A Palestinian refugee follows his dreams to the summit of Mount Everest with a little help from spiritual India
Mostafa Salameh was born in a shanty refugee camp in the Jordanian capital of Amman. His parents were refugees who had met in the same camp. One of nine children of his parents, he began his flight towards a better life, first moving to Kuwait as a child and then to London as a teenager. He lived for 12 years in Britain as an illegal immigrant, picking up strands of English from Sun tabloid and Sesame Street TV series. He washed plates in a restaurant, waited tables, worked as a barman and even a cook. He lived on drugs in a British town with over 300 mosques until a book and a country changed his life. The book was Khalil Gibran’s The Prophet. The country was India. While The Prophet gave him “life lessons”, India calmed him down, making him feel more at peace with himself, he says.
With Dreams of a Refugee, Salameh has returned the favour by writing about his own life’s experiences. He hopes that the book will motivate more refugees like him to live their dreams. After arriving in New Delhi in the summer of 2002, he travelled to Kashmir, planning to stay there for two weeks. Instead, he lived there for six months, visiting mosques and monasteries. In Kashmir, he learned for the first time that the Quran is full of exciting stories, not rules of prohibitions or painful punishments. He came across Sufism not as a ‘sect’, but as an ‘aspect’ of Islam.
“India opened my eyes to religion and spirituality and taught me about Buddhism and Hinduism,” says Salameh.
“India made me more at peace with myself and opened me up to the world of possibilities, ignited my spiritual and mystical life.” Then he had a dream in which he was standing on top of the world making a call to prayer. The rest was a tenacious preparation to climb the Mount Everest. “Are you actually a climber?” asked the Jordanian Royal Palace when he sought financial support. He wasn’t. So Salameh decided to undergo two major training climbs in Nepal followed by climbings of Mont Blanc in France, the highest in Europe; Mount McKinley in Alaska, the highest in North America; Mount Vinson in Antarctica; Kilimanjaro in Africa; Mount Elbrus in Russia; and Mount Aconcagua in Argentina, the highest in South America.
His first attempt to climb the Everest was in 2007, but he had to abandon it after a bout of flu and a fall. Another attempt, too, failed. Finally, he summitted the highest peak in the world on his third attempt in 2008 in an expedition for a “peaceful Islam”. Dreams of a Refugee is not about a mountaineering expedition. It goes beyond a peak to scale the heights of hope and determination. The book is about a man’s inner fights with his outer demons.
As Salameh shows, the biggest conquest happens in the mind. However, one wishes the editors of this book had been a little more careful. The book says former Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi is dead, even though he is in jail after being overthrown in 2013. Clearly, there are many more summits that remain to be climbed.
Faizal Khan is a freelancer