April 5, 2013 by Speakers' Spotlight
What On Earth Am I Doing In Nepal?
Social Entrepreneur, Award-Winning Filmmaker, and Global Adventurer Elia Saikaly shares his story of why he is currently attempting to summit Mt. Everest for the second time:
What on Earth am I doing in Nepal?
As the plane landed on the tarmac in Kathmandu, I couldn’t help but ask myself that very question: What on Earth am I doing in Nepal? After all, wasn’t I just here in November? And haven’t I been here 7 times already? And didn’t I summit Mt. Everest back in 2010? Yes. To all of the above. But let’s just say that destiny came knocking as it often does and I responded favourably.
In January of 2013, I was documenting the climb of my friend Sh. Mohammed Althani, a Qatari climber and philanthropist whose dream is to climb to the highest point on Earth. His mission is to inspire Arabs to step outside of their comfort zones and to live their dreams. He also happens to be the brand ambassador for a charity called Reach Out to Asia and is raising money to help them achieve their mission of providing education for those that need it most. A mission I widely support.
So imagine: there we were, at 6100M in Argentina, freezing, 5 men huddled into a small yellow North face tent talking about this crazy little idea. Mohammed wanted to create the first ever Arab produced reality television series on Mt. Everest. And apparently I was the man for the job. Once we all made it to the top of Mt. Aconcagua, I received this random email from Moe: “Can you write a proposal for me, I need it in 2 days”. I said sure. Of course, I happenned to be in transit to Alaska at the time for another project, but who am I to say no to a Sheik! So I delivered a proposal called ‘Arabs on Top of the World’. About a week later, Moe sends me another quick email and says; “Can you edit a trailer for me? I have a meeting with Qatar television and I need it in 2 days.” I’m thinking: “Edit a trailer for a TV series in two days?” Right. So I drop everything and cut a trailer out of thin air.
A few days later (and I am in total awe of what he was able to make happen in such a short amount of time) a production company from Qatar called Media Dante and their star producer Rosie Garthwaite was called in to produce the series, shortly thereafter QTV approved the budget and the next thing you know, we’re all in transit to Kathmandu to do something that’s never been done before in the Arab world.
So what’s the show about?
A Palestinian, an Iranian, a Saudi woman and a Qatari (which the latter two are world firsts) are going to attempt the impossible: they are all climbing to the summit of Mt. Everest. And guess who is responsible for capturing 100% of journey above base camp? Yup, me! I’m the lead (and only) high altitude cinematographer. A HUGE responsibility. It’s not exactly like shooting a few episodes of Honey Boo Boo at sea level. (Not that I watch honey Boo Boo). It’s more like going to war in an incredibly inhospitable, unpredictable, uncontrollable environment with obscene amounts of camera gear, technology and objective dangers and hazards at every turn.
Am I worried? YES! Of course I’m worried. You have to worry. You have to be afraid. You’d be crazy if you weren’t. But I am confident that if I can stay healthy and if the weather gods are on our side, we have a good shot at pulling this off. There also happen to be multiple unknowns that I can usually control, but that for some reason simply did not work out in my favour. The way I see it: clearly there is something for me to learn here. The list of things that did not work out the way I had hoped includes not having any of the Sherpas I’ve trained in the past on my team, not knowing the logistics company or the production company I am working with and most of all, not having a plan B if anything happens to me. That has me in a state of extreme mindfulness. I’ve been up Everest 4 times now and it’s a fact that your success is contingent upon your team. And I don’t know anyone. But I’m alright with that. Big mountains have a way of either bringing people together, or tearing them apart. I’ve experienced both. And I embrace the uncertainty that is ahead of me. Let’s see what the Universe has in store.
What am I most excited about?
Seeing my Arab brothers and little sister show the Arab world that they can make the impossible happen. It is is a real honour for me to be a part of this, particularly because I’m half Lebanese. They’ve all become my friends and I care about each and every one of them. Their challenge is Everest. My challenge is Everest while creating stunning images that brings Everest to the Arab world in a way that never been seen. With a red marsh mellow man suit as my attire, down mitts and an oxygen mask strapped to my head!
At the end of the day: safety for all is all that really matters. And that will be my mantra.
Will they all make it? Time will tell.