It was not the best day to achieve such an outstanding feat – floods were taking up every inch of space in our hearts, our minds and the media – but when Jayanthi Kuru-Uthumpala stood on Mount Everest with the Sri Lankan flag flying in her hands, you could feel the palpable excitement it held out. A Sri Lankan had climbed the world’s tallest mountain for the first time and it was a woman.
It was not just a gender thing – many women climb Everest from all over the world without giving it a thought but it was more than that. It was sort of symbolic – it took a courageous, talented, capable Sri Lankan woman to get there first. When she stood there with her head held high, she also had a message for the women back home in Sri Lanka. Girls, it can be done. You can climb the Everest in your life – it is possible.
When Jayanthi started out on the Sri Lankan Everest Expedition with Johann Peries, there were the well-wishers but there would also have been those who didn’t think they would make it. That usually happens – for every cheering fan, there is a naysayer. It’s pretty much the same when you are trying to conquer your own mountains – whether it is in building a business from scratch or starting out on something completely new. In fact, the naysayers sometimes are more in numbers than the well wishers. It takes courage to choose not to hear the negative voices.
The Facebook page of the Sri Lankan Everest Expedition had an interesting and a great update on the way the expedition was going. As the two Lankans prepared for the final ascend, there were images of Everest looming huge in the horizon. To the uninitiated mind, it would seem impossible to climb that mass of snow sitting between the clouds. But what seems unconquerable is not always so – just as there was a path that could be navigated to climb to the summit, there is always a path that can take you to where you want to go. Just remember to take the right one – in the case of Jayanthi and Johan, they had a seasoned team of advisors who helped them and encouraged them on. It definitely made a difference.
It takes exceptional strength, outstanding commitment and a definite goal to climb Everest – everyone knows that. You cannot climb Everest if you are not serious about what you are pursuing. Jayanthi put in a good number of hours into training – when you feel your strength is sapped, that’s when your training kicks in. This is exceptionally so for women – as mothers and wives, they have access to a skill set that can kick in to revive, rejuvenate or simply keep a business going. When there’s no strength left to go on, you sense your reserve going into full gear. And that can be crucial in those moments when everything within you wants to quit but you will not allow yourself to.
What most of us didn’t get to see was what Jayanthi and Johan did in the run up to the Everest expedition. They would have spent a considerable time not only in training but also in preparing themselves for a challenging task. Some of us may have been privy to it but the majority did not know of the sacrifices, the time and the efforts undertaken to equip themselves for such a life-changing experience. When we want to go all the way, we must be able to undertake the kind of below the line preparation that may not always be visible from the top but is safely tucked under our belt in the area of experience and preparedness.
Climbing the summit is also not for the faint-hearted. The climatic conditions on Everest are some of the harshest in the world – it is not uncommon to see and hear other climbers die from exhaustion and other complications, almost every day. Yet, Jayanthi was able to get there because she had her eye on the destination and not the journey. Deep within her, she knew she had what it took to get to the top.
Her ascend to Everest is also significant because it heralds in a new era of possibilities for Sri Lankan women. I’m not referring to a feminist, male-hating agenda that has become politically correct and even welcome in some quarters for fashionable reasons but to the hundreds of women throughout Sri Lanka who yearn for opportunities, wait with baited breath for their moment of success.
We have a new government in place – one that has acknowledged the importance of gender – one that has expressed an interest in reaching out to women. For women themselves, there are many issues that must be overcome. Some of us need to be more assertive in acknowledging our rights, whether it is domestic abuse or eve-teasing. Some of us need to be able to take the ball and run – instead of waiting until someone hands us the ball.
A Sri Lankan woman became the first Sri Lankan to climb Mount Everest. That in itself is loaded with possibilities. Sometimes we need to conquer ourselves before we conquer the mountains in our lives. Every day.
(Nayomini Weerasooriya, a senior journalist, writer and a PR professional, can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)