not only pave the way for other Arab women seeking to summit mountains, but to be an all-encompassing role model for anyone with a ‘personal Everest’ to climb. Indeed #personaleverest is a campaign she has spearheaded with Christina for Top of Her Game, because “everyone has their own mountain to climb in life. It could be graduating from school or university, climbing the career ladder, overcoming the loss of a loved one or a health issue. These are real life challenges we all face but when you defeat them, it’s just like standing on top of the mountain. If I can have an impact on other Arab women to go out and achieve their goals and dreams, then that would be as big an accomplishment as climbing Mt. Everest is for me.”

‘Keep moving forward’ is a motto emblazoned in Danah’s mind. While she cannot forecast the future as to when she will summit Mt. Everest, she can say, with great conviction, that her determination will drive the impetus for her children to chase their dreams.

“Nothing worth having comes easy. But with the right formula you can still be a working mother and achieve your goals, because if you do, one day your children will look up to you and say that they followed their dreams because you followed yours.”

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Georgie Bradley is a British-Greek editor and journalist based in Dubai after a lifetime in Bahrain – which she still frequents on a monthly basis. She is also a certified crisis counsellor for women victims of domestic violence, having volunteered for Women’s Crisis Care International in Bahrain. Elevating the voices of the region’s change-makers is what makes her tick.

The views of the authors and writers who contribute to Sekka, and the views of the interviewees who are featured in Sekka, do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Sekka, its parent company, its owners, employees and affiliates.