I have a vision of communities empowered to cultivate their own wellbeing and dignity; inspiring practical living spaces in symbiosis with nature.Abeer Seikaly
The discussions with my interviewees were going well. Their topics, personalities, and the challenges they encountered as they traversed their road to doing the unthinkable were varied. There were commonalities among them. They all confronted hardships. They all had navigated the sometimes tricky, unintended consequences in their dogged pursuit of success. Though we were all still reeling from the lingering effects, I was energized by the interviews and the project.
I knew there would be no ‘one size fits all formula to greatness going into this exercise. I knew there was no single magic bullet. But I did have some preconceived ideas. Were there commonalities that spanned across them all? One of those preconceived thoughts was simply, some people simply dream bigger than others. You know, some think in terms of making millions, and others think in terms of billions. Was the sheer size or audacity of their dream a factor? That was my next area of examination in my journey of discovery.
That question appeared to have some merit with many of my subjects. Especially given my interview with Abeer Seikaly.
Many who know the Jordanian Palestinian describe her as ‘an interdisciplinary creative thinker and maker working across architecture, design, fine art, and cultural production.’ I was introduced to her by Mostafa Salameh, who described her as one of his top three achievers.
What you seek is seeking you.Rumi
I was blown away by the depth and breadth of her passions, her dreams, and her vision for the future of her fellow man. In particular, she mentioned to me the quote by Rumi’ What you seek is seeking you.’ Listening to her reminded me of the expression, ‘While some ponder the mountain top, others are pondering the stars.’ Having received several awards in architectural design, she could have set her sights on large architectural firms. Instead, she devoted her talent and skills to the plight of the millions of Syrian refugees from the country’s civil war.
Recognizing the difficulties of refugees finding basic shelter, she devoted herself to creating the refugee tent of the future that would accommodate mobility, storage, collection of rainwater solar energy. Called ‘Weaving a Home,’ her design uses a unique structural fabric composed of high-strength plastic tubing molded into sine-wave curves that can expand and enclose under changing weather conditions and also be broken down to allow ease in mobility and transport. The tent can also collect rainwater and provide basic sanitation like showering. The rainwater is collected from the top of the tent and filters down the sides to storage pockets. Additionally, the tent can transform solar energy into electricity through its innovative engineering design.
Her dreams and ambitions didn’t end there. She became part of the first Jordanian woman’s team to reach the summit of Mount Everest in 2018.
For some, the phrase “conquering mountains” is metaphorical. In the case of this group of women, the phrase was literal. Five Jordanian women who make up an all-female mountain climbing team set their sights set on climbing Mount Everest starting in April of 2018, all in the name of female empowerment. The adventure for these women was historic because no Jordanian woman had ever reached the summit of Everest, let alone five of them together.
Their guide? One of only thirteen individuals to conquer all seven summits and both poles, known as the “Explorers Grand Slam,” the renowned Jordan climber Mostafa Salameh, whom I also had the pleasure of interviewing. After climbing Mt. Everest, Mostafa declared he would only attempt the impressive feat again if he did it alongside a woman. Now, he was doing it with a team of five women.
The Jordanian said he had a dream of a woman standing on the summit of Mt. Everest. He described how, years earlier, he had a similar dream of standing at the summit reciting the call to prayer, which led him to do the climb originally in 2008, so he knew he wasn’t about to ignore a second dream of the exact nature.
He said that out of the total 4000+ successful people to climb Everest, only 2 have been Arab women. He said he had been inspired to lead this barrier-breaking effort to set an example for other women in the Middle East/North Africa (MENA) region to defy gender stereotypes and engage with their communities to pursue their dreams. Abeer Seikaly was one of those women.
In preparation for her journey, she created the design for the new tent. Still, she also wanted to test it under the most severe weather circumstances. She said, ‘My mission is to try the refugee tent under harsh weather conditions on Mount Everest. I want to learn what I have created and insert it back into the design thinking process. I must test out my creation, and I am very excited to do that through this climb. That is my mature next objective within the long-term roadmap.
She continued, ‘I see a lot of parallels between the challenge of developing my tent and climbing the mountain. By working with our hands, we engage with our environment. This physical touch allows us to be empathetic. Through technology, we are in great danger of disengaging from nature. If we are not making and building things with our own hands, we become isolated on many different levels.’
As she pondered our discussion, she said, ‘I have been thinking a lot about how we are living and dwelling in the 21st century. The way we lived a hundred or even thirty years ago is different from how we live today. Technology, natural disasters, climate change, and wars impact our way of living. I’m addressing these challenges as an architect by creating a vision for how we live in the future and providing spaces for individuals to interact. I’m not trying to impose my ideas on others. Still, I am trying to create an environment to let each person live according to their preferences, reality, and context. I channel my work to understanding the importance of community.
She said her long-term vision is to craft objects and spaces to create better living experiences and, ultimately, society. She said through her work, she has been able to redefine the concept of technology. Looking at the root meaning of technology, she said, it is art, weaving, and craft. Technology has always played a significant role in our lives. The purpose of technology is fulfilling needs. It is an exciting time to live in.
As it would turn out, the magnitude of Abeer Seikaly’s dreams and visions mirrored most of the fifty-five people I interviewed. After all, the title of my book was to be ‘Unthinkable.’ The objective of seeking out individuals to interview was having done something that was just that. So, it only stands to reason that they would be individuals that would have bold visions and dreams. But, not all were about competing in Iron man competitions, climbing Mt. Everest, or changing the world. Some were simply about taking charge of their own lives and serving others.