Iraqi Superman Breaking Records for Peace
|March 25, 2013||Filled under Iraq Daily News|
Fareed Lafta sets his own limits. From skydiving over Mount Everest and the North Pole to the less daring challenge of creating the biggest peace symbol out of buttons, everything he does is to promote peace and provide a role model for young people.
Known as the Iraqi superman, Fareed Lafta looks more like the genial neighbourhood do-gooder. But make no mistake, having skydived over Mount Everest and the North Pole and stared a hungry polar bear in the eyes, ‘the Captain’ is as tough as they come.
A goodwill ambassador for the Iraqi Red Crescent, Dubai-based Fareed, who is also Middle East advisor for worldwide charitable organisation Peace and Sport, has devoted his life to promote peace and harmony in the world. And he does it in style – flying, free-diving, shark-diving, gliding, skydiving, racing motorcycles and mountain-biking for the cause.
He’s the first Iraqi to skydive above Mount Everest at 29,500 feet (8,990 metres), the first Iraqi to go to the North Pole and has done peace jumps over Afghanistan and Iraq. As a result of his achievements he has emerged as a role model for young people across the world.
Raised in Baghdad, he left with his family for Dubai at the outbreak of the war in 2003. Here he continued a childhood enthusiasm for motorcycle racing. A passionate sportsman, he became a scuba-diving instructor and started free-diving. He then took to the air, taking courses in hang gliding and paragliding before securing a private pilot’s licence.
“What makes me do the things I do? It’s my character,’’ says the 33-year-old adrenaline junkie. “I love freedom and never skip an opportunity to do as much as I can.’’
Fareed, a science graduate, is the first qualified cosmonaut from Iraq and the first Iraqi international glider, but his latest venture – designing the world’s largest peace dove icon out of 1.2 million buttons at Burj Plaza in Dubai – isn’t the usual type of challenge for this extreme adventurer.
“I feel it’s as necessary to promote peace in peaceful places as it is in places of conflict,” he says. “I want to promote Dubai as a peace destination and role model for harmony in the world, while keeping in mind the emirate’s multi-cultural diversity.”
It took Fareed and his team of students and volunteers a week to create the world’s largest peace symbol – which measured 19 square metres – by stitching together buttons in the red, white, green and black colours of the UAE national flag, and the mural was certified by Guinness World Records on March 9 this year.
He tells Friday the details of his amazing accomplishments and what he does when he’s not saving the world:
I’ve been labelled the Iraqi superman, but I have mixed feelings about that – I don’t have superpowers! The Guardian newspaper gave me the title lauding my achievements.
I try to achieve all my childhood dreams.
The problem in Iraq was that all the activities I was interested in like aviation or adventure sports were available only to military personnel. So if I wanted to indulge in them I would have had to join the army. But I didn’t want to do that and lead a regimented life. I love freedom too much.
So after graduating in pharmaceutical sciences from the University of Baghdad I took up a job in a pharmacy. But I didn’t last more than six months there – I just couldn’t bear to work in a confined space for long so I quit.
It was at this time that my family and I moved to Dubai in 2003. It was like I had been in a cage and the door finally opened for me.
That was when I had the opportunity to chase my childhood dreams. In a short time I qualified in all the sports I wanted to participate in, including motorcycle racing and scuba-diving.
I wanted to go professional and soon became a scuba-diving instructor and also started free-diving, achieving a depth of 80 metres. I then took to the air, hang gliding and paragliding and earned a private pilot’s licence.
One reason for doing all this was to prove that if you set your mind on something you can achieve it. My message for the youth is, if you have a dream, do it right now while you have the time and stamina. Chase it now, because when you get older you will lose your advantage and it will be too late.
I’ve always believed in bettering my life, not limiting myself in any way.
People call me Captain because I am a pilot. Once I got my pilot’s licence I considered becoming a commercial airline pilot, then I realised it would be like when I worked as a pharmacist. I would become a cab driver, only of aircraft. I decided that was not for me.
I believe that you should have the right frame of mind for a particular job. But beyond that you need to love what you do. Otherwise you’ll do a half-hearted job, and that’s worse than not doing anything at all.
I can’t lead a regimented life. I love the outdoors and adventures and can’t wait to challenge myself.
One of the high points in my life was when I skydived over Mount Everest in October 2008. It was the first ever skydive there. Many people had climbed Everest but nobody had skydived over it. It was a great honour to be part of the team and I was so happy that I did it twice!
We jumped from 29,500 feet, only about 1,500 feet or so above the peak. It was amazing. It was absolute happiness.
On July 29, 2010 I became the first Iraqi to skydive over the North Pole, jumping 3,000 feet from a helicopter and mercifully not landing on any polar bears. Although I did come across a bear when I landed!
I had to wait 15 minutes for the helicopter to return to pick me up. Those 15 minutes were the longest in my life, staring at the 2,000-kilogram polar bear. I was very scared. But I was lucky he didn’t attack me, though he kept looking at me. He was a real gentleman! The jump was part of a joint Russian-German scientific expedition to the Arctic.
Along with the mission’s other members, I buried a letter at the North Pole with a message of love and peace. It said, ‘I am Fareed, I represent the Arabs, we want peace and love for the sake of humanity.’
Peace matters a lot to me and figures in all my ventures. It is what is most required in life and remains the most elusive. I try to promote peace in my own way.
You may ask what I hope to achieve with skydiving or burying letters of peace. These are symbols that can inspire the youth. People have to choose peace, you can’t force them to choose it. If even one person follows the path of peace after being inspired by my work, I would consider it an achievement.
My idol is Mahatma Gandhi. He told people to choose the path of peace. He lived his life as an example to follow.
I did peace jumps in Iraq and Afghanistan to inspire the youth. By doing it over countries that were considered war-torn, I was trying to send the message that peace is possible.
I try to connect with youth through work. I’m astonished by the reaction of young people who come to my events. They are very positive. When you feel things are hopeless and you come across such positivity it’s a great feeling.
It means they feel there’s a need for change.
Now I am Middle East advisor for Peace and Sport, a neutral and apolitical international initiative based in Monaco, whose patron is Prince Albert of Monaco.
We are holding a Peace and Sport forum in Dubai on April 23 and 24, which ministers of sport and youth affairs from across the world, Olympic committees, students and university bodies will attend. It will be the first event of its kind in the Middle East and we will discuss how to build sustainable peace through sport.
There is a Nobel Prize for almost every category except sport. We will push for such recognition. We believe that sport can achieve peace too.
During sporting activity there is a rush of endorphins, the chemicals transmitted by the brain that relieve stress and make you happy.
A happy person will be a peaceful person. So sport has the capacity to take the edge off aggression and bring peace.
People often ask me how I subsist – I don’t hold a regular job, nor run a business. I am quite happy-go-lucky. Whatever I do is paid for by my sponsors. I never live for money. When I have money I live well, when I don’t I get by. Incidentally that is my philosophy – to live each day as it comes.
I am always travelling, sometimes first class, sometimes back-packing, so life is never boring. I am not bothered about where my next meal will come from, but I am sure it will be there!
I have two younger siblings – a brother and a sister. My father is a businessman. They too are active and love the outdoors. I am always at play, whatever I do. I love to travel, which is often a part of my sporting activities. I enjoy visiting new countries and experiencing new cultures.
So far I have visited 161 countries. Most of them I’ve visited more than twice.
If you go to my Facebook page you’ll need days to browse through my photo albums – there are more than 4,000 photographs there.
Socialising is a big part of my life. I hate being alone. I like to be surrounded by my friends and it goes without saying that I have plenty of them. Everybody is my friend!
I love to read, too – all kinds of books. A large part of my work comes from reading about new things to attempt.
I enjoy watching movies, but no news for me. I hate watching news on television – it’s all so negative. I think the media is very negative in its approach and I refuse to participate in it.
It needs to focus more on the positive things in life so people can have some hope.
My dream is to fly like a bird and to climb impossible spots like a spider. I would even like to land on Mars. I do not believe in limiting my imagination.
It’s often from the wildest dreams that a very practical solution for an issue comes about. Scientists who make great discoveries often start with ideas that seem too fantastic for words. The great Thomas Alva Edison faced it and so did many others. Sometimes you have to throw logic to the winds, because logic can be limiting.
I dream big. There are no boundaries, but the real deal is achieving them.
One of my long-term dreams is to go into space – to go to Mars, the Moon, some other planet, or even just to be in space. I’ve already undergone training for it, though I haven’t had my chance to travel to space yet. I will keep trying until I realise that.
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