Even today, if someone, especially a female travelling alone, tells me they are off to explore the tumultuous area around Afghanistan and Pakistan, I would question their sanity but imagine a solo female traveller heading off to Central Asia back in the 1980’s. Someone who was not there to cover the turmoil unfolding but instead they were visiting to explore the bazaars for rugs, silks and anything else authentic that would sell well back in the UK.
Some many say that they were being blasé about their quest, whilst others may say anyone choosing to directly put themselves in the line of fire is downright stupid.
I might be sounding negative but personally I value my life and therefore tend to air on the side of caution, never really contemplating putting myself in any situation which would be classed as dangerous or even adventurous I suppose. I am a bit risk adverse which is why I will probably never take my own trip down the old Silk Road (after all the likely hood of certain countries reaching an agreement to live in peace and harmony together during my lifetime, based on history, is very slim indeed).
Harriet Sandys however, clearly does not think like me and for that I commend her.
Born into a family of means, Harriet had choices. Her nanny went on to be the Royal Nanny for Christ sake, so she could have had a very comfortable life as a socialite. However, Harriet was dissatisfied with the life she was dealt. Instead she moved from the Lake District to London in the hope that life there would sparkle and she could do something more meaningful.
Before too long she meets a group of people that are trying to educate others about the life of those living in Afghanistan, something that Harriet realised she is extremely passionate about. Their plight soon becomes her plight with the overwhelming need to help soon overtaking everything else.
Taking herself off on various trips mainly to Pakistan and occasionally Afghanistan, Harriet gets to know many of the locals, and not only from a customer perspective. It seems that she endeared herself to them so much that she was often asked to have dinner with the seller’s families, making her a true friend of the community.
It was on one of these buying trips, when she visits one of the many refugee camps that were popping up all over the countryside, where she decides that she needs to do more. For Harriet this was when the idea for a rug-weaving project was born. A project, that if successful would give the women a means of earning an income and develop a lifelong skill that they could pass on to future generations in the hope that they would be able to become more self-sufficient once again and not as it currently was, relying on government support to survive.
Now bearing in mind that this was during the 1980’s life for refugees today is still very traumatic but I suppose Harriet’s project was not going to be a game changer for everyone, and if those that were part of the 1980’s project succeeded then she needs to be tremendously pleased with the work she completed.
Beyond that Last Blue Mountain documents a life less traditional. It is an account of how one woman leaves behind her comfortable life for one of adventure and danger in order to help those less fortunate. It documents her own struggles living in a predominately Muslim country as a woman travelling solo, exposing some of the everyday dangers that occur as well as expressing how difficult red tape is to cut through in a country where women do not normally undertake such public roles.
We read about the struggles Harriet faces when trying to set up the weaving project. The disappointing barriers she faces; the fights she has with the authorities that can help her and also the journey of personal development and self-discovery that Harriet herself undertakes. To want to return to a war zone time and time again is commendable. Harriet must have felt a strong sense of purpose to want to visit during times of strong Islamic Fundamentalism where a hatred for the West was always lingering.
I fully admire what Harriet wanted to achieve and only wish that I could channel some of her inner strength and selfless behaviour to undertake a similar task.
Why You Should Read Harriet Sandys Beyond that Last Blue Mountain
If you are after a Travel Memoir that doesn’t just highlight the highs of a country you simply must visit then I recommend Beyond that Last Blue Mountain. Feminists the world over should be rallying behind this tale as a triumph for females striving in a male dominated world. Forget the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, I believe that even in Afghanistan and Pakistan today, females would struggle to achieve what Harriet herself has.
Whether or not this story was created to inspire, that has been its outcome. I will be honest and say it is slow going in places but persist because it challenges the boundaries that society itself has instilled in each one of us. We always assume that those from a wealthy background have certain ideals and that is clearly not the case.
Reading Beyond that Last Blue Mountain has made me realise that whilst I may not be the most adventurous of travellers, I still need to remain open-minded and challenge more when I don’t agree with what is going on around me. Life is how it is because we keep doing the same things over and over again without questioning it. Albert Einstein is credited with saying that ‘Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results’ and this book helps to prove that if we want to make a change we need to be the change.
If you are interested in reading more about Afghanistan and the surrounding countries here are some other highly recommended books:
Have you read any inspirational memoirs recently? We would love to hear about these titles and how they affected you. Did you go on to do something differently because of what you read?