The continent of Africa to most seems a far-off world, a place we examine only through the eyes of television documentaries journeyed by a Western narrator. For many, it’s a place of wishful wanderlust, but most never venture further than reading ‘Mr.Pip’. Travelling there this summer then was an incredible, if not surreal experience. Trekking up the tallest peak in this otherwise flat land has changed my knowledge of Africa and created everlasting memories.
Arriving in Tanzania, we were the only arrivals at the airport, a group of students intent on climbing the iconic Roof of Africa. The dawn light coupled with the low buzz of mosquitoes seemed to reinforce the vastness of the African continent, and just how far away we were from our normality.
The orange sun rising up over vast fields of corn gave the iconic African image, broken only by a solitary woman, laden with baskets on her head and a child wrapped on her back. As the coach rolled on, our minds muddied from crooked sleeping on planes, we all sat in silence increasingly aware of the locals observing us. To experience such an awareness of your own skin and its meaning here was cutting. Children began to run down the road and wave at us, their crisp shirts being clouded in the dust. That moment was something. To see the growth of somewhere we often hear just so much sadness about. To see young girls with their neat braids much unlike our own little sisters, holding hands to cross the roads to school; showing something other than a stereotyped clashing cultural difference.
As the dawning sun mirrored our dawning realisation about the realities of the lives that we would encounter the bus rolled on past schools and mosques and churches. Children began to run down the road and wave at us their crisp shirts being clouded in the dust. That moment was something. To see the growth of somewhere we often hear just so much sadness about. To see young girls with their neat braids much unlike our own little sisters, holding hands to cross the roads to school; showing something other than a stereotyped clashing cultural difference.
In the free days that we had before climbing the mountain, we were shown around the local town of Moshi. There the sights from the travelling bus took on new sensory experiences. The smell of the market was a smell of everyday life, a stench reflecting the commonplace poverty. The eyes followed us all around the market, an experience you quickly became numb to. But the knowledge of what my white skin meant to many of those people was difficult to acclimatise to.
Climbing up the mountain was as incredible as you can imagine. The only goal for everyone there; to reach Uhuru Peak. So many stories were told, the guides giving us a spoken autobiography of their life. Many came from small villages surrounding the mountain. Having each climbed to the peak over 60 times their numbness to the altitude matched their numbness to our cultural differences. They told us of their ambitions for their sons to become great engineers and their daughters’ doctors. Their zest for achievement and pride in Tanzania was moving to us.
Travelling back home we’d all learnt how this was not a place of anguish commonly narrated to us, but a place of immense ambition. The hustle of survival pushed people into striving and achieving with more zeal than we had ever seen. Africa is a continent of phoenixes rising from the ashes of their somewhat brutal reality and devastating history into a people of welcoming successes and determination.
This year Southampton RAG are running an international challenge of trekking up Mt. Kilimanjaro in aid of Meningitis Research Foundation. To have the same incredible experience come along to the information evening on the 18th of October at 6 pm in 58/1023.