Thursday, December 29, 2011

I'm still here!

Wow, I cannot believe I have been home from Africa for almost two months already. Time continues to fly by. Despite my lack of posts, I have had an exciting two months! I worked at Askinosie Chocolate until Christmas, helping package chocolate. I loved working there, the people are fun, the chocolate is delicious and the cause is wonderful. I also received my acceptance to Colorado College and am SO excited to say that I will be a part of the 2016 tigers!!
   I leave home again in a few days on January 2nd to spend a week with my family in Colorado and then jump right back into the adventures of my gap year. I head to California to do my Wilderness Emergency Medical Technician training beginning January 8th and after will go straight to New Zealand for a back packing leadership course through the National Outdoors Leadership School. I am getting very excited, and will start packing one of these days...
   Check out my post as a guest blogger on the Chocolate University blog, and I'll be a better blogger...I promise!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

My bags are all packed....almost

Wow. I cannot believe that tomorrow night I will be back in Springfield for the first time in 5 months. It feels unreal, but I am starting to get pretty excited! Today at lunch, as Katherine and I both made lists about our time in Africa, I realized just how much I will miss this continent. I still cannot upload pictures, but, in the mean time, I thought I would share my list with you all.

The best thing about my time in Africa: Telling Saning'o that he would be able to attend school this year. Being out of my comfort zone for 5 months...and realizing how much I was able to experience because I was out of my comfort zone.

The most challenging thing about my time in Africa: Kilimanjaro! Also, living in a country where very few people speak English. I'm not sure what I was expecting, but I didn't realize how little English I would speak/hear while in Tanzania. I'm so glad it was that way because it made learning Swahili a much higher priority.

How I've changed during my time in Africa: I think I am more independent than I was five months ago.  I'm much more up for an adventure and am okay with being completely flexible with my plans. I have also become a less picky eater - and if you know me, then you know that is a big change. As cliche as it sounds, I have also become much more aware of just how fortunate I am in the life that I live.

Favorite foods I've tasted: Mbuzi (goat), chapati and Kyela rice!

What I have loved most about Africa: Engaruka and the people I have met everywhere. I have learned so much about how to be a welcoming and loving person from those whom I have had the opportunity to meet these past months. These people are happy to open their homes and hearts to a stranger.

What I've missed from home: My people! I haven't been homesick since week six (and only a small amount then) but I do miss my people. I am so excited to see everyone when I get back home. I'm lucky enough to have a pretty awesome line-up that will be waiting for me at the airport, and I can't wait! One of the things that will get me on that plane tonight is the thought of seeing my mom and dad, my grandparents, Debbie, Emily, Alexa and Zayden, Brandon and everyone else!

What I'm looking forward to: As cheesy as this sounds I am so excited to find out what my future has in store and where my life will take me. Or maybe it's where I will have life take me. I am very sad to be leaving Africa, but buoyed knowing that there are many more adventures ahead of me.

Favorite experiences: Reaching the summit of Kilimanjaro - a very proud moment for me. Going cage diving (or 'cage breath-holding') with Great White Sharks. Going paragliding; which officially marked the end of my fear of heights. Learning Swahili and using it everyday to connect with people and learn the stories of their lives. Buying a cow at church. Speaking with the secondary students in Tanzania. Getting to know Kellen and Daudi much better and being inspired by them every day! Being willing to try new things that I wouldn't have tried a year ago:  trying strange foods, being willing to talk with people in a different language despite not speaking it fluently, paragliding, going Sokkie dancing in South Africa.

I am glad that I have been able to so honestly share my experiences--the good and the bad--while in Africa with everyone who reads this blog.  It has been a privilege to give you all a look into the first half of my gap year. I still have lots of stories to share about Tanzania once I get back home, so be sure to check back.  The rest of my gap year will be very different than the first half, but I will still be sharing the stories of my adventures with all of you!

Thank you for all the support you have shown to me.  It means so much to me.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Bad Blogger

     I have been a horrible blogger this past week! But it isn't totally my fault, I promise. I'm in South Africa visiting a friend for about 2 weeks prior to coming home and we have very little internet so I haven't been able to upload pictures. Don't worry though, I have been taking a lot of pictures! South Africa is a gorgeous country, and the people are phenomenal. Today we are going paragliding off of Lion's Head and tomorrow morning, weather conditions permitting, we will go cage diving with great white sharks! I'm very excited for that one.
      I cannot believe that I head home Sunday evening and will be back in Springfield on Monday night. These five months have gone by, seemingly, in a flash, but have been filled with new and great experiences. While part of me hates to leave, the rest of me can't wait to see all my loved ones :) Pictures will be coming early next week!

Monday, October 17, 2011

So long for now, Tanzania

          134 days ago I stepped off the plane at Kilimanjaro Airport. I was exhausted, nervous, knew no Swahili and was feeling uncertain that I was ready for what I had committed myself to: five months away from home; in a country where I could count the people I knew on one hand. I knew almost nothing about the people, the language, the culture and back home I wasn't even a legal adult. Upon hearing what I was planning to do after high school, so many of my friends had told me that they admired me - and how they couldn't do what I was setting out to do. That first day I wasn't so sure that I could do it either. Had I gotten myself in over my head? The day (click for link) was filled with nerves, tears and many doubts.

      Almost five months later, I know how off target my feelings were that day. I did it, and I thrived. Never before have I been as consistently happy as I have been these last few months in Tanzania. I came here a stranger, but felt at home before week one was over. Despite my Swahili being basic at best those first few weeks, I found no shortage of people willing to help me practice and found the subjects I could talk about growing quickly.

       As I sat in a shop on market day in Engaruka last week, helping a Mama out with customers as she repaired clothing, I realized just how much I had learned. We were sitting there talking about America: the people, weather and daily life. We talked about Tanzania: where I had gone, why I had fallen so in love with this country, why I liked the food so much. I talked about myself: what I wanted to study in University, where I saw myself in ten years and how many kids I wanted. We talked about the differences between Tanzania and America, religion and so much more. I spent four hours talking with a woman who knows no English and I felt pretty proud of my Kiswahili.
         I've experienced so many new things here. I've held the 3 day old baby of a stranger. I purchased a cow at church. (click for link) I was in my first dust storm. I've spent time with widows who are barely older than I am. I've talked with students about setting goals and peer pressure. I've danced with Maasai women, climbed the tallest mountain in Africa (click for link) and built a chicken farm in Zanzibar. I have seen a woman being carried by her neighbors more than ten miles to the hospital. I have learned that material objects are not what what bring happiness but rather family and love, full stomachs and health, friends and laughter. I've learned to be thankful for what I have; that nothing should be taken for granted and to give what I can. l have been renamed. I have felt more love than ever before. I have seen parents who are grateful to Kellen, Daudi and me, not because we have given their children scholarships to attend secondary school, but simply because we are trying. Whenever I find myself getting frustrated with the difficulties of finding scholarships for 8 students to attend Secondary School (around $5,600 a year total) I will remember the gratitude of the children and their parents and be reminded of why I want to help.

          On my last night in Engaruka, I had one of many long conversations in a strange mixture of Kiswahili and English with a man who had been a stranger a few months ago but I now consider family. He told me "You are family now Namunyak. Whenever you are in Tanzania please come visit your family in Engaruka and feel at home. We will miss you, but we know that you will return and that you will not forget us. We love you." With those words I realized what a gift these past five months have been. I have seen things I will never forget, met people I will always hold dear and lived in a place that will stay in my heart.   

        Baadaye, Tanzania. I won't say goodbye because it is never goodbye, just “see you later.” I might not be able to save or change the world, this country or even the village of Engaruka. I will however do whatever I can to meet the needs and find the tools by which they can change their own lives.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Got my hair done one last time!

I will even miss the surprised looks I get when I reply to someone in Swahili, and the calls of "Mzungu! Mzungu!"

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Nearing the End

          On Saturday Kellen and I got back from my last visit to Engaruka before I head home. We ended up spending 6 days there, which was longer than we had planned but I’m so glad we did! I’ve been lucky enough to see quite a bit of Tanzania during these past 4 months but out of everywhere I’ve been, Engaruka is my favorite, hands down. The thing that makes Engaruka so special is the people that live there. To me, they define the meaning of community: if a person is in need, someone will try to help. If a family is short on school fees, chances are the other villagers will help however they can, even if it isn’t much. We saw a woman who was very sick and going to the hospital. There was no one with a car available that day so a group of other villagers was took turns carrying her to the hospital. The love that the people in Engaruka have for each other, and for visitors, is beautiful and a philosophy I want to live by. 
     We visited Oldonyo Lengai Secondary School and Engaruka Juu Primary school again to talk with the girls in the Empowered Girls Club. Instead of the mzungu (white girl) Q&A that we did previously, I got the chance to talk to them about some life skills! For the secondary students we talked about goal setting: why it is important, how to make goals, the difference between long term and short term goals and some other goal related topics. I hope they found my information useful and will apply it to their own lives. At the primary school I talked about peer pressure, something that seems to be pretty universal. When I asked for examples of peer pressure many of the things said were so similar to the types of peer pressure faced in America. A few of the things they listed were someone pressuring you to have sex, try drugs and gossip and play instead of doing your homework. With them, I talked about the importance of focusing on school instead of letting yourself become distracted as well as the reasons to not give in to peer pressure. The younger girls at the primary school really seemed to have taken in everything we talked about during our previous times there, which was so encouraging! This is the first primary school that Empowered Girls is working with and they have set a high standard so far. 
After I talked, Kellen took some time to give some feminine hygiene products to all the girls who attended the meeting and answer any questions they had about  their menstrual cycle. Imagine having to miss school one week every month simply because you don’t have consistent access to hygiene products. These girls had so many questions and I think that it was one of the first times that they had been able to ask any questions about their bodies without being embarrassed. We also listened to the song that they had written for Empowered Girls and it was great! 

      During the rest of our time I got the chance to talk to a group of widows who make and sell jewelry to support their families and afterwards they asked me to (try) to dance and sing with them. I also spent ore time with the 19 year old widow who lives in the same compound (an extended family’s area enclosed for protection where there are sleeping areas, cooking hut and pens for livestock) where we stay in Engaruka. It still amazes me how different her life is compared to any 19 year old I know in the states. She has had a very hard life, yet she is still such a happy person and has one of the most beautiful smiles I have ever seen. She is an incredibly loving mother, and seems to harbor no resentment or bitterness for the way her life has turned out. Most days she is only able to afford for her children to eat twice a day, breakfast and dinner, and only a very basic porridge. I decided to give her around $20 and told her she should use to it buy food for her family. She told me that instead she was going to buy clothes for her 3 children - for the first time. Her children have always worn simple pieces of cloth. Having food and clothing were two things I always took for granted growing up but is something that is not guaranteed for so many children.  She is truly an awe inspiring woman and I hope to write a much longer post about her in the future.  

      I cannot believe that my time in Tanzania has gone by so quickly, but I have loved every minute of it. I leave this Tuesday and head to South Africa for 10 days to visit a friend before heading home. I’m so glad that I am not leaving Tanzania and going straight back to the States, because there is a good chance I would just “miss” the plane and stay here! 

My first dust storm!
      I think I have already done the hardest part: leaving Engaruka, knowing that it would be years before I am able to return. A piece of my heart will always be in Engaruka, and I know that I will not forget the people there who have taught me so much.  It is strange to have such mixed feelings about leaving Tanzania when it is so vastly different from the world I grew up in. I am so excited to see everyone from back home,  and I know that I will be able to share what I have learned and experienced with many people:  yet, I am really not ready to leave. 

Sunday, October 2, 2011

The two faces of Empowered Girls

    We were returning to Engaruka with great news. In addition to telling Saning’o that he now had a sponsor and would be going to school in January, we would also be telling an orphaned girl that we had found a scholarship for her secondary school education.  I was very excited to share in her good news, but on arriving at the village and finding her, she revealed that she was
pregnant - eliminating all hope of future education. 

     This is a heartbreaking reminder of why Empowered Girls is so important, and so needed. Teenage girls in this culture are very vulnerable to pregnancy and the problem starts with complete lack of factual knowledge about sex. This situation is then exacerbated by being taken advantage of by older men, by choosing to be sexually active or by being forced into marriage by their families. In many cases it is far from the families’ first choice that they marry their daughters off, but they are left with very little choice as the bride price is needed for survival and they feel pressure from friends and family members to find a husband for their daughters.  

      Shortly after returning from Engaruka however, I experienced first hand how Empowered Girls is such a positive influence on secondary school girls. Empowered Girls was first started last September at Enaboishu Secondary School in Arusha. Whenever I visited Enaboishu I found it hard to believe that the club had only been around for a year as so many girls were participating in the club and putting so much into various Empowered Girls activities. 

                      They prepared a skit that showed the benefits of staying in school and focusing on their studies. They had a fashion, show showing off different dress designs they had made out of a single piece of fabric and pins. They wrote and performed songs about the challenges women face and overcoming those challenges. The atmosphere in the room was electric, and it made me realize just how few chances most of these girls had previously had to sing, dance and talk openly about the issues they face. There were several students that Kellen knew from her time teaching at the school as well as from when she helped start the club last year who had become much stronger and outgoing. I believe that all the girls at Enaboishu school , even those not directly participating,  benefited from the Empowered Girls program. 

     For me, seeing the incredible result that   Empowered Girls has been able to accomplish in such a short time is a tremendous motivator to continue my involvement after I return to the States and college. While the reasons the clubs need to exist is heartbreaking, the result of Empowered Girls is nothing short of transforming. 

Saturday, September 24, 2011


I had a last minute chance to go on safari last week and it was incredible! On Tuesday I found out I would be able to go, and I left Wednesday morning - good thing I pack light! We visited the Lake Manyara, and Tarangire national parks as well as the Ngorogoro Crater. Our outfitter was East African Voyages and they were wonderful. Simple but comfortable accommodations, perfect for my budget! Our delicious picnic lunches every day made all the other toursits with their box lunches pretty jealous. Check out the rest of the pictures here.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

It only takes a moment

       My heart hurts for East Africa this week. Two horrible accidents struck Tanzania and Kenya within days of each other, taking many lives. The world famous white sand beaches of the Zanzibar archipelago were crowded with locals, rescuers and bodies alike after a horrible ferry wreck off Saturday morning when a ferry bound for Pemba, an island near Zanzibar, capsized killing almost 200 people.
Perhaps the most heartbreaking part is that this could have easily been prevented had the boat not been overloaded. The boats are not built to carry more than 600 people, yet this one had over 800 onboard in addition to more cargo than is recommended. The ferry sank in the early hours of the morning, making rescue efforts limited until after dawn. The lucky individuals managed to cling to mattresses, fridges and anything else that kept them afloat until other boats were able to reach the scene of the accident.

         In the Sinai slum in Nairobi, Kenya at least 120 were killed, and more than 100 additional people injured, Monday morning in an explosion from a fuel line leak. The number of deaths was so high partially due to the fact that at the time of the explosion many were walking to school or work. An even larger factor was the fact that many raced to the scene of the leak hoping to collect some fuel.

     Imagine living the kind of life where you understand the risk involved in flocking to such a dangerous spot instead of away from it, yet you do so anyway because one pail of fuel will pay for a month's rent. Imagine having little choice but to build your home, made only of corrugated steel, above an unstable pipeline because you cannot afford to build anywhere else. Imagine living in a place where a lack of roads makes it almost impossible for firefighters to access the scene. Imagine rushing home to find the bodies of your two children, perhaps the only part of your life that truly brings you joy-- an agonizing experience Joseph Mwangi and so many others were forced to live on Monday.  For many this is not something they have to imagine, it is what they live. 

       Take some time today to tell those you care about "I love you". Remember to be grateful for what you have, because you never know when it might be taken away. Tragedies like this happen every day around the world, and while they are truly devastating and heart breaking, they also serve as a reminder that anything can happen and that every day needs to be lived to its fullest. It only takes a moment for everything to change. 

Monday, September 12, 2011


First batch of books

         While planning my time in Tanzania, returning to the village where I had first fallen in love with this country was near the top of my “to do” list. While my expectation that Kyela wouldn’t be the same as I had remembered it ended up being true, it was only because it was an even more rewarding experience. This time, I knew some Swahili, knew more about the country, was familiar with its customs and most importantly, I had a connection to the people I was going back to see. I was only able to spend a few days back in Kyela,  but it was worth every bit of the 16 hour bus ride of motion sickness!

The second batch of books
     Most of my time was spent at the Mwaya Secondary School. This is the school that Cocoa Honors visited last summer and that has since received almost $10,000 worth of text books. This gift was made possible thorough the support of many people in Springfield who care about this small school in a little frequented corner of Tanzania. I was surprised that the textbooks had already had a significant effect on the school. Besides providing a much needed resource for the students’ learning and exam preparation, we found out from the headmaster that the simple presence of the books has inspired and motivated the students to excel in their studies. To the Mwaya students, these textbooks (books that made my peers and I groan mentally upon being issued each year) showed that someone cared about them. They are tangible proof that people outside their small school believe in them enough to invest money to ensure that the students have the basic materials necessary for learning. 


     Kellen and I met with a group of female students to talk about a range of subjects related to the Empowered Girls goals.  Interestingly, the topic that was returned to again was me. As at the previous secondary schools where we have spoken, the girls had an endless number of questions for me:  Do many girls in the U.S. go to university? How old are most girls when they marry? Do US parents want daughters to continue with their education or do they think marriage is better? Do girls in America face similar issues of pregnancy and being deceived by boys? - and many more.  They even ask the mundane of "do American teens have problems with acne?" It is fascinating, though often disheartening, to see the contrast between the teen experiences in their world and mine.
Part of their library!
         The Cocoa Honors group who visited the school last summer has been far from forgotten. The mzungu mrefu sana (really tall kid) was the Cocoa Honors student that the largest number of people seemed to remember, something I found fitting considering Taylor Curtis is still very involved with Tanzania and hopes to return in the near future. They also remembered ‘that man who took lots of pictures’, so thanks for outshining me dad!  According to the Headmaster, who extends a big thank you to everyone involved with Cocoa Honors and the Textbooks for Tanzania campaign, our presence has shown many of the students that the world beyond the one they know is accessible, but it requires hard work and determination. 

        While many aspects of my visit are memorable, there is one that stands out. While Kellen was giving a lecture on how to prepare for exams and I was acting as photographer (like father, like daughter?) one student stood up and asked the best way to manage his time. This student is an orphan who has no relatives able to pay his school fees. Instead of simply accepting this and not completing secondary school, he spends most of his time outside of school working in order to pay his school fees.

       That kind of determination is a reminder of how much I have taken for granted in my life. It also reminds me that some things are the same across cultures and continents and that not infrequently, teens at home must also hold jobs to help support themselves and their families. Once again it raises the question in my mind of where to help, how to help: how to step outside of my “wants” and into a world of need.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Guess what I bought today...

A cow! Daudi and Kellen and I were at church, and afterwards they had an auction for the non monetary offerings and....we bought a cow!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Uganda (and some random thoughts)

       Sorry for the lack of updates recently! I have been in Uganda since the 28th and love this country! They get so much rain and everything is so green, quite different from Tanzania. I had planned on returning to Arusha today, but ended up staying until Friday with a family I know in Kampala. I'll be sure to post more once I get back home to Arusha!
       On an unrelated note, I cannot believe that I have less than 2 months until I head back home. Time has  gone by so quickly, and I know I will be very sad to leave. Thank you to everyone who has been following my blog and sending me encouraging thoughts and messages, they always make my day! When I started this blog I figured on a few friends and family members reading it, but to date I have had over 3,000 page views with an average of almsot 1,000 a month! I have to admit, I am a bit surprised by the number of people that are reading my blog but I am very excited that I am able to share my experiences and how wonderful East Africa is with so many!

Sunday, August 21, 2011


      There are so many words that come to mind when I think of Engaruka. Dusty. Dry. Hot. Windy. Beautiful. Amazing. Inspiring. Heartbreaking. The five days we just spent in Engaruka touched me in a way nothing else has. We spent our first night in Engaruka Chini staying at the house of one of Kellen’s former students. As there is no cell coverage in Engaruka we simply showed up unannounced and found Mama Happy at her shop. There is something beautiful about a place where you can show up unannounced and be greeted with genuine enthusiasm and love. We spent the following day paying visits to people 

Daudi and Kellen know, as well as going to  Oldonyo Lengai Secondary School to talk with the headmaster about what day would be best to come speak to the girls and decide if an Empowered Girls Club was needed at the school. We then caught the bus up to Engaruka Juu just a short drive away where we were greeted by one of Daudi’s father’s oldest friends. Mzee Ismel Nakooyo and Daudi’s father shared a friendship stronger than any I have ever heard of or known. Their friendship stayed incredibly strong throughout the years and they were closer than most siblings I know. While listening to Daudi translate Mzee Ismel’s words about that friendship I realized just how rare that kind of friend is; how rare that kind of friendship is in our busy Western lives.

       The Empowered Girls club meeting at Oldonyo Lengai was the first time I have been present for the initial Empowered Girls meeting and it was a great experience. I really feel that Empowered Girls can do so much in both Oldonyo Lengai Secondary School and in Engaruka Juu Primary School. At Oldonyo Lengai Secondary School 5 girls were forced to drop out because of pregnancy. At Engaruka Juu Primary School, which is the equivalent of 1st grade through 7th grade, there were also 5 girls forced to drop out due to pregnancy. For me, those numbers alone are a sad reminder of why these girls so badly need what

 Empowered Girls has to offer. At our meeting with the girls at Oldonyo Lengai we had some time during which they asked me questions, which has proved to be one of my favorite parts of our talks with girls. They asked me how my parents felt about me being so far away for so long, what my parents would say if I brought one of them home with me in November without forewarning and if there are any cultures in America that practice female circumcision, among many other questions. 

          Saning’o is a 17 year old villager whom I got to know better than most.  He finished primary school but as his father married a second wife, the first wife (Saning’o’s mother) and her children were no longer supported and there was no money for him to continue on to secondary school. The desire this boy has for school, despite being told each time Kellen is in Engaruka that she still doesn’t have a sponsor for him, astounded me. He sat outside our house  for 3 hours each morning until we were awake and done with breakfast so he could ask if there was any news. As our visit was ending, Kellen and Daudi again told him no, not yet, but that they were still trying. The look on his face was one of unmitigated pain and longing, even tears. This would have been powerful in any setting, but when you consider how rare it is for a Masai man to cry it was heartbreaking.
Saning'o and family

      On our last day in Engaruka, Daudi and I were invited to Saning’o’s hut to get to know him a little better. It was an experience that made me realize how lucky youth are in countries where education until University level is free. He lives in two small huts with his mother, younger brother and little cousin. They take care of goats during the day, however they are not even their own goats. It is apparent that the family does not have as much food as they need to get by, yet they still gave us tea. That kind of warmth and selfless gratitude, though we had yet to bring them good news, floored me. Despite the apparent hopelessness of ever furthering his education, Saning’o was eager to find out how my Swahili was coming along and reminded me that the best way to learn quickly was to review all the things I had learned the previous day, each day. Seeing someone who wanted so badly to go to school, for whom going to school is the only hope for his whole family, was a painful reminder of how lucky I am. How many days did I not want to go to school, complain about homework and take my free education for granted? How much have I under utilized my ability? Saning’o is just one example of what so many youth in Engaruka and much of Tanzania go through.

The oldest son of the widow
      The last night in Engaruka we also met a man who was also asking if there were any sponsorships that were available. His daughter had finished Standard 7 (the last year of primary school)  the year before but he was unable to pay the school fees for her to begin secondary school. This father made the decision to send his daughter away to live with an Auntie in another town even though she wouldn’t be in school. He knew that if she remained at home and did not continue with her education, he would face immense pressure from his family and friends to marry her off quickly. This is the future of most girls unable to go 

to secondary school. This practice is one of the reasons that so many mothers are very young in Engaruka. On the family compound where we stayed, Mzee Ismel offered to let two distant relatives who are widowed build mud, cow dung, and clay huts because they had no where else to go. One of the widows has 3 children, the oldest of whom is almost 6. She is 19. Her children will in all likelihood nto receive any education. 

     That night in Engaruka, after all the visitors left, Mzee Ismel told me that he had talked with the elders and they had decided upon a Masai name for me. He told me my name is Namunyak and explained that it meant “someone who brings good luck and blessings with them wherever they go”. I have never felt as honored and touched as I did in that moment. Not every visitor who spends time in Engaruka receives a Masai name, but they felt that I deserved one. Once everyone else had gone back inside, I sat outside with tears silently streaming down my face. I met so many people who needed things that I had almost always taken for granted. Yet even though they know that the chances of receiving help are small, all of the individuals I met were unbelievably strong, happy and most of all grateful. They were so appreciative of the goals Empowered Girls wanted to accomplish and of the fact that we were dedicating our time to them. They were grateful that we were just trying to find a way to help them, even though we could offer no promises. 

     It devastates me how much need there is in this world. How does one choose where and how best to help? What action will have long term benefit to a community, a people? Maybe as I take full advantage of my college education these are questions I can start to answer for myself. For the time being however, I am going to forgo the gift I requested for my 18th birthday. With that money, I can fund at least two years of secondary education for Saning’o. I can’t save the world but I can change the life and future of this one young person and his family. 

Check out more pictures at Engaruka!

Friday, August 12, 2011

Kilimanjaro, part 2

    Day three was a welcomed respite with a much shorter hike to Lava Tower camp, at 15,180feet. This area felt as if we had left one world and entered another. Lava Tower is a lava plug rising 300 above the surrounding terrain, surrounded by a lava rock field- a reminder that Kilimanjaro is really just a huge, extinct, freestanding volcano. There is very little vegetation at Lava Camp: the elevation is too high to support significant plant life and by this time I was beginning to wonder just how compatible 15,000ft is with human life!  The stars from this camp forward were unbelievable. How could there be so many stars? I have seen stars away from light pollution before; in the South Pacific and in the mountains, but stars at 15,000ft are entirely different. So much light, so many galaxies- the universe is so full! I can’t tell you how cold we all were as we enjoyed the night sky but no one complained.  

      At Lava Camp we had a chance to get to know our porters better: to ask them questions and answer their questions. These 30ish guys are some of the most amazingly fit and interesting people I have met. As we made our slow way up the mountain, they briskly passed us, carrying all their gear on their backs and ours on their heads. By the time we got to camp each day they already had our tents up, tea ready and would greet us with a song.  One of the aspects of Roadmonkey that I respect (and there are several more) is that they use outfitters who follow the Kilimanjaro Porters Assistance Project (KPAP) guidelines.  KPAP is a not-for-profit organization that works to improve the working conditions of Kili porters. Too often and for too long these porters were underpaid, forced to carry excessive weight, given insufficient food, did not receive their full share of tips and did not have appropriate clothing for the conditions. KPAP works to change that. And the porters deserve so much. Only a small fraction of Kili trekkers would make it even part way up without the assistance of the porters.
       Day four was happily an even shorter hike with an altitude increase of just a few hundred feet to Arrow Glacier camp at 15,796 feet. By this point we were above the majority of the clouds, and beginning to get out of breath doing simple tasks. Add this to the facts that it was getting very cold at night and that our mountain sickness medicine has the unfortunate side effect of increasing ones bladder productivity. It’s not a pretty combination! At Arrow Glacier we had a free afternoon to help with acclimatization. While most of the group spent it going on an additional hike- I chose find a comfy rock, read, and listen to music while watching the ever shifting clouds immediately above me. As an aside, if anyone questions the benefits of a Kindle? Its negligible weight and huge inventory of books is a blessing at 16,000ft where simple walking is an effort! 

       Day five was another tough day for me but in a more mental than physical way. Don’t get me wrong, climbing 3,360 feet over steep and very rocky terrain was no walk in the park: the Western Breach is not something I will soon forget.  That day I found myself wondering -What in the world was I doing? What possessed me to think that I could do this on my own without family or crazy friends from home? I kept repeating a never-ending stream of encouraging words in my head interspersed with “ OK, just one step at a time". Fortunately, our lunch break was one of the most incredible views I have ever enjoyed and did a good job of reminding me why I had undertaken this wild idea. 

       From day five on I gained a new appreciation for Kajeli and Melchior. Both were determined that I would be on that summit, even if it meant literally holding my hand many steps of the way. Just when some of us were starting to get sick of scrambling from rock to rock, we had Kajeli there to boost our spirits with random shouts of “I LOVE ROCKS!”. As I mentioned earlier, our guides were amazing and committed to our success. We finally made it to Crater camp, our final camp before our summit and we were really, really out of breath. While overnighting it to Crater camp makes for a much easier summit hike, 1.5 hours instead of 7, it is not easy to sleep at 18,796 feet. 

           Between the headaches, nausea and lack of appetite, we were a pretty sorry bunch at dinner that night. Mild acute mountain sickness was starting to affect some of us. Even the short walk to the mess tent left us all out of breath. And here, a small teaching moment- Mountain medicine recognizes three regions of altitude: high altitude, very high altitude and extreme altitude. The “extreme” is anything over 18,000ft and we were clearly there. Also, did you know that at that altitude: hair essentially stops growing, food doesn’t get absorbed, non-essential body functions shut down and the mind doesn’t function very well! Oh, there is one higher region- around 26,000ft it’s called the death zone. I won’t be going there- ever!

        Day six was a long day. We woke up around 4 and began the last leg of our journey to the summit shortly after 5AM. While the hike from Crater camp up to the top was relatively short, even the shortest distances left us completely out of breath. My body had never felt anything like that before. That moment when I stepped from the inclined trail onto the much flatter area just a 15 minute walk away from the peak, was the most exhilarating feeling I have had (in my brief 17 years!). I was greeted with hugs from those ahead of me, and congratulations flew through the air. From there we walked the remaining short distance to the highest point in Africa, Uhuru peak, the Roof of Africa. We all arrived in time for sunrise, and I don’t know of a better place to see a sunrise from than 19,341 feet, looking down on the clouds. 
        After the mandatory pictures at the sign marking Uhuru peak, we began our decent. It was a moonwalk of sorts through deep skree, and my knees were not happy. After a quick juice break at Barafu camp, we continued down to Millennium camp where we enjoyed a (mostly) headache free lunch, complete with soda and the two kilimanjaro beers that made it to the summit with Diana. We finished our day by continuing down to Mweka camp at 10,139 feet, back in the land of green things and some of the nicest toilets on the mountain, or for that matter, anywhere (it’s all relative isn’t it?). 

     Day seven, our final day on the mountain consisted of a beautiful 3 hour downhill hike through very damp rainforest. During this part of the hike I was was able to walk with a wide range of people, from one of our porters, to a guide with a different group, to our cook and finally one of our guides, Jerome. I loved getting to learn some new Swahili and hear the different life experiences each had. It was another reminder of how glad I was to speak at least some Swahili and be able to communicate a little more easily with our porters and guides. After reaching Mweka gate we headed back to our hotel for a meal and shower before meeting up with out porters and guides one last time. While we did get the promised meal, our hotel temporarily had no running water so our porters got to see us one last time, smelly and dirty as ever. 
            We ended this chapter of our journey with an impromptu dance party to a reggae cover of Phill Collins “One More Night”, all thanks to our guide Paul who had found the song and requested the bar play it. The nine Roadmonkeys then went to a delicious Indian/Italian restaurant (after finally showering!) and reminisced about the climb; still a bit in awe that just the morning before we had been on the summit. After Paul gave everyone their awards and Roadmonkey t-shirts (where I won the “I want to hold your hand” award - for holding our guide’s hand up to the summit...and for doing something few 17 year olds even think about), we headed back to the good old Sal Salinero Hotel for an amazing night’s sleep in real beds. We had a day off on Sunday that I spent with some missionary friends I had met at MS-TCDC. I loved seeing them again and partaking of their delicious BBQ!! Monday morning we flew to Zanzibar and began phase 2 of our “adventure voluntourism” trip...but that is an experience for another blog post! Which I promise to try and post soon, but I am at the mercy of the internet.

To see more pictures from the climb, check out my Picasa album! Kilimanjaro