Most of us dream and scheme of turning our outdoor lifestyles into meaningful careers, but doing so is much easier dreamt than done. Two CC seniors, Mark “Will” Harris and Tim Bruns, are in the midst of figuring out how to turn such dreams into reality.
Harris and Bruns are cofounders of Wadi Climbing LLC, a social business venture seeking to establish Palestine’s first rock climbing facility. The two travelled to the area over Winter Break to connect with potential stakeholders including representatives from NGOs, government officials, businesswomen/men, and potential future customers.
After graduation, the two will be moving to the West Bank of Palestine to continue developing their business. I sat down after class one afternoon with the two to talk about where this dream began and where it is headed.
Ruthie: What were your first impressions of each other [before both studying abroad]?
Tim Bruns: I didn’t really know, I thought he must be a chiller since he was going to Jordan.
Will Harris: I think we had both heard good things about each other.
TB: I think the reason we became such good friends is because when we were in Jordan… we had the same goals we wanted to get out of the program in terms of spending a lot of time with Jordanians and not hanging out other Americans all the time.
R: When was the idea of Wadi born?
WH: It started when we were in Jordan. There was a new climbing gym that was built in the city, Amman, where we studied called Climbat which was just a world-class facility. Tim was a big climber, and he got me involved because one thing he always does when he goes somewhere is he looks for a climbing gym because it’s just a fantastic community. No matter where you go or where you’re from, people are willing to connect if you’re in the climbing culture. So we spent most nights hanging out at the gym, speaking Arabic with all the people that work there, and climbing there.
But we were also disappointed in some of the gym’s programming, especially in the way it catered to rich Jordanians and ex-pats. We thought such a great climbing gym like this in a part of the world that we love could be a lot more socially impactful.
TB: I think I remember the first time we really talked about this was at our friend Vasan’s house. He’s an Iraqi refugee and an employee of the gym. We had been up late talking about this idea about what was the problem with Climbat and how we could make it better in Jordan, originally.
R: When did you make the decision that Palestine would be a better location for your gym?
TB: You hear a lot about the West Bank in Jordan, but when you actually go there you realize that, in a lot of ways, it’s a society that is progressive in relation to others, and they’re a really forward-thinking people… The people so desperately want to live normal lives but can’t because of their political situation. So when we were there, we were shocked by the lack of recreational opportunity and started to think about how we could shift this idea from Jordan to the West Bank.
R: How do you envisioning catering to more than just rich Palestinians and expats?
WH: One of our social goals is to make recreational opportunities available in a place where those are limited, so our gym itself will be socially impactful. But our programming will be important to meeting our social goals like teaming up with local schools in Ramallah [the city where Wadi’s gym will be located] for afterschool programming, afterschool classes and sports teams, and we also want to work with some NGOs who already have connections with schools or groups of women so we can bring them to our gym.
TB: I think one thing that is important to talk about is that we are going to be a for-profit enterprise. I think that makes people cringe. Some people have the impression that when you are working for-profit you are sacrificing your social goals. However, we see it in a very different way because Wadi climbing is inherently a social mission; even those who are the richest of rich in Palestine still live under military occupation and still have constricted lifestyles. They may have a big house, but it is not like in Colorado where they can go out and go hiking, and there aren’t programs to facilitate that. When we look at our financial models… we figured out a pricing model that is sustainable and will turn a profit, but one thing we pride ourselves on is not having to maximize our prices, and we will be able to run our model at the lowest pricing.
R: What are some major challenges you have left to accomplish?
TB: Finding a partner in Palestine is one of our biggest goals, and the problem with finding a partner is that most of the people who are qualified are already doing something.
R: Is there any sort of climbing scene established in Palestine or is it non-existent?
TB: There are Palestinian climbers, even some who have climbed Everest, but there’s no climbing culture… There is a lot of opportunity for climbing in the West Bank. On our most recent trip there, we were climbing in a place called Ein Ferrah. It’s actually in the valley where Jesus most likely used to commute to get from Jericho to Jerusalem.
TB: Yeah, it’s sweet. It’s limestone, and there are about 40 routes bolted right now.
R: Who bolted them?
TB: Isreali climbers who were bold enough to go to the West Bank. But there are possibilities for thousands of routes there, and I’ve heard rumors of bouldering near Nabalis. Another idea for this gym – because there is no physical meeting place for people who are interested in the outdoors – is to have this gym to be a place for people to meet up and get outdoors.
R: How is your Arabic?
TB:Nehki zai bulbul.
TB: We speak like bedouin birds.
R: Awesome. Is there an Arabic phrase for “climb on”?
TB:Taaloo wa itasalkoo maana – come climb with us.
Interested in learning more about Wadi? Contact Will or Tim and be sure to check out their website (www.wadiclimbing.com) and like them on Facebook (www.facebook.com/wadiclimbing)!