We started our countdown by taking six Standard One students from Msaranga Primary School (along with their parents and Vumi) to Kilimanjaro Christian Medical Center or KCMC where we inaugurated the referral phase of The Toa Nafasi Project with visits to the vision, pediatric, and neurology departments. These were kids who we knew were under-performing due to my observations, our assessment, and the quarterly school test. We were able to further delve into each of their backgrounds by questioning the parents and teachers and talking with the students one-on-one. We then determined that some of these children might not under-performing due to learning difficulties, but possibly some other kind of medical issue.
We had four children whose vision was questionable so we took them to the eye clinic for full testing. Two more children had health issues that required a personal pediatric examination. One of these, a girl we held back from Standard Two, is very tall and thin and I had thought she might have Marfan syndrome, but at the very least we wanted to get her checked for malnutrition and anemia. The other, a boy also removed from Standard Two, is not talkative and exhibits flu-like symptoms more often than is typical, so he needed a check-up as well. Two other kids, both boys whose vision we tested in addition, we took to the neurology department where a Dutch neurologist conducts a weekly clinic. One of them we checked for microcephaly as his head and neck are unusually underdeveloped and the other had a history of headaches according to his parents, so we wanted to follow up on that information.
Both fortunately and unfortunately, we found out that all of the kids we brought to KCMC were fine and without issues in the areas that we were concerned with. It's obvious why this information is good, but the bad thing is that we are now back to that gray area of learning difficulties where the solution is something much more abstract and amorphous than, say, a pair of glasses or a vitamin supplement. But that's what Toa Nafasi is here for and I am already working on creating lesson plans and practicing teaching methods for working with this group of young students.
In order to offset the intensity of the Project, I tried to show Angi a good time while she was here in Moshi. Unfortunately, she came at a period where I've been laying low and keeping to myself plus it's "winter" here in TZ so nights are pretty cold to go out and about. So, the bar/club scene was basically ruled out, and instead, we kept to some, good clean fun, first by going on a loooong day hike up Kilimanjaro via the Machame Route with my dear friend Methley and then by lunching at Melinda's farm, also located in Machame.
When I wanted to climb Kili back in 2008, there was no one else I could ask to take me except one Methley Emanuel Swai, mountain climber extraordinaire. At that time he was working for his brother's company, but now he has branched out and created his own company called Just-Kilimanjaro which offers a boutique mountain-climbing experience in that Methley basically does everything himself, from the marketing and publicity to the bookings to the hiring of assistant guides and porters, to lead-guiding every single group himself to cooking, cleaning and general TCB'ing.
Professionally, he is knowledgeable, reliable, and pretty much just amazeballs; personally, he is the yin to my yang, the calm to my crazy, and also fairly amazeballs. He has met all the members of my family and many of the friends who have to come visit me here, arranging safaris and birthday cakes, playing golf with my dad and setting my sister up with his brother. So, suffice it to say that when it comes to spending an inordinate amount of time with someone in likely uncomfortable circumstances and doing strenuous exercise for days on end without a shower nor a glass of wine, this is the guy you want to be with. Ain't he cute?
The plan for the day was to hike to the first camp on the Machame Route, appropriately named Machame Camp. (I had climbed the Rongai Route back in 2008, a longer and more meandering course which we had decided upon because I was with my parents who are obviously older folks. They made it to Mawenzi Tarn Hut before Carla decided a glass of red wine, hot shower, and pool time at the Impala Hotel was an infinitely more appealing way to spend her vacation, and David reluctantly followed her down the mountain. I made it to Gilman's Point before I decided that keeping all ten fingers and ten toes was an infinitely more appealing option of the future than breaking off a couple due to hypothermia.) Machame is known to be challenging but beautiful and it is the preferred route of Methley and his family. Our day was to consist of 11kms up and 11 down, with a gain of 1200 meters in altitude.
We started fairly flat but the ascent crept up on us in a hurry. This route was definitely more difficult than I remember Rongai being! And all the time as we were going up, I was thinking that "what goes up must come down," and how hard it was going to be to get back. I'd much rather exert myself and feel the burn in my bum climbing than grip my toes and slip and slide on the gravel descending!!
Methley tends to be a bit more adventurous than I am (or than I would want him to be when we are together!) plus I think he wanted to show Angi the undiscovered beauty of the mountain, so at one point we veered off the path to see if there was a ravine or a gorge or some damn thing. I could have done without the side excursion, but of course I blindly followed Mkuu (Chief) and then complained bitterly when I caught up to him....
About three quarters of the way to camp, we could see Kibo (the snowy peak) from the path and Angi took this beautiful shot (and I gotta give her props here for several other of the shots for this entry - thanks Angi!!). We also got to see Mt. Meru in Arusha from this vantage point. We also got to pee.
When we finally reached Machame Camp, the path really opened up and we got a great view of Kibo, where we all posed for photos, Methley doing his Usain Bolt impression for the camera. We had lunch which, as I said before, Methley takes pride in preparing personally. He whipped up a fabulous tilapia salad complete with olive oil, ground pepper, and fresh chili: natural, healthy, carb-and-sugar-free; does this guy know me or what?
People are always riding me about not making it to the summit last time I climbed, to which I generally protest and say that I did indeed make it to the summit, or a part of the summit anyway, just not the *true* summit, Uhuru Peak. Well, that situation is soon to be rectified as Angi and I plan to climb together with her husband next year (won't that be fun for Keith?!). In the meantime, here is proof that I can at least make it to the first camp.
As predicted, the trek down was long and arduous even after fueling up on tilapia salad. I was constantly lagging behind prompting Methley to berate me ("Mowgli, keep up!" For whatever reason, something about my appearance prompts him to equate me with Disney's Jungle Boy) though I will point out here that of the three of us, the only one who didn't fall on the downward trek was none other than the Jungle Boy herself, so while slow-and-steady may not win the race, it does keep you upright.
Aside from the slowgoing of the walk itself, we had also dillydallied sufficiently looking for gorges and grinding pepper that we were pretty late to get back to the gate. It was nearly 8pm by the time we made it to my car and, while the memory of my feelings at that particular time has faded, I am pretty sure I had some choice thoughts going through my head for old Mkuu there....especially with all the "Mowgli, keep up!" blather.
At any rate, the hike was a tremendous success and Angi and I had an amazing time. We will definitely be hiking next year with Methley and Just-Kilimanjaro and if anyone out there is thinking about climbing Kili, I can guarantee you that THIS is THE guy to go with. He will make sure your trek is perfect in every possible way and he will do it all himself. I like to say that he is to Just-Kili as I am to Toa Nafasi. So, feel free to contact me if you're thinking about a climb and I'll give you the hook-up!
The following day, feeling the burn from our 22km "walk in the park," Angi and I decided some R&R was called for so we went back out to Machame where a Dutch woman named Melinda lives with her husband who manages a flower farm. Melinda is an amazing cook and opens up her home and grounds to the public on the weekends and serves things like "beetroot, feta and spinach quiche" and "char-grilled red paprika and carrot soup served with toasted seed bread." Do I have to say it? .... AMAZEBALLS! Definitely in order after busting our butts on the mountain. I had the soup and a feta salad and Angi and our friend Shay had chicken and tzatziki sandwiches. I'm not much of a dessert person but since Melinda is known for her sweets, Angi and Shay partook in this chocolate monstrosity and we all enjoyed a beautiful, if slightly cloudy, day in the country.
Last but not least, THIS also happened last week, but far as I can tell, not too much came out of it except a bunch more traffic jams in Dar.
And now, everyone is safe and sound at home - me, Angi, Methley, President Obama - and all is well with the world.
Tomorrow, the gears start grinding again as I return to school to conduct a few last-minute parent and teacher hojajis and prepare for this week's visit to the Gabriella Center, a rehabilitation clinic where we hope to place a couple of our children who we do not think will fare well in a regular school even with Vumi's and my support. My notes on that to come, as well as a report of how our new lessons are going, next week!