Walking on a Dream
January 30, 2011 § 6 Comments
Blessings are ever-present and beg for your attention, just as challenges of all snarls kick daily and often lock our scope. Navigating this tug-of-war is what defines us, and every so often one side takes; tragedy strikes or joy reaches heights of speechless wonder. I am writing you from a place so bright, so momentous, it’s daunting to try and bottle, but what a beautiful job is this?!
Chapter One: Peak of Peaks
Since I last wrote, I watched the sun reach through the cloud line from the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro. I felt my heart swell like a parent, as our children stood proud in front of the U.S. Ambassador, Martha Karua, and Nairobi’s leadership community at the beautiful Tribe Hotel, and our oldest boy Francis held a microphone just off the sleeve of his first suit and described what it feels like to be given freedom and a chance to pursue his dreams for the first time; a reality held in arrest by the demands of survival. He described the power of family and love and there wasn’t a person left untouched or uninspired. Beyond that, our clinic has taken shape, inaugural classes have commenced in our gorgeous Feinstein Junior Scholars Academy, we’ve added staff, Nairobi is joining the fight, and I can hardly type this without wanting to sprint and howl and dance. Yet still, in all the glory, none of the moments above compare in sweetness to the faces below.
These four children mark the end of an era; the beginning of a new, and they unify our family to immeasurable depth. We’ve fought heavy politics for well over a year to welcome them home. And now we have! Help me by opening your heart to Monicah, Martha, Peter, and Mach. And kids, when you read this someday, there is a whole world of people who admire you for your strength and resilience and faith. You are the peak we’ve been climbing for and together we now go higher.
I want to briefly introduce each of them and their beautiful personalities. And in doing so, I ask you to consider adding your name to their extraordinary story; to consider contributing to the future these children deserve. They have come further than most of us could ever imagine. It’s now our turn and responsibility to take them somewhere they could never have imagined.
Meet Monicah, the extraordinary older sister of Peter and Mach. Everything about her speaks power, depth and vigor. She is motherly, with unwavering dedication to protecting and providing. She’s aware of the blessings she and her brothers deserve and not afraid to fight for them, and she is equally aware of the beauty now unfolding. She shows it in her eyes and through a smile that could melt a mountain. She is already a leader, and our job is now to show her that the world is as capable of pushing for her as it has against her.
Peter is thoughtful and bright; very introspective, with a witty sense of humor. He is gentle and sweet and to see the way he holds his sister, the way he reveres her, is inspiring. Add Mach to the picture and your done for.
Mach is just flat out adorable. He is totally independent, wide-eyed, and fascinated by his new world. If you see him without a car in hand, without motor sounds or giggles, you have seen something I have not. Without a greeting of any kind, he will grab your hand and join you wherever it is you are going, looking up with his flickering eyes.
Martha is without question one of the most mature and brilliant children I’ve ever met. She swam right into the flow of life at the house, as if she’d lived with us her entire life. She told me calmly and without a wince that she would make us proud in school; that she would strive to be first in her class and a leader. And true to her word, that is already what she is. I am inspired by her coolness and calm vision crafting. It says something about a child when you find yourself aspiring to achieve similar characteristics.
Be part of these stories. They need you; we need you. Just click.
Chapter Two: Kilimanjaro
Where to start. The beginning.
Eleven extraordinary people chose to spend their free time knocking beehives from trees, power washing decks, scrubbing cars, and street preachin’ to neighbors and corporate groups about the orphan crisis in Kenya; all to climb an unforgiving mountain, shake their knees in the sun with beautiful children, and fight for the welfare of a vulnerable community and those still out of reach. These are the open minded, energetic people that I was blessed to lead through Njabini and climb one of the Seven Summits with. How beautiful is life?! Beautiful. How beautiful is the Adventure Challenge Program? Beautiful! It’s a way not only to do something extraordinary and equitable, but we enable you to fundraise for it, so you don’t have to have the money, just the desire to create it!
Add thirty three porters and guides (yes, 33) and you’ve got an expedition on your hands. When one of those people is “The Captain,” Mike Chambers, Director of Adventure Challenge, you’ve got more than just an expedition. Afterall, what good is any salty adventure without a “Captain?” Mike’s leadership, sense of humor, dorky dadliness (he carried an ‘Easy Button’ to the summit), and skilled tightrope balance between ease and flow and drive and CHARGE is exactly what made our experience a rounded one. Sharing a tent with Mike was, well, hilarious. It’s amazing how much you get to know people in the course of a great undertaking, let alone when you share a tent with them. We were all a family by the base of that mountain.
Now the climb! The most gorgeous natural wonder I’ve ever encountered.
We took the Machame route, which is six days up and one day down. The weather was unreal, with exception of the last day. I was terribly underprepared, or at least it felt that way as the collapsable hiking poles, Gu energy packs, and cold-tech gear suddenly unfurled from my fellow hikers at the gate. But thanks to all of them and a bit of bartering, the warm socks, gloves, sunglasses, snacks, and all sorts of supremely necessary items began to trickle my way.
The first stage of the hike was lush and forested, the sun barcoding the tall reaching trees. It felt like the Northwest, like Priest Lake with monkeys. My phone was off, ipod loaded, and books stowed. It was heavenly. As we’d stop to slurp away at our camelbacks, a porter would pass, balancing a full propane tank on his head, in a pair of dress shoes, smoking a cigarette. It always put your pain in perspective. Talk about adaptation; these guys are billy goats. And they do it up and down, again and again, for a modest ten dollars per day. The only thing more modest than their pay is the amount of water they drink in the process.
We’d arrive to camp each day, which always was such a sweet sight, drop our bag, and head to the dining tent, where we’d watch the sunset, play Uno (pronounced ‘YouKnow’ if with Tanazanians), and work to master our mix of instant coffee, powdered milk, and powdered chocolate if in pursuit of a mocha. It was always a comical and relieving part of the day. Add carrot ginger soup, cucumber soup, squash curry soup, group shoulder rubs, and a good book, and it became something you’d wake up looking forward to.
While each day brought new stories, each night got progressively colder and the bag I rented was a mummy one. So although my body was warm, I’d tie a fleece around my face to cover my nose and mouth, and then with only eyes exposed, I’d fall asleep. This was a marvelous solution until I would wake in the night, having rotated, one eye seeing now nothing in the darkness, my body enclosed with an odd reach to the zipper, and what would ensue was a mild claustrophobic panic attack followed by a speedy peeling. This would then wake Captain, who would snap up like a mouse trap, establish that no villians were at large, and lay back down. This combined process happened at least three times a night. So when I say it was hilarious sharing a tent with Mike, I mean it was hilarious in a sort of One-Flew-over-the-Coo-Coo’s-Nest way. Never-the-less, sleep was pretty inconsistent and this certainly took it’s toll as the altitude gained.
Each day brought different terrain. Once above the tree line, vegetation became alien. Lobelien Cabbages, which open with the sun and close at dusk, Giant Groundsels, standing thirty feet high, fog streams that would sweep in, and brittle rock that broke like glass under foot. Our guide Anthony was the most positive and charismatic person I’ve ever met. Actually, he was so much like Borat, it was hard not to laugh the moment you saw his mouth start to cup a sentence. “Yes Please Ladies! Are We Ready Captain?!” He kept our sense of humor and spirits on the move as each step got a bit heavier.
Day four was when things started to get difficult. The altitude, now near 14,000 feet, was having varied effects on the team. Everyone battled headaches, stomach turns, nausea, and the like. But we rallied; kept each other hydrated, medicated and moving. The nearness to base camp and summit day had everyone re-energized and pushing.
I’d never experienced ‘base camp’ before. It was a magical place. Colorful, buzzing with little clans from all over the world, everyone anxious and energetic. It was much like I’d imagined it to be. We arrived to base camp at noon, where we quickly ate lunch and were told to do our best to sleep. That night at eleven p.m. we would begin a marathon sixteen hours of hiking; seven to the summit and nine back down, so sleep was of the essence. However, this was also an exciting time for the porters because they get to hang back and wait for our return; it’s almost like a day off. So what do they start doing at 14,500 feet? Well they start drinking gin of course. Thus, the campsite became more near the deck of a pirate ship, with pots clanking, neighbors snoring, crows nicking their beaks against the rock in pursuit of crumbs. It was more excitement than the variables that kept me up, but it certainly made for a napless nap. I didn’t sleep one wink.
In the time I laid in the tent, I must have thought every thought I could think. And in doing so, I reached a point of overwhelming fulfillment and gratitude, reflecting on all I’ve gone through since I came to Africa; everything that Flying Kites and these children have enabled me to do; everything my family and loved ones, living and not living, have sacrificed for me to be here. I thought about my future for the first time in a long time, having been so immersed in my surroundings, and by the time that 10:30 wake up call came, I was ready rock.
We started up the steep banks with only the glow of our headlamps, like fireflies. Everything seemed moon-like, surreal and beautiful. We shuffled along switchbacks at such a grade that you’d look down and see a stream of lights, then you’d look up and see the same stream disappear into the stars. It was honestly difficult to differentiate the headlamps of people hiking from the stars.
The battle is against head pressure and cold, but you move slowly, whittling away one step at a time, adapting as best as you’re able. It becomes a robotic experience. I fed off my music and markers like 17,000 feet, 18,000 feet, 19,000 feet. You’re somewhere between awake and asleep. The town of Moshi glows far below, the headlights above seem less and less distant, and then a monumental thing begins to happen. The blackness turns smokey purple, then deep amber, then a faint orange begins to mark the arrival of the summit.
The switchbacks finally reach a saddle, the low rim of the once active volcano. Huge banks of glaciers show their sweaty, glinting faces. And when you turn around, it’s just a sea of clouds, through which neighboring mountain peaks cut sharply. And as the sun continues to rise, the muted pink becomes gold and an overwhelming sensation of accomplishment and awe set in. I’ve never seen something so beautiful or pushed myself to this particular kind of extreme. I had to keep the cold body of my camera against my chest to take the pictures below, but I will cling to them for the rest of my life.
One by one, in tears and smiles, another member of our group would crest the hill, until we realized, everyone had made it. 100 percent. We were ecstatic! From here we started the slow and final walk around the volcano rim to Uhuru Peak, the highest point in all of Africa, at 19,340 feet. This was the beginning of my 2011.
The way down was heavy on the knees but light on the head and heart. The world we traversed in darkness was now made clear. It was a whole mountain of sand, sand so loose it could be navigated like snow. I stripped down to my long underwear, tied my kikoi over my face, tucked my glasses tightly to my cheeks, and readied my hiking poles like a skier. And then I just took off running. Cutting, jumping, falling. I felt like a kid, carving a desert with the edge of my boots. Every cut meant a degree of pressure removed. It was such a long hike down, complete with a flash monsoon and thunderstorm, but our return to camp was marked by a celebratory Kilimanjaro beer, on which the motto reads: “If you can’t climb it, drink it.”
We did both.
Thank you Adventure Challenge team! I miss you all and could never thank you enough for the impact you made and continue to make in the lives of our children.
Chapter Three: Tribe!
I could never have imagined I’d end up in a ‘Who’s in and who’s out in the local hot spots’ section of the Star, a Nairobi newspaper, but this is the kind of success our event at the Tribe Hotel bloomed to be. A funk, jazz group called Paragasha, led by the all-too-generous Anto Neosoul, opened our Flying Kites Life Lifted Cocktail Party. While they bent the air, acrobats from the Africa Yoga Project performed on the bar in the center of the pool. Francis broke every heart in the house and built it new again. I dug deep to explain our work, our vision, and call for more hands. Ms. Honorable Martha Karua explained the importance of investing in future leaders as not only a means of building a greater Kenya, but as a means to building a greater humanity. Leaders born from inequity are the best to fight it’s roots.
The night concluded with our poster power punch, Jimmie Gait and his dancers. Not only did Jimmie speak wildly about our children, filling them with confidence and pride, he spoke heartedly about our work, and in the end brought all our children to stage, where they received a massive applause. Something they deserve wholly. From this moment, it became a shakedown. Our kids unrolled a coordinated dance they’d been practicing at the house, the rain started falling (a tradition now for a Jimmie Gait show), and the crowd, including Ms. Karua, got to dancing. It was everything we’d dreamt it to be. And it was beautiful proof of partnership. being that all entertainment, the venue, equipment, everything was donated. So with that said, thank you to the Nairobi community, to Ms. Hon. Martha Karua, to the U.S. Ambassador, Jimmie Gait, Anto, Paragasha, the Africa Yoga Project, and all who made time to hear our story.
And most of all, thank you to Tribe, to Mark Somen and Alina Haq, who have given us their time, resources, faith, and relentless support. It is because of them that it happened at all, and it is because of them that our impact is growing to tremendous heights in a new and vibrant community. We are grateful.
Thank you for caring enough to read this. I could write for days and never capture all that is unfolding. Life only seems to speed up here, but the level of grace and gratitude grows along side. I’m just relieved, after all this time, to be caught up again.
My girlfriend, Ms. Angie Wilkins, surprised me after the wake of Tribe and Kili with an itinerary showing Kenya as arrival, February as the month, and 5 as the day! So prepare for only more enthusiasm and gratitude, as the adventures coming will be special ones.
I send my heartfelt congratulations to Ben Lyman and Sarah Smith for their engagement! I send gratitude to Peter Keating for his incredible generosity and care, both personally and professionally. I also send my happy heart to those of you who sent holiday cards and gifts clear to Africa, and my brightest thanks on behalf of the children to those of who donated to our work as a means of holiday giving. We are growing to a new capacity, growing closer to the infrastructure required to save a significant number of lives from darkness. It is you who pushes us to the next peak. Sponsor a child, join an Adventure Challenge, or just Donate.
Your support and compassion lifts us.
Know that you are loved with equal glow.
In the course of history, there comes a time when humanity is called to shift to a new level of consciousness, to reach a higher moral ground. A time when we have to shed our fear and give hope to each other. That time is now.”