It is not just a sports challenge, nor even a challenge to nature. It is a breath of hope and a positive message for young Tunisians, to encourage them to work hard and never give up. He had knocked at every possible door to get the support he needed, which allowed him to embark on this endeavor that costs a lot of money and engages a person physically and emotionally entirely.
His name is Tahar Manai, and at age 27, he is the first Tunisian to have climbed Everest. He had already made an attempt in April 2015 but had had to stop climbing due to the earthquake that caused 8,900 victims in Nepal. Tunisian economy has been in serious condition since the beginning of the Arab Spring revolution in 2011. In 2015, the country suffered a terrorist attack, which stopped the flow of tourists and exacerbated the country’s fiscal balance (already week) and position in the credits.
The Old World stretched out its arm to help this country get back on its feet: a loan of 500 million Euros to Tunisia, on favorable terms, to help it reduce its foreign debt and consolidate their democratic mechanisms, it has been approved by the European Parliament. In order to access the credit, Tunisia will have to sign a memorandum of intentions with the European Commission, pledging to implement structural reforms and to pursue sound public finances. In addition, Tunisia will have to guarantee that democratic mechanisms, the rule of law, and human rights will be respected, under the supervision of the EU. Once Tunisia has these requirements, it will be free to use the loan for a period of two and a half years.
Long story short, it is a “mountain to climb,” like the one Tahar challenged; yet, it is a challenge you can win, as he did, thus becoming an example for his people.
“The most difficult moment – Tahar told Radio Bullets – was when I broke my oxygen mask. It was a moment when calm and method were needed to find a solution, but unfortunately there was no solution except going back to find another mask. Fortunately, the Sherpa who climbed together with us decided to give me his mask and go back.
“Have you ever considered leaving the whole thing?” Asked Leila Ben Salah… “Never. Not even last year and the current one when I do not have any sponsors, I have never considered leaving. When I set myself a goal, I know that there will be many obstacles, but I have goals and it is important to never give up. The message is to get there, work hard and never give up. If I gave up on my message, it would not make any sense.”
The whole of Tunisia sees him as a role model. “I did not expect people to be so proud. Mountaineering in Tunisia is something new, it does not exist. People have begun practicing rock climbing only in recent years, but mountaineering – the way I do it – is something new. There are one or two persons I know who practice it; just a few. So, when I saw that people sent me messages full of joy via my Facebook page, they really touched my heart.
Do you have to thank anyone for your results? “Physically speaking, I climbed the mountain myself, but without the people around me, without those who believed in our project and those who have helped me and lent me the money I needed, all this would have been impossible. Even in this most solitary adventure in the world, there are people who believe in my project, encourage me and all Tunisians for whom I have fought, for whom I wanted to fight and am still fighting to show that even things that sometimes seem to be the craziest, are actually achievable.”
“What is going to be your next challenge?” – Leila asked. “Represent Tunisia on the seven highest peaks in the world: Denali in North America; Aconcagua in South America, which I have already climbed; Elbrus in Europe and Everest in Asia, which I have already climbed too. Whereas Carstensz in Oceania, Kilimanjaro in Africa, and Vinson in Antarctica are the ones I still have to conquer. So I climbed three I still have four of them left. My idea is represent Tunisia on the highest peaks in the world and to bring the Tunisian flag to the top. Of course, I also want to valorize the image of Tunisia in sports on an international level”. Tahar does not stop and the whole of Tunisia is trying to keep up with him.