We have all often heard tales told to us and, at times, we have been the teller of those tales. This is one of those times. There are stories that soothe our hearts and brighten our minds, stories that equip us with knowledge and stories that fortify our courage to move forward and pursue our goals in life. This story is all of those.
As I sit down to write this blog, it is my challenge to put into words my adventure of climbing Kilimanjaro, so I can express what my heart and mind would like to share. I would like for you to experience the journey the way we experienced it, for not many of us get the chance to climb this mountain. I must sadly admit that my words are an imperfect description of the adventure itself, as I try to describe my bliss.
If you ask Theresia, Aikande, Martha, Magdalena, Mwajabu and me the best view we can imagine, the best place we have been this year, we will all tell you “Mt. Kilimanjaro!” Six friends from the United States joined our group, so twelve of us made the eight-day expedition, along with a guide and porters. All six of us are Kisa Alumnae and five of us are now working as Mentors for the Kisa Project and Binti Shupavu.
Our journey began on the cold Monday morning of the 29th of January when we gathered at Shamba Farm in Kilimanjaro. We got to know each other by playing games, eating together and talking about our safari. (Did you know that means “journey” in Swahili?) From the very beginning, it was an experience of a life time.
The next day, we hiked from Lemosho gate to Mti Mkubwa (Big Tree) camp where we camped for the night. On the first day, everyone was so excited and ready for the adventure and the lessons we would take away. We sang and enjoyed nature on this short, easy day. We stopped and took pictures of wildflowers. Theresia said, “I am so in love with nature! Every chance I had, I would stop and appreciate all the greenish features, big trees and flowers all along the way.”
Storytelling made it memorable.
On the very first day, we all agreed that we would gather to tell our stories every night before or after dinner. We told our own stories and we told stories about AfricAid*, the Kisa Project, and our lives as young women in Tanzania. We also had a chance to hear the stories from our friends from America, who are all members of Rotary International. (Danny is a doctor, Patrick a pilot, Marianne a teacher, Gregory a CPA, and Curtis and Monty are bankers. We called Monty, Babu, which means grandparent.) We were also enthralled by the story of Simon, the owner of the climbing company. While giving us a briefing on what to expect the next day, he told us an amazing story: he has climbed Mt Kilimanjaro up and back in eight hours! We challenged ourselves to climb in eight days! He was great at inspiring and motivating us.
For most of us, it was the first time we slept in tents, and the surface of the land on the mountain is not flat! Mwajabu reported, “I had a hard time finding sleep on the first day. I was listening to the birds’ sounds at night and thinking about the rest of the journey.”
Just like in life.
The second day came and we were all ready to resume hiking. This day was long and challenging. There were rocks along the way, we trod up and down hills and it rained for two hours. It was the first time for most of us walking in rain. It was both an adventure and a nuisance. When it rains, we have to walk more carefully. It was a silent time, as everyone was focusing on reaching the camp, so the attention was no longer on talking to one another but focusing on the climb. Just like in life, climbing the mountain for the second day taught us that when you have a goal there are things that you have to stop doing and stay focused, even though those things may also matter. We arrived at the camp when it was still raining and very cold, so everyone got straight into their tents to warm up with hot tea.
In starting the journey on the third day, we listened to stories from our guides about past climbers. Some stories where sad, like the plane crash of a wife and husband who wanted to view the top of the mountain from the air and a man who died while climbing on another route because he was knocked by a rolling boulder just before he reached the top. Some people cried the whole way and there are also famous people who gave up and did not make it. We didn’t want to give up! We wanted to reach the top of the mountain. Just like in life, Simon said, “determination and hard work are the key factor here. There will be difficult times, but just remember that time will pass, so be patient and stretch your legs.”
One of the hardest days on the mountain was the day we had to go through the Baranko Wall. The close up view of Mount Kilimanjaro was special – it was an amazing feeling being so close to the mountain that we have lived beside all our lives. The weather kept getting colder and some of us started experiencing head aches and muscles pains. That morning everyone had gloves and warm clothes ready for the next challenging stage.
I will tell you, the Baranko Wall seemed endless. It felt like it was a climb to heaven by its height and it looked scary. I looked behind me and saw Theresia shedding a few tears, as she was terrified. One of the friends from the United States said to her, “I have never done anything like this in my life.” This was the same for all of us. Theresia said, “I have never even climbed a tree, how can I make this happen?” Simon was there and he said, “It is going to be hard but when you get to the other side of this wall, you will feel absolutely amazing.” The moments started to feel quiet as everyone retreated into their own world, speaking only to themselves. If a person spoke at all, he or she would only ask the guide “How much more time do we have to get to the camp?”
Teamwork got us to the top!
The best thing about the team is that we supported each other. We could rest when we needed to and encouraged each other with victorious songs and stories of the others who made it in the past. We took courage from Babu (Monty) who was 72 years old. He rocked it! Danny said, “They told me back home, if Monty makes it to the top and I don’t, I shouldn’t return home forever.” We reached the camp very exhausted and at times no one could even talk. The views from the mountain felt out of the moon. There were times we felt like we could touch the sky and there were times we wished we could stay there forever.
The day we headed to the top, February 4th, was the day of a lifetime. After just a few hours of sleep (if any!), we woke up at midnight to get ready. Summiting day is so cold that it is better to start the journey at night. This day felt like forever. Our legs were so heavy, we could barely take steps. The water on our backpacks froze and Aikande’s toes and fingers were all freezing. Mwajabu was crying and Martha wanted to stop and see the top right where she was. Magdalena wanted to just walk at her pace and talk to no one. Everyone was fighting her own battle and it was the hardest day on the mountain. It was dark and the top seemed unreachable. We kept pushing, slowly, one step at a time. With our tears and hard breaths, we hoped that we could reach the highest point in Africa, which is 19,341 feet.
As a team, and with support from each other, in the cold and hills we could see a new view of Kilimanjaro. As we neared the peak, we could see our hometowns and other cities. Mwajabu was excited to see the lights of Moshi and she said they looked like stars. Our determination returned and we wanted to keep going. Just like in life, climbing this mountain has taught us the closer we get to success, the more challenging it becomes, and the more pain we feel. But in the end, is always worth the fight, struggle, hard work and patience.
“That moment will pass.” Simon’s words of encouragement kept us going and we kept moving forward. The freezing moment passed, the hard breathing passed, the muscle pain passed and the top was here. The feeling we had cannot be described by any words. We were all on top of Africa.
Note: This was not the first time that an expedition from AfricAid’s Tanzania office has taken on the challenge of summiting Mt. Kilimanjaro. In January, 2016, there were 14 climbers (3 Mentors, 2 Alumnae and 9 friends from Colorado.) Both Hadija Hassan, now Kisa Project Manager, and Asiwe Suedi, currently Binti Shupavu Project Manager, conveyed their joy about the experience and their pride in their accomplishment in blogs.
AfricAid* supports girls’ education in Africa in order to provide them with the opportunity to transform their own lives and the futures of their communities. In 2018, 4,000 girls in Tanzania will be empowered through AfricAid’s two programs. Binti Shupavu is a needs-driven training and mentoring program that gives vulnerable younger adolescent girls the knowledge, skills and support they need to stay in and complete secondary school. The Kisa Project delivers leadership and life skills training and mentoring to girls in their last two years of high school. As a result, 98% of these young women enter university. Through the End of Year One Presentation and the 2 Day Challenge, Kisa Scholars identify real-world problems in their communities and recommend solutions. An active Kisa Alumnae Network enables graduates of the program to continue to learn from and support each other.
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