Dreams of a Refugee: Q&A with Mustafa Salameh in 2017

The first Arab man to climb the Seven Summits and conquer both poles, Mostafa Salameh has come a long way since his childhood in a refugee camp. The adventurer tells Vision about achieving insurmountable goals, and how "we each have an Everest inside us”

Vision: Your motivation was a spiritual one. Tell us more about that

Mostafa Salameh: In 2003 I had a life changing experience when I travelled to India, which in some sense opened me up to the world, to new possibilities, and had ignited my spiritual and mystical life. I believe everything happens for a reason.

Later, in Jan 2004, I awoke startled in the middle of the night, following a particularly vivid, almost technicolor, dream. I was sweating, having palpitations, and totally perplexed. In this dream it appeared that I was standing on top of the universe, on top of the world, and I was making the athan (call to prayer). The dream concluded with me on my knees, praying. After the dream I couldn’t get back to sleep. Instead, I paced the flat, still confused, startled, but strangely excited. I sat at the kitchen table, powered up the computer and googled the ‘highest place on earth’. Before too long I came across Everest.

V: Your book is titled ‘Dreams of a Refugee’. How important is your story for the many refugees currently fleeing the world’s trouble spots?

MS: My mom and dad were Palestinian refugees who came to Jordan, from where I got my identity. I grew up as a refugee, living in hard conditions in the camp. There is no sign that the Palestinian cause will be solved in the near future, nevertheless I have always believed there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

V: It took you three attempts to scale Everest. What is it about that particular peak that compels people to risk their lives time and time again?

MS: Everest as a peak is the dream of all mountaineers.. Reaching the top of the world and feeling the serenity there that has no equivalent anywhere else... for me, it was about fulfilling my dream. Every time I took the decision to go back it was to stay alive, not wanting to die. Let’s call it smart thinking, or taking calculated risks. Who said that to reach your aim you should risk losing your life?

V: During the entire Seven Summits challenge, can you describe one low point and one high point?

MS: The low point was when I had to return back during my first two attempts to climb Everest. I believed it was not meant to be yet, it was not my time to be on top of the world. That's why I was persistent, and determined to make it all the way up. That was what I achieved the third time.

The highest point was when I made it to the top of Denali, in North America, because after that I was taken seriously and gained the support of others.

V: Today you are a charity fundraiser and motivational speaker who believes we each “have an Everest inside us”. Can you explain what you mean by that?

MS: Everest is not just the highest peak in the world, it can be any big dream one hopes to fulfil, whether it be professional, personal, financial, or any other goal. There is nothing impossible if you really believe in it mentally and emotionally.

I was born as a refugee, but still I was able to change my life and achieve a lot, because I believed I could and I did. 

Mostafa Salameh will be appearing at the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature. The 2017 edition of the Festival takes place from 3-11 March. For more on the festival visit www.emirateslitfest.com