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Back from Kilimanjaro

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There is no way that photographs can convey the magnitude of this mountain. Happily, this is one rock I didn’t have to climb over.

I went, I saw, I climbed, I did not conquer.

Actually, I didn’t intend to conquer anything — it’s always annoyed the hoo out of me to hear mountains referred to as being conquered.  As far I (and some mountaineers I’ve talked with over the years) am concerned, the mountain lets you climb it. If it doesn’t, you go home, preferably not on a stretcher.

What conceivably could be conquered is altitude sickness, but one needs to have several weapons at hand which I did not, primarily more time to acclimatize.  While  our eight days is longer than some treks, it wasn’t enough for me.

I did four days, or half the trek, and stopped at 13,665 feet (4,165 meters). Palpitations. Shortness of breath, otherwise known as panting.  Even when I didn’t have those, on Day 2 (“the Day from Hell”) I felt as if I were walking in knee-high water against a powerful current. That was when the trail was flat.  On any upward incline — and especially any rocks to climb over, of which there were far too many that day — I had the strength and capability of a garden slug.  It wasn’t anything like normal tiredness, with which I am deeply familiar.  It was like having faded away till I became my shadow, wafting gently near the bulk of my body.

Finally a voice came to me that said, “If you ever want to see home and hearth and family and the gas bill and that cranky lady in the housewares store again, turn around now.”

We continued to walk, but we never seemed to get any closer to the mountain.  I didn’t have any sense of it, but we were already on the mountain.

Seeing that the only 100 percent guaranteed remedy for this condition is to descend (many sources add “immediately,” which I didn’t do), down I went, along with my friend and colleague, veteran photographer Karen Kasmauski, who was also feeling the effects.

I don’t know how the other people in our small group avoided or overcame this condition.  I know that they all made it to the summit except for one girl, who stopped with an hour yet to climb because of intense diarrhea.  Another side effect, if you want to know.  And that was after they’d been climbing for ten hours.  Ten (10) hours.

Two other members who made it to the summit had to have oxygen and were basically carried down by their porters for a while.  One of these trekkers, a young woman with more competitiveness than sense, saw that her friend was going to reach the top before her, and consequently started to run in order to pass her and get there first.

You cannot run at 19,000 feet.  On the master list of crazy, potentially life-threatening things to do, this ranks up there with poking at a family of blue-ringed octopi. I don’t know how she managed to keep going, but the result was that not only did she need oxygen, she doesn’t remember anything of what happened after that for a while.

True, she can now say she climbed Kilimanjaro.  (Of course, I also can say she climbed Kilimanjaro.)  I’m still trying to figure out how I feel about not be able to say I climbed it. But let’s move on — the world is full of all sorts of mountains.

For example, education.  After the trek, we spent a day visiting two schools which were benefiting from our group. At the first, an elementary school more than an hour outside Arusha, we delivered cartons of schoolbooks. Schoolbooks, I’ve concluded, bear a strong resemblance to oxygen tanks for any child who wants to climb up in life.  It’s not that your village child must become prime minister, but without books it’s no more likely to happen than that I would reach the top of Kilimanjaro on roller skates.

This is a class at the primary school where we brought several cartons of books.

At the second, Mwedo Girls Secondary School, which is exclusively for Maasai girls, our group is sponsoring two daughters of one of our group members, Theresia Ismaili Majuka. We got a tour of the school, and saw Theresia’s joyful reunion with her girls after four months.  Theresia lives on Zanzibar, where she makes and sells handicrafts to tourists on the beach.  She doesn’t let the girls come back to her village on breaks or vacations, because of the high probability that some family members (male) will contrive to marry them off and that will be the end of that.  It happened to her.

I believe that Theresia is the first Maasai woman (perhaps first Maasai, period) to climb Oldonyo Oibor, the “White Mountain.”  She did it to promote the message of our group, which is “Everybody has a right to education.”

I admire her for seeing it through, but not as much as I admire her dedication to her daughters’ future. The size of that makes any mere mountain look pretty puny.

Theresia just gave it up on the ride back to Arusha.

She came down the mountain walking like one of Napoleon’s soldiers on the retreat from Moscow, but she did it.

Naturally she got all dressed up to see her girls. It was a wonderful moment.

For a moment at dawn at Moir Camp the rising sun spreads the shadow of Kilimanjaro over the high escarpment. “I always had this vivid dream that I was a professional woman,” Theresia wrote in her account of the trek. “But after being married off, my school days were gone forever. I still have this dream, as vivid as when I was a little girl. It will follow me forever, like a shadow.”

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The road to Kilimanjaro

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These Maasai women are almost certainly not thinking about Kilimanjaro, or what it would feel like on the summit at 18,000 feet. I’d hazard that their daily routine is enough of a challenge, as it is for most women (sorry — I meant “people”). (No, I meant “women.”) (Photo: Jerzy Strzelecki)

Starts at my house, among other places.  I’m going to climb the mountain with a group of women for charity, departing next Sunday.  I’ll be gone two weeks and hope to have some interesting — though non-Venice-related, obviously — things to relate when I return.

But that’s not why I started this post.  I want to share what has inspired this adventure and my participation.  Yes, this is an appeal, and no, I have no way of checking to see what you do.  But I’ve put my heart and gizzard into preparing for this effort, and have already started working on editing the book.  So I hope you’ll join in, even at a distance, where you certainly are warmer, more comfortable, and not enjoying any symptoms of altitude sickness, about which I have already read far more than is probably good for me.

Here goes: 

You have an extraordinary opportunity to contribute and help a brave woman from the Maasai tribe called Theresia.
She has decided to trek with US to the peak of Kilimanjaro. This is part of the “Dreamers&Doers” book project, the publication of which is supported also by Ladies Trekking Club and it aims at pointing out the need for education in general.
All those pre-ordering the “Dreamers&Doers” book contribute personally to the project and also to Theresia. Your name and support will go along with the Maasai woman and will help her to reach the Roof of Africa. Your name and contribution will also be mentioned on the websites of the Impatiens Kilimanjari Foundation. You only need to pre-order your copy of the book here:
The most significant story in the book is the story of Theresia, a Maasai woman. We do not know the story and its result yet but we can support it together. As we know, all over the world the girls belonging to native tribes have major difficulties with obtaining education. Theresia has worked all her life just to provide school education to her daughter –the education she was not able to obtain herself. She will go on a trip to Kilimanjaro with other women of different nationalities. She wants to tell the world that all of us have the right for education.
How her journey goes, how far she goes and how big of a challenge it would be for her – all that can be read in the book. For the first time in her life she will put on clothes that we are used to wearing on our trekking trips. For the first time in her life she will wear boots. She believes that her story will tell to many of us how difficult it is for girls to obtain education. She hopes that it will change and the situation will improve. If we do not speak up and stand for our values then who else will?
The names of all those pre-ordering the book will reach this brave Maasai woman. This would be your message and support to Theresia! We gather the names of all our supporters and Theresia will take them along to her journey. We show that we have faith in her and we believe that she will reach the Roof of Africa.
In addition, the book will include stories of women of more than twenty nationalities. All those women are connected by their travel to the Roof of Africa. These stories are not about trekking but about those things inspiring us in life.
The stories are written by Tess Burrows – UK; Brigitte Muir – Australia; Helga Hengge – Germany; Randi Skaug – Norway; Mandy Ramsten- South Africa; Karla S. Whelock – Mexico; Samantha Larson- USA and many-many others.
School textbooks for pupils and a book for you! Let us contribute together!
In the northern part of Tanzania there are two schools – Gombero and Elerai basic schools. These schools have no water or electricity. The schools teach more than 1200 pupils and each teacher takes care of 3-5 classes at one time. Each class has around 40 students. For some subjects, the school has just a couple of textbooks for the entire class. Almost half of the students live more than 10 km away from the school and there is no public transport. Helping hands have difficulties with reaching this place.
We have decided to offer some quick help. At minimum they would require 4500 textbooks, that would cost EUR 45,000.
All the pre-ordered “Dreamers and Doers” books are linked to the project for providing textbooks for these two schools. We would like to help them as quickly as possible.
The price is 50 euros $67), including postage and handling.
Photos in the book: Karen Kasmauski (USA) Nadia Marquard Otzen (Denmark/UK)
Editor: Erla Frank Zwingle (USA /Italy)
Hardcover books are only available for pre-order. The dimensions of the book are 21 x19 cm and it contains ca 200-250 pages. It is an excellent photo and gift book full of inspiring stories about us. The book is in English language.
The more books are pre-ordered, the quicker will our help reach the children. 
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