Just wanted to share some more stories about the Mountain:
The Chaga People
The Chaga people are considered the tribe of Mt. Kilimanjaro. The people are primarily Christian with an emphasis on being Catholic. En route to the Rongai trail, we passed many enormous churches that seemed very much out of place since a vast majority of the people barely have roofs over their heads. These churches reminded me of the type you would see on Little House on the Prairiewith dynapic steeples soaring above the trees. As we passed the small villages, there were many women working hard to round up bananas and potatoes for sale to other communities. To keep their backs in top shape, the women carry 25 pound bunches of bananas on their heads. It was not uncommon to see about 100 women carrying these just off the vine lime green bananas or pineapples down the street to the various markets.
The Mountain is a bit of a mystery. In the early morning, it soars above Tanzania but by about 10 am the clouds cover much of it and unless you were a local you wouldn’t even know it was there. The Mountain supplies the people of Tanzania with many natural resources. Depending on what side of the Mountain you are climbing, it is not uncommon to see flourishing fields of potatoes, mangoes, marijuana plants, other herbs used for medicinal purposes. There are Buffalo, elephants, Colobus (no thumbs) and Blue Monkeys, rodents of all kind especially the Mongoose, birds, a very dense rain forest, passion fruit, gorgeous colored flowers and so much more. Locals walk deep into the Mountain to obtain these things often burning trees to scare the bees away for the honey. The terrain changes quickly as one minute you are in lush forests and the next minute you are surrounded by nothing but rock, caves and smaller hills created by the volcanoes many many moons ago.
Mt. Kili consists of three volcanoes the Shira, Mawenzi and Kibo. I started my climb to the summit from Kibo. Mawenzi is dormant and its jagged peaks require a technical climb. Uhuru Peak, (19,340 ft.) is Kibo’s highest peak but if you can reach Gillman’s Point at 18,635 ft, you still get an A for effort and a certificate to acknowledge that major accomplishment.
More on the People
The people of Tanzania are not rich. Most do not have jobs and they spend much of their day walking up and down the roads. The few who can get jobs are responsible for supporting a family as large as 7 or more. If the women get jobs, they are asked to pay for their younger brothers schooling. The government only requires the children be schooled until age 13. Many of the other tribes like the Masai require their offspring begin to care for the cattle at the young age 9 or 10. Therefore, these children are receiving little if any education.
Life on the Mountain is very tough. Many porters start working at around age 13. They are required to carry 50 -100 pound bags of supplies on their head (saves the back). They are braving the elements just like me but they do not have hats, gloves, or the appropriate shirts and pants and definitely not shoes and socks. Many are wearing American and European giveaways. I saw shirts representing many a sports team or American business. It is very difficult to watch these people work so hard and know that this is considered a well paying job at $5 a day. The few porters and guides that could speak English expressed the desire to get off the Mountain. They don’t like it. It’s physically challenging and the elements are not in their favor especially as they are not fed and clothed as I was on the Mountain. Many of the porters work extra hard to learn English in hopes of earning a higher wage as a guide.
As I was being carried from camp to camp, I was able to have a few heartfelt conversations with my guides. They were delightful people. God Bless is 40 and has a wife and two young boys. On the other hand, Adronis is 32, lives on his own but still support his parents. Adronis has dreams. He has been saving money for the last 5 years to go to Safari School so he can get off the Mountain. He needs $550 more and only earns about $80-120 every month (and helping his parents). When I looked into Adronis’ warm eyes, I felt his genuine desire be something more but I also knew the uphill battle he faced. I would explain to him that in my country if you worked hard and went to school you could be something. We talked about how women didn’t have to depend on marriage and how people had good jobs in the States. I learned how a grass top on a home meant you were poor and something like aluminum meant you were either in the middle or rich. The floors inside the home are often mud and grass and most do not have running water or electricity. The roof is the true sign of prosperity. You don’t see many businesses here in Northern Tanzania…a few mom and pop coffee shops or pharmacies but even then you don’t see many locals because they can only afford to shop at the markets.
When I spoke to Adronis and God Bless about AIDS and Malaria, I was astonished that they knew so much about Malaria ie. the need for bed nets, getting blood tests etc. and how little they knew about AIDS. God Bless had no idea how AIDS was transmitted at all. He kept saying through the blood only blood and pointed to his cut on his finger. When I tried to tell them yes but through sex also, it was like I opened up a new world to them. Of course this was post marriage proposal, so I felt safe to discuss this topic with them. Adronis said to me you know what men think…they say it doesn’t feel the same and not to use a condom. Before I got myself in deeper, I decided to change the subject. God Bless did say to me though that he heard AIDS was much worse in South Africa than Tanzania. He did not realize it was all over Africa. They did not even know Africa had a bigger population than the US and Europe. All huge information to them.
When I talk to the locals, I get such a different perspective than anything I can read in a book. Adronis wants so much more for himself but because he lacks the education and the support he doesn’t know how to achieve his goals. He understands life on the Mountain is hard and not a permanent job for him. With the US and European economy unstable, tourists are not coming to Tanzania and that means even less jobs for these people. The young woman, Mariam, who cleaned my room (remember I can’t move so I just watched her) explained to me how she went to school until age 16 and now works to support her family. Now at 21, I sensed her strong desire and longing to go to school and learn more English. Mariam has hopes and dreams but worries her job is in jeopardy as the hotel is not full. In my brief time here, I have received several random acts of kindness from people that are so less fortunate than I am but still I have learned from them.
Upon our departure from Marangu Gate at Mt. Kili, Jeri gave Adronis a bag full of wool socks, I gave him my new North Face gloves and my Gore Tex pants and we both wished him luck at saving money. Jeri said very softly please go to safari school. Choking back tears I said the same. I took his email and I wrote him a thank you note that said simply, “Thank you for an incredible journey and I look forward to hearing about your success in Safari School.” I can only hope my pep talk and Jeri’s urging will make the difference.