Story of humanity: building bridges between mountain women

I would like to share a story about two women from two different parts of the world, with different religious beliefs that were able to be connected by hearts and are working now for building peace in their own capacities. I met Deann Torsak, in Orem, Utah during International Women’s of Mountain Conference under the umbrella of the United Nations Mountain Partnership in 2015. The main idea of the conference was to get women from different mountain countries together to discuss how to solve common problems caused by challenges from living in the mountains, like high altitude, extreme temperatures, lack of communications, challenges in education as well as many others. Deann was the executive secretary of the conference and was responsible to contact the speakers. I am from Gilgit Baltistan, Pakistan. I enjoy working on projects that address topics like peacebuilding, empowering youth especially girls and the importance of education. I was studying in Texas A&M, when I submitted a paper for the conference on the status of children’s education in mountains of Hunza, Pakistan and that is how she found me as a potential presenter at the conference.

She is now like a mother to me in America. With Tony Medina, another student-organizer of the conference, who donated his points for my air ticket from Texas to Utah and back, Deann not only offered me her house to stay during the conference but also given me four beautiful siblings (3 brothers and a sister) in the United States and since then we share this unbreakable mother-daughter bond. It looks like nature has connected us for a reason and since then I call her as my Mommy.

She is a Christian and I am a Muslim from Pakistan, and we have made this strong connection of unconditional love, respect and support for each other. All of us know how a mother cares for a daughter without expecting anything in return, and that is exactly how she treats me.

Left to right: the first row: myself,  Deann Mommy, sister Judy; the second row: brothers Handen, Jathan, and Dad Kenny.

I am currently working on my Ph.D. in agriculture at Washington State University. This Christmas, mommy Deann invited me to her house in Provo, Utah to celebrate Christmas with her family. We met after three years. Before, I was not very well aware of Christmas traditions, but mommy Deann and her family explained everything to me and made my trip worth visiting. I got to know that Santa comes early in the morning and leaves stockings full of gifts. On 25th of December, I was woken up by my little sister, Judy who told me that Santa had left gifts for all of us and it is time to open the gifts. I had no idea that Santa brought me gifts too, which obviously made me so happy that Santa treated all of us equally, who said Muslims don’t accept gifts from Santa.

I made many traditional Pakistani foods for my family in Provo including the traditional Pakistani  breakfast by making paratha (bread) and anda (egg) as well as daal (lentils), chawal (rice) for dinner, taught my brother, Handen how to make Pakistani chicken curry but a less spicy version and they taught me how to make pumpkin pie and stuffed turkey.

This picture of Mommy Deann and myself was taken during our hike to Bridal Veil Falls in Utah by using camera timer and tripod.

I know the importance of connecting to people like mommy Deann in my life and how she has added many beautiful things to my life through her presence. She defends me, and my religion and I defend her and her religion when people say something wrong about any or both of them. It is important for each one of us to know people from different countries and religions and to bridge the gap, and learn that diversity is a great blessing if we know how to value and celebrate it. We have one life and a beautiful opportunity to appreciate the differences and to celebrate common things.

In the end, what matters the most is how we treat people around us and how people remember us. I hope we continue to spread love and peace and make each other’s lives easier by being kind.

Noorani Barkat, a Ph.D. Candidate at Washington State University

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VIDEO: Christmas message of peace 

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