Professor Mashael has a deep understanding of the world around us, of the desert sands of Saudi Arabia, of the earth that nurtures us and our ideas. In a sense, her story takes us back to the very beginning of everything – a fitting idea for our first featured &YOU woman, we’re sure you’ll agree.
We understand you’re a hugely passionate and successful Geomorphologist. What was it that first drew you to this fascinating and unique field of study?
I’ve had a deep connection with nature for as long as I can remember. When I was a young child, my mother moved us to a beautiful rural farm, and it was in that period of my life that I started to become the way I am today. Lying outdoors and gazing up at the sky, climbing mountains, playing in the desert; suddenly I was with nature, always, and so with this move, everything inside of me became different. It transformed. My life now, my hobby, my studies; it all goes back to those childhood days spent outside.
Was a career in Geomorphology an easy path to follow?
First, let me just say that I strongly believe you must not give in to fear. Fear ruins anything beautiful, and you shouldn’t allow it to stop you from doing what brings you joy.
The world over, there are very few women working in Geomorphology, and often I’d find myself doing field work and being the only woman on site. But I was carried by my fearlessness, by my passion and determination, and whilst it wasn’t easy, I was able to achieve what I wanted from life.
I owe so much to my wonderful husband, Khaled Bin Bandar, too. Without him I would never have got to where I am today. He was and is so very supportive, he pushed me to be the best I can be, and to be a working woman in Saudi Arabia with this sort of love and support is a wonderful, wonderful thing. He is truly an incredible man, a faultless father and a pillar of strength for the whole family.
Is there a particular place you have worked that has inspired you?
The desert is where my heart is. Where the heart of Saudi is. It inspired me and continues to inspire me endlessly.
You see, the desert is more than just land. It’s our mother, it’s alive. The desert is patient and deep, I can speak to and listen to it. I learn from the desert and have done since I was a child, and I know I will carry the desert in my heart until I take my last breath.
What do you do to switch off and unwind?
Whether at work or at home, I connect with nature. It’s the most important thing to me. When I say Mother Nature, I mean it. Like a mother, I look to her, I am at one with her, I embrace everything that she has to offer. I’ll lie outside, I’ll touch the trees, the plants, and in doing so, I recharge.
How did being a career woman fit with your role as a mother?
My family always comes first. I turned down the opportunity to study abroad so I could stay close to them. The only problem with my field work is that it sometimes takes me away, but I love it, and this they understand.
You have six daughters, and we’ve heard a fantastic story about how you made them bungee jump at a young age. Why did you feel it was an important experience for them?
Because for me, there is no limit. You must enjoy life, but you must feel it too. You have to feel the air, to listen to the silence. I enjoyed every minute of my childhood because I was connected with my surroundings, and I wanted that for them too. Nowadays, people are connected only to technology, to their phones and computers, rather than with nature and with themselves. Bungee jumping, skiing, reaching speeds, paragliding, rafting, whatever it is that takes you out of your comfort zone, takes you back to something raw. It pushes your boundaries and heightens emotions. This, I feel, is a fleeting yet pure connection to life that we should all strive for.
What do you hope for your daughters?
I have been lucky enough in life to have a dream, and the opportunity to follow it, so I want each of them to have their own, to go out and pursue it with the same passion and love that I have enjoyed.
I have always encouraged freedom of thought in our household, and as such I am blessed to have six completely individual, extremely different daughters. I have never asked them to follow a particular path or career, I have only asked that they look hard to find what they truly desire. I know first-hand that this is the only route to true happiness.
The key is love. You have to love what you are doing.
Finally, who, or what, has shaped you most significantly?
So many people, so many places, so many things.
Firstly, my mother inspired me with her strength. She was a fighter, and in many ways, ahead of her time. I’m one of four girls, and my father passed away when I was very young, so my mother was a father to me too. She wanted each of us to fulfil our potential, to be educated and have a career. To have opportunity.
I was shaped by my sister, Sarah, who showed me love and instilled a thirst for culture and knowledge by bringing me an endless supply of books to educate me. I’ve also always looked up to my Grandfather, King Abdulaziz Bin Abdulrahman. He was a visionary that made me want to be better. Making him proud was incredibly important to me. Together, they were the role models of my life.
Each one of us has been shaped into who we are by our experiences. Life is a like a garden, and we have each picked our own bouquet.
Me? I am the desert, I am my mother, my sister, my grandfather, my daughters, my husband.
And then, of course, I am Mashael.
"Fear ruins anything beautiful"