Friday, January 20, 2012

Update - Jan 20. T-Minus 1 Day to KILI!!!


I wrote the following as an email to a friend. I figured I would just paste it here instead of regurgitating it all again for the blog. More pics and video to come!!!

Sorry it’s taken me so long to get back to you. Today is the first authentic rest day we’ve had since I saw you last (CRAZY!!!). I woke up early to thoughts of the email I would be constructing for you today and thought I should just get up, shower and write!

So – I’m at the Ilburu Safari Lodge in Arusha. Of course, this is a posh little place filled with Brits, Americans, and French (ack! ;-), but just off the property is the dirt road lined with shanty-shack-stores, chickens, donkeys, and MANY MANY KIDS!!! I love it. I’m sitting on the veranda of the dining room (alone) and have a perfect view of the kids walking to school, the mama’s cleaning the shops for the day (one of them is singing… she has no idea that she has already made this American girl’s day - and it’s only 8 am!!!), rogue chickens and dogs, boys riding their oversized circa 1974 bikes, and trucks bouncing along – ignoring the fact that they have no business driving on this “street”…

Where the hell do I start!?!?!? 

We finished Meru on Weds afternoon. I LOVE LOVE LOVE Mt Meru – it reminds me of Baldy – but not as kind, and much higher. She is also GORGEOUS – jungle-ish in the beginning and obviously rocky towards the top. She’s a volcano, so the climb is mostly along the ridge. It looked like torrential rain and wind were going to stall our summit – but our 1 am wake up returned no rain, a little wind and lots and lots of very thick, wet fog. As we got higher, the wind got stronger. At one point during the night it seriously felt like we were in a trance – the wind too strong to hear anything else and the elevation, altitude and sandy terrain forcing short-shuffle steps – and the fog limiting our vision to the feet of the people in front of us. Hello, twilight zone. True to form, as the sun came out, the terrain got steeper, and I could see the summit – I got stronger. I scrambled my way to the top behind Frederick (the man with the gun) who kept asking me if I was ok because I was breathing so hard. I was in EFFING HEAVEN!!! The summit returned stunning views of Kili and the ash cone below. 
The summit of Socialist Peak

Team at the summit!!!

Kili - Looming...

:) :) :) Jumping for joy at Rhino Point - Almost down!!! (Courtesy of Katherine!)

 I wanted to run down. They wouldn’t let me. 

The way down - an homage to my nieces and nephews...

We stayed in huts on Meru. It was so much fun – like being at camp again!!! (Except we had Simba growling along and bringing us coffee and tea in bed – so spoiled, and so so so happy.)

Simba, plus hut, plus coffee = SUPER HAPPY STEPH

It took us a day and a half to descend. I hadn’t had a shower in four days. We literally walked off the mountain, got into a bus, and drove to the School of St Jude where they had 700 kids and an assembly of performances waiting for us.

KIDS!!! Video to come!

Getting off the bus, 11 little munchkins greeted us, each child taking one of our hands. Faith, a 13 year old (who looked like an 8 year old) grabbed my hand and led me to food. (WE WERE STARVING!!!) We ate ugali and some kind of eggplant saucy thing (totally standard) and then were led to the very front of the auditorium. The kids melted me. They sang and danced. I laughed so hard. I felt so happy that it was hard not to cry. Eventually they brought us to the stage where we were lucky enough (errr, sorta) to introduce ourselves and perform for the school. (WE WERE AWFUL!!!) The second half of our performance included our guides (omg, I love our guides, I need to tell you about OUR GUIDES!!!). We sang Jambo (Jambo buana...)

I’m not sure how or what exactly happened, but all of the sudden the kids were on their feet, screaming and laughing and waving their sweaters… perfect, pure joy… and definitely one of the top 5 experiences of my life. Unbelievable.

Is this too long yet? Hope not. I have so much more to tell you…

I spend a lot of time trying to organize the thoughts and stories in my head; constructing folders and files and making sense of it all. Then I realize I’ve done it wrong and I attempt to reconstruct the puzzle. At some point I will reconcile the fact that trying to fit things into a box right now just isn’t reasonable and let each experience and memory run through me and over me like a shower.

It is cleansing, all of this. Though I can safely say that I’ve never been so dirty. :)

While the mountains have provided a needed physical challenge and some SERIOUS happiness for me, I gotta say, the best experiences here come from interacting with the African people.

At our first camp on Mt Meru it was finally warm enough to be outside. I was able to lay on the picnic table and stare at the stars. I have never seen so many. The porters were lingering around and before I knew it, we were talking about our homes, families, and histories. I spoke with them for an hour before heading into the mostly empty mess hall. Simba, Daniel, Hussein, and Peter were deep in conversation in Swahili. After asking them if I could join them (and promising them I wouldn’t force them to speak English for me) I bellied up and preceded to listen to a conversation that I could tell was intense, but had no clue of the subject. Eventually Hussein took pity on me and explained that we were listening to Peter’s philosophy on the psychology of introverts versus extroverts. I listened and talked to them for hours. (I love love love these men… I can’t even tell you…)

I’m conducting my own little human behavior experiment in my head. Some of these people have SO LITTLE. When I say “SO LITTLE,” I mean – “nothing” by American standards. (I could go on and on about this – but you know the drill, and it’s not the point anyway…) That being said – they worry about the same things we worry about – love and money. They fear what we fear – being alone. And want what we want – security. I gravitate to the locals. I want to hear what they’re willing to tell me. I have fallen in love with these people.

People from home have asked if I’m happy. The question stops me. Happy? I honestly haven’t thought about whether I’m happy or not in 20 days. To me, it is huge. The notion of not having to ponder my happiness must mean that I have landed in a very good place. I don’t worry so much about my future. Best of all – I have shaken the anxiety that seemed to live perpetually with me before now.

Happy. Yes. 
Photo courtesy of Katherine - photographer extraordinaire

There is so much more… Support for International Change. The women who told us their stories of struggling to live with HIV, rape, children, no money, deserting husbands… and on and on. The sadness and the happiness coincide so well here that it’s hard to know how to define it.
I will get on skype as soon as possible, but so far – internet has been less than shoddy (i.e., super shit). When I get to Uganda I will buy a dongle.

Ok - I'm off again. Time to buy plane tickets for Zanzibar! (Did I tell you I'm going to Zanzibar???)

xxxx - Steph


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