In 2013, a coworker of mine said he was going to climb Kilimanjaro, the tallest mountain in Africa. A quick Google search later, I decided that I too would do the same and set myself a goal of summiting by 2020. Many years passed since the initial thought and the trek ended up signifying so much more than a checked box from a things-to-do-before-2020 list. For me, it meant actualizing a dream of six years. It also told the story of an incredible friendship that blossomed out of serendipity. And more importantly, it served as a reminder of my own persistence as I tackled increasingly taxing mental and physical challenges.
What I appreciated most from the experience was the amount of time I had for introspection. At times, I’d distract myself from the seemingly never-ending ascents with parallel thoughts about my own life. I looked to my porters who were not in the least bit bothered by the howling winds and brittle cold of the mountains and still carried the weight of the team, literally, with the cheeriest spirit. I thought a lot about my own known struggles, all very much societally contrived, versus the porters’ journeys against mother nature who was always unpredictable and unforgiving. I thought about what I had come to accomplish, a feat increasingly popularized through social media and deemed by many parts of the world as remarkable, versus the community of porters and guides who represented the fundamental, often-forgotten backbone of these publicized accomplishments. At the end of the day, they would receive wages no more than what suffices as a passable means of living and could only afford used cold-weather gear that sometimes barely fits.
It’s easy for someone like me to skew these realizations through a lens of traditional power dynamics and view porters as poor or powerless, but they are absolutely neither of the above. Beyond physical tenacity, the porter community demonstrates tremendous emotional strength, passion, and kinship, and are socially richer, physically way more fit, and mentally happier than many of us onlookers. They embrace hail and welcome the beating sun, and enjoy a hakuna matata life beyond what we think we know through Lion King. I smile when people say my climb inspired them, because I wish I could tell everyone just how much my team inspired me. Thank you to the amazing folks at Karibu Adventure and especially Paul, Richard, Salvatore, and Franky. Ask for guide Isaac, and say jambo for me!
- Mount Kilimanjaro