March 10th, 2013

Face

Final CSC Blog Entry: “Just Walk Beside Me, And Be My Friend” – for my CSC Nigeria

Originally published at Rodney's Blog. Please leave any comments there.

It’s a bittersweet moment now. If I said that I wasn’t at all emotional, I would be lying.

The team has officially disbanded and have gone towards their onwards journeys. It’s sweet because I know many people are ready to begin their post-CSC experiences. For some that will be going back home to see family and good friends. For others, the adventures continue around Africa and around the world for a couple of weeks more.

It’s bitter because we started out as colleagues, but ended up as friends. And it is always hard to say good to those you care for.

I had the incredible fortune and honour to work with Leslie, Kelsen, Bouke, Cinthia, Minh-Hai, Bob, Sundar, Mithilesh, Christina, Bianka, Peter, Laura (hereafter known as My Little Sister), Bhuvana, and Mariana. Our bond was immediate from the day we all first met on location at the Sheraton Hotel in Lagos. Laughing and getting to know each other, if you hadn’t know about us and were walking past, it would have seemed to the casual observer that we were friends for a long time.

In our four weeks together we supported each other, learned from each other, tested each other, grew frustrated with each other, had our assumptions challenged by each other, grew as people from engaging with each other, and somewhere in between the first meal we shared together and the last team toast -  became friends with each other. This group has my greatest admiration and deepest respect. It’s hard to imagine that we won’t keep in touch. But I will miss having daily access to their thoughtful insights, their passion for the client and to make IBM proud, their wisdom and balanced judgement, their infectious willingness to go the extra mile and serve, and just plain fun. But I also know I carry a part of each of them with me.

I think I would close this entry with a group picture, a quote from Albert Camus, and a sense of feeling blessed and grateful for having 14 new colleagues friends to walk besides me in my life’s journey.

IMG_1946 (Small)

“Don’t walk behind me; I may not lead.

Don’t walk in front of me; I may not follow.

Just walk beside me and be my friend.”

May you always be blessed, watched over, and looked after. May you know that my tears are not because our time together is over, but are tears of gratitude for the opportunity to be a part of my life. And finally, may you know that this is not goodbye; rather it is take care until we meet again.

<3

Brains

The Kilimanjaro Diary: Preamble – Some thoughts about what lies ahead

Originally published at Rodney's Blog. Please leave any comments there.

I should preface this entry by saying that I am writing it post-experience, but the experience is still so fresh in my mind that I have no problems writing about it even two weeks later. I am kinda glad I waited because details I overlooked before are now sharper in my mind.

Also, in this entry, there is no media (except for the picture of the mountain)…only text. The reason for that – besides not having pictures or video to show for it – is that this is meant to be reflective and not illustrative.

mt kilimanjaro

What started curiosity about climbing the mountain has changed to amazement to a certain level of apprehension. Up until arriving in Moshi, Tanzania on Sunday, 10 March 2013, Mount Kilimanjaro was abstract. It was something I had seen in movies, read about on the internet, browsed over in guidebooks, and talked about with others. It’s different to see the mountain in person. It’s at that point you think long and hard about how prepared you really are; that you hoped that you packed everything and in the right quantities; that you start to wonder about everything from a strategic perspective; and the summit. And a million other things all at once.

Honestly, in terms of preparedness, I was more than a bit worried. Having committed myself mentally to the trip in late-November (thanks to the massive research efforts of my Kili climbing buddy Christina!), that left me with about 10 weeks to train before my IBM Corporate Service Corps trip to Nigeria. And things were going along great! I dropped 10kg during those 10 weeks, was going to the gym 3-5 times a week, had a great mix of High-Intensity Interval Training (GRIT Strength!), pulse training (spinning…lots of spinning), and endurance (stair climbing and rowing). I felt pretty good about my chances!

And then there was Nigeria…

To be fair, the problem wasn’t the country per se. It was a bunch of smaller concerns which added up to a bigger one:

  • The gym at the hotel simply didn’t have the variety or quality of the equipment I needed;
  • The Nigerian diet is carb-heavy naturally (pounded yam and other starches are staple foods);
  • We didn’t have the level of freedom of movement I would have liked (e.g. my plan was in the absence of gym equipment to use what God gave me, legs and feet and go jogging instead);
  • The beer was too tasty for me to resist; and
  • I could have made a few better food choices over the month I was in Nigeria

I worked out at the gym a few times in Nigeria. I also even managed to lose 2kg over the course of the month thanks to exercises such as situps, ab crunches, burpees, and pushups. But I wasn’t looking to achieve weight loss – I was looking to increase physical strength and endurance and I hadn’t done that to the level that I wanted. So I was nervous.

So back to Tanzania.

I do what passes for logical and scientific calculations in my head over the course of the day. I peg my chances of reaching the summit at 85%. I am not concerned about my kit, or the logistics. I am not even concerned about my weight isolation. I am concerned about not having done enough cardio exercise to maximise my body’s efficient intake of oxygen (which gets thinner as we ascend). I am concerned about how quickly we ascend up the mountain and whether I will acclimitise properly despite the fact that I have Diamox (which helps, but is no guarantee).

I have thought of a million and one things. But ultimately I just decide that the best answer is to ‘Just Do It’ and then adapt long the way. I wouldn’t have signed up if I didn’t think I could do it. So despite all of the logic and scientific thought, I come to understand that the journey is also about faith. It’s about faith in myself, faith in my guide and his team, and faith in Christina.

Even in a group Kilimanjaro is a personal journey, but as I would come to learn, you can do almost anything with a little help, faith, and from your friends and supporters.

Most of you know how the story ends. But my “Kili Diary” is about the journey. And you’re welcome to follow along.

 

ling-ling

The Kilimanjaro Diary: Day 0 – Moshi Town and Our “Last Night” (9-10 March 2013)

Originally published at Rodney's Blog. Please leave any comments there.

Lagos Airport

Bhuvana, Mithilesh, Christina, and myself all share a flight from Lagos, Nigeria to Addis Abba, Ethiopia. We said our goodbyes to Mana, Ming-Hai, Cinthia, and Bianka at the Sheraton and it felt sad. Bouke was travelling with us to the airport, but was heading to Sierra Leone. We get to the airport and what better way to start the travel experience by finding out that Ethiopian Airlines’ computer system was down and that they were checking people in manually using handwritten tickets. So a process that should have taken 1 hour took 3 hours instead. And not to mention the security and other checks which are a separate entry in their own right. But eventually all of us make it through the checkpoints. We said goodbye to Bouke and the four of us got on our flight. Laughter, smiles, and more laughter is the common theme of our flight. At Addis Abba Christina and I said our goodbyes to Bhuvana and Mithilesh. Long hugs goodbye and a couple of tears later, it’s hard to express in a journey just how much the team feels like extended family to me now. But Christina and I have an appointment with a mountain.

Moshi Town

We arrive into JRO airport at around 03.00 or 04.00. It’s pitch black outside. Our driver from Zara Tours is waiting for us. He takes us to the van, we put our luggage in, and we’re off to the hotel. We get there in about 45 minutes and during the ride Christina and I talk and bond. After all, we’re going to be on a mountain together, so sharing and being open and honest with each other are essential. It’s a really good conversation about random things. We arrive to the hotel (it is a private hotel owned essentially by Zara for use for people climbing Kilimanjaro) and the check-in is smooth and we have rooms right next to each other. I am happy because there are no bugs, cockroaches, or geckos in my room. There isn’t even any mosquitoes in my room. So refreshing, I catch a few hours of sleep without any mosquito netting needed in my room and sleep a very good 2-3 hours.

Eventually we make it down to breakfast and overall I am happy. Not much to complain about. They have the basics right, the coffee is hot, the tea is plentiful, the fruit is safe, the porridge is tasty. I think we are genuinely happy, but you can see for yourself :)

IMG_2250 (Small) IMG_2249 Rodney at Springlands Hotel

After breakfast we decide to head into town. We need to get Tanzanian money and want to explore the town. On the bus, we meet 2 Aussie guys and hang out for most of the day walking around town, buying souvenirs, lunch, and generally exploring. As it turns out, trekking the same mountain is a great ice-breaker since it’s a common goal and interest. Dino and his friend are really cool (editors note: turns out Christina and I will see them again on the mountain).

Orientation and the Machame

In the afternoon we have an orientation meeting at the hotel with guide, Ashard. He is the chief guide who will lead us up the mountain. The orientation goes well. We have several questions but are mostly a mix of nervous and excited. Ashard is one of their best guides (editors note: known for taking ‘difficult cases’) and he brings a sense of relaxing and calm to what should be a nervous moment. After our orientation, Christina and I agree in the evening that we should watch each other pack in order to make sure we bring only what is truly needed. Turns out that was a good idea. Joint packing meant that we should share some things on the mountain.

Our route up the mountain was the Machame route, which is also known as the ‘Whiskey Route’. The route is normally a 6-day trek, but Christina wisely decided to add an extra day for acclimatisation on the mountain, so our day was a 7-day trek. To give you a sense of the trek, here is a map (I’ll be referring to us through the Kili Diary entries):

machame-route-kilimanjaro-map-i4

You can also get a description of the route taken here.

So after packing, dinner, talking with more people we just met, surfing on the internet, and one last beer (couldn’t resist), I go to sleep and get reach for the next day – Day 1.

I feel ready so bring it on!