The Amazing Kilimanjaro Porters

The porters of Kilimanjaro

These guys helped us climb Kilimanjaro

I was at work the other day and our leadership team was talking about how important it is that people feel empowered to make a difference.  One VP said we needed to see more "everyday champions."  He meant we needed to see more ordinary people who just did their jobs well and made the company better just by being there.  He asked if anyone knew any "everyday champions"  and my thoughts went immediately to the porters on Mt. Kilimanjaro. Every day on the mountain these men had the very ordinary, and rather tough job of carrying food and equipment up to the next camp.  On average porters carry between 60-80lbs.  Some will even do the climb twice as they bring two separate loads up to the next camp.  But it was how they did there job that was so impressive to me. I particularly remember my porter, Mik.  Mik (in yellow sweat pants in the picture) was responsible for carrying my backpack to the next camp each day.  After breakfast each morning I packed up my bag and strapped the tent onto the top of it.  When I was done the pack stood well over 5 feet high.   This is important because Mik was not much over 5 feet, and now shorter than my pack.  He would strap a few additional items onto the pack and then heft it on top of his head.  There he stood, like a giant "T" with my pack balanced on his skull. Mik would head up the trail with a smile and a wave.  From time to time I'd catch up with Mik and we'd exchange the few words he knew in English or I knew in Swahili.  "Pole pole" he'd remind me.  "Take it easy/go slowly" in English.  Later I learned the expression "haraka haraka haina baraka" which roughly means "there is no blessing for being first."  I'd test my new phrase on Mik as he rushed up the trail and he'd howl with laughter.  How ironic.  The Tanzanian, coming from a slow, relaxed culture is rushing up the mountain and telling the hurried foreigner to slow down.  Now, that same hurried foreigner is telling the Tanzanian to take it easy. I've never met a group of people so warm and friendly; so eager to laugh and connect with other people.   Mik was doing a very ordinary job, carrying heavy loads up a mountain.  But how he did it has had a long and lasting impression on me.  Looking back, Mik and his fellow porters taught me to laugh more freely, connect with others more easily and just enjoy the experience regardless of what it might be. BTW, 80lbs is too much for anyone to carry up a mountain.  The Kilimanjaro Porter's Assistance Project is working to help improve the working conditions of porters on the mountain.  And you can help.  Keep your pack weight under 30 lbs or ask for an additional porter if you'll bring more.  You can also donate warm clothes to the Project.  Porters can check out jackets and pants to protect themselves from the freezing temperatures as they ascend with you.
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