Expedition Reclamation: Reclaiming Curiosity

How the Expedition Reclamation Film Cultivates Curiosity in the Outdoors

The Power of Being Seen

Many of us don’t understand the power of representation until we experience it for the first time. We don’t realize how much we have been missing until the point when we finally see ourselves and our identities reflected in the spaces we occupy.

For me, it was the other way around: I didn’t appreciate the power of being seen until I was in spaces where I no longer saw myself represented anymore.

I was sixteen when my family moved to the USA. Until then, I had the privilege of a multicultural upbringing that informed my consciousness in ways I did not fully realize or appreciate until after I moved here. Born in Kenya, I enrolled in seven different schools, lived in three different countries in different corners of the African continent (Kenya, Botswana, and Egypt), and traveled to 20+ countries before immigrating to the USA.

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Teizeen on a hike in the woods near her home in Bellingham, WA (Image credit: Brave Space Media, photo taken on the ancestral lands of the Coast Salish, Stillaguamish, Skagit and Tulalip people)

The communities I was surrounded by in school, in my neighborhood, in the streets, in leadership, and in my and my family’s social networks represented different nationalities, cultures, languages, faiths, lifestyles, and worldviews.

My childhood was filled with cultural contrasts. I was continuously absorbing and accepting the multitude of ways of being in this world. I often existed on the border between the familiar and the unfamiliar, the comfortable and the uncomfortable, the known and the unknown.

While the novelty of experiencing a new culture or worldview never wore off, continuous exposure to such contrasts over time meant that when I saw, heard, or experienced something unusual, I became better able to suspend judgement and respond to new experiences or ideas with an open and curious mind. And the same was often true of others in those spaces. 

While storytelling does not replace real-life relationships or experiences, it is a powerful medium that can bring alternative world views and paradigms into our field of perception.

Teizeen Mohamedali

Stories Nurture Curiosity

I naively expected people to respond to me with a similarly open and curious mind when I moved here. Instead, I found myself – a Muslim immigrant teenager and young adult – navigating a post-9/11 America where judgements and misconceptions abounded and any inclination toward curiosity was overshadowed by fear of the unknown.

I felt like I had to explain who I was, where I was from, what I believed in (or did not believe in), and why.

For many who are not routinely in contact with people from different backgrounds, exposure to stories that counter the norm can challenge long-held assumptions, break down stereotypes and foster curiosity.

At the same time, those of us who are typically ‘othered’ can benefit immensely when we feel seen by having our experiences reflected in stories being told.

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Teizeen prioritizes time in the outdoors with her girls, and watching their natural curiosity flourish (Image credit: Brave Space Media, photo taken on the ancestral lands of the Puget Sound Salish and Lummi people)

This is why it matters to intentionally make space for stories that present a contrasting narrative to what we are used to.

While storytelling does not replace real-life relationships or experiences, it is a powerful medium that can bring alternative world views and paradigms into our field of perception.

Reclaiming and Belonging

I am one of 12 “characters” featured in the upcoming film, Expedition Reclamation. The film, created by Brave Space Media, weaves together the stories of Black, Indigenous and Women of Color (BIWOC) in outdoor spaces.

The film explores stories of resilience, reciprocity, belonging, and connection to our natural world.  It presents a narrative that is in contrast to most other outdoor films. 

By exclusively featuring BIWOC characters, Expedition Reclamation provides a space for us to boldly reclaim our own narratives. The film is, at its heart, one about belonging. At the same time, the film counters the outdoor storytelling status quo: it centers people over place, journeys over destinations, and collective joy over individual achievements. 

Editor’s Note: You can watch the trailer here to see for yourself how this film sets itself apart and centers the message of reclaiming and belonging!

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Expedition Reclamation filmmaker Sanjana Sekhar behind the camera as character Kaja Ralston paddles on Lake Cavanaugh in Washington State (Image credit: Brave Space Media, photo taken on the ancestral lands of the Coast Salish, Stillaguamish, Skagit and Tulalip people)

Being part of this film project has reminded me that I am no stranger to the outdoors.

I have camped in the Okavango River Delta, felt the mist from the magnificent Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe, hiked through the Drakensberg Mountains of South Africa, and waded in the Karakoram salt pools in Turkey. I have swum in the Indian Ocean, snorkeled in the Red Sea, and ascended to Point Lenana near Mount Kenya.  I have hiked across Thorong La Pass in the Annapurna Mountain range in Nepal, and to the peaks of Ruth Mountain, Mt Baker, and Mt Adams in Washington State.

I know there are people who see me on the trails and slopes of the Pacific Northwest who assume that this is new to me – that someone else (likely a white person) introduced me to hiking or backpacking or skiing.

But the truth is that my communion with nature took root during my childhood, has been a consistent presence throughout my life, and has usually been initiated by an intrinsic desire to push my own boundaries when it comes to my relationship with the outdoors.

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Filmmakers Sanjana Sekhar and Erin Joy Nash are intentionally cultivating space for story and connection on both sides of the camera (Image credit: Brave Space Media, photo taken on the ancestral lands of the Coast Salish, Stillaguamish, Skagit and Tulalip people)

The Expedition Reclamation film has also introduced me and my family to a community of multi-racial women in Washington State and beyond with whom I have a shared enthusiasm for the outdoors.

Despite each of us being on our own unique path, these paths have led us all to seek the belonging, healing, and fulfillment that nature brings us.

Changing the Narrative for our Children

As a mother of two young girls (age 8 and 5), these are such important stories for my children to hear. I want my biracial Muslim girls to never doubt that they belong outside. 

I want them to be confident that they can take up space in the outdoors, and that they do not have to abide by anyone else’s expectations of what being “outdoorsy” looks like.

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Teizeen’s daughters embracing what it means for them to be outdoorsy (Image credit: Teizeen Mohamedali, photo taken on the ancestral lands of the Puyallup people)

I also want them to know that other people have their own unique ways to commune with nature, and they need to be able to not just honor and respect those ways, but also celebrate them.

It is important to me that my children know that their relationship to the outdoors has to go beyond physical activities and accomplishments, and this involves nurturing a deeper connection and responsibility to the earth.

I want them to internalize the value that so many indigenous tribes have: recognizing that wealth is measured not by what we have, but what we can give back. 

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Teizeen’s daughters finding community and connection in the outdoors (Image credit: Teizeen Mohamedali, photo taken on the ancestral lands of the Puyallup people)

The stories featured in Expedition Reclamation do exactly this. The film exemplifies how one can commune with nature not just through physical activities, but also through social, emotional, and spiritual connections to nature and to a community beyond ourselves.

The film reveals stories of women who are exploring ways to honor and reconnect with ancestral relationships with land and water, revitalize Indigenous culture, encourage future generations to reclaim our kinship with the outdoors, expand representation in the outdoor industry, and challenge stereotypes while also seeking physical challenges, spiritual healing, and reclaiming a sense of belonging.

Finding Beauty in Contrast

It is close to midnight on New Year’s Eve. I am 10 years old and I am camping with my family in the sand dunes within a remote part of the Sahara Desert in Egypt. The sand is fine and therapeutic as I dig my bare toes into it. We are far away from any of the large metropolitan centers scattered along the Nile River and therefore also far away from the city lights that usually obscure the abundant stars sparkling in the night sky. The darkness is immense and beautiful. The desert is silent and peaceful.

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Teizeen’s younger daughter standing in wonder at the beauty of the natural world around her (Image credit: Brave Space Media, photo taken on the ancestral lands of the Coast Salish, Stillaguamish, Skagit and Tulalip people)

Fast-forward a few years later. I’m now 14 years old. Again, it is nighttime and I am camping with my family, but this time we are on a beach and I’m swimming in the Red Sea off the coast of Eritrea. This is my first time swimming in the ocean at night and the water is both alluring and intimidating.

It is too dark to perceive how deep it is as I cautiously wade into it. My nervousness quickly fades away as I agitate the water with my hands and the water begins to sparkle with bioluminescent plankton, like embers from an underwater fire. It is a magical feast for the eyes that is only visible once the sun’s blinding rays have disappeared below the horizon. 

There is a metaphor embedded in these two stories: contrast is often necessary in order for us to experience beauty. Without darkness, there is limited value in light. This is not just true in nature, but also in the spaces that we occupy, create, nurture, and shape.

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Teizeen knows that her relationship with the outdoors is a reciprocal one, based on mutual respect and care (Image credit: Brave Space Media, photo taken on the ancestral lands of the Coast Salish, Stillaguamish, Skagit and Tulalip people)

If our experience of the world is never challenged by contrasting or alternative paradigms, then our experience is limited in beauty and scope. But, when we allow ourselves to exist within spaces of contrast, we find ourselves able to perceive and appreciate multiple ways of being.

We are released from the pressure to conform, and allowed the freedom to be (and belong) as our own unique selves in all the messy and beautiful ways that we exist.

Expedition Reclamation film: Giving Wings to the Story

Behind the scenes

Expedition Reclamation is a short documentary highlighting 12 Washington-based Black, Indigenous, and Women of Color (BIWOC) exploring their joyful, resilient, and transformative relationships to outdoor recreation. As they snowboard, swim, hike, paddle, snowshoe, and climb these women restore all BIWOC’s right to dream themselves into spaces of outdoor adventure – promoting stewardship of both nature and culture. We believe the themes of reciprocity, connection, and belonging in this film have the power to foster collective, necessary healing for all outdoor lovers. 

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Filmmakers Chelsea Murphy and Erin Joy Nash celebrating the beauty and connection this film has created (Image credit: Brave Space Media, photo taken on the ancestral lands of the Coast Salish, Stillaguamish, Skagit and Tulalip people)

Expedition Reclamation is created by The Brave Space Project, a multi-racial, women-led storytelling and community-building team on a mission to redefine “outdoorsy” and restore belonging in the outdoors for BIWOC.

The filmmakers relay the message: “As lovers of the outdoors, we can’t pretend that ‘nature doesn’t discriminate.’ Outdoor recreation is still predominantly a white space. We’re telling these stories because representation matters if we are trying to change the narrative about who belongs outdoors. We’re telling these stories to honor our ancestors. We’re telling these stories to inspire our children and to encourage all outdoor lovers to join us in the movement to foster diversity, inclusion, and belonging for all in the great outdoors.”

We invite you to join us in this narrative.

Ways to support the Expedition Reclamation film

You can watch the trailer for Expedition Reclamation and learn more about Brave Space Media’s crowdfunding campaign here. If you’re able to contribute financially, every dollar counts!

Visit the Brave Space Project website to sign up for film updates and see what else the team is up to!

Follow Brave Space on Instagram @bravespace_media, and show these incredible women some love however you can!

Share with your friends, family, and community why creating diversity, inclusion, and belonging in the outdoors matters to you! Watch the trailer with your kids, and talk to them about why this film is so important.

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Expedition Reclamation: Reclaiming Curiosity

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  • Teizeen Mohamedali lives in Bellingham, WA. Professionally, she works as an environmental engineer for the Washington State Department of Ecology on studies to reduce pollution in the state's water bodies. In 2020, she co-founded Whatcom CARE (Whatcom Coalition for Anti-Racist Education); a grassroots group that aims to transform public schools around issues of anti-racism, equity and inclusion. In her free time, Teizeen explores the power and beauty of the outdoors with her husband and their two daughters (age 8 and 5) and participates in intersectional solidarity wherever she can.

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