Mad Max, Matadors, and Kilimanjaro
From climbing the highest summit it Africa to crashing through pelting hail in a speedboat full of chickens, Wabash students stop at nothing to immense themselves in the countries where they study during their time away from campus.
Mukiwa on Kilimanjaro
"What mattered to them was their brothers and sisters, moms and dads, friends, and for this one day, Mukiwa. One of the greatest privileges and honors I have ever had was playing soccer with those kids and I will never forget it."
by John Seal '98
Most people think of exotic wildlife and aboriginal people when they think of Africa. I freely admit that those impressions are not unlike mine before I made the trip to see for myself. To my surprise Africa's greatest treasure is not the wildlife, the breathtaking panoramas, or even the intrigue of ancient customs. It is the people. From the eldest of the ambuya (grandmothers) to the youngest of the mwana (children) there is an intimate family unity, altruistic devotion to community, and a pride in heritage. Material things were not only insignificant; they were meaningless.
There were many encounters that led me to this affection for Africans during my time there, but one of the fondest came en route to Mozambique. Some friends and I were on a mission to cross Mozambique to the Indian Ocean by whatever means necessary. Necessity found us waiting at an unofficial train stop in the middle of nowhere. Up the hill from the "station" was a village with some children playing soccer in the road. The train wasn't coming any time soon, so I went up to the village to play along. I was greeted with a rather endearing sound of "Mukiwa! Mukiwa!" (White man!). There was some skepticism about my arrival, especially from the younger children, but all in all I would say they were excited to see me. I'm sure for many I was the first white man they had ever seen.
As we resumed the game with the not-so-subtle addition of this mukiwa free agent, I noticed that none of the kids were wearing shoes. And they didn't have a ball-they had a coconut. It doesn't take a Wabash education to figure out there is a problem with the coconut, bare feet combo. Rules are rules, so I took off my shoes and joined in. The first kick was painful as expected, and my exclamation of the contact drew hysterical laughter from my teammates. The laughs continued as we played on. At some point, I'm not sure when, it occurred to me just how lucky these kids were. No shoes on their feet, one pair of clothes marked with holes and tears, no electricity or plumbing, not even a ball to pay with. Just smiles. Smiles that stretched from ear to ear. Smiles that came from the heart and were so radiant and penetrating, you couldn't help but smile yourself. They were smiles of true joy. What mattered to them was their brothers and sisters, moms and dads, friends, and for this one day, Mukiwa. One of the greatest privileges and honors I have ever expereinced was playing soccer with those kids. I will never forget it.
While that was probably the most meaningful and enlightening experience from my time in Africa, I cannot highlight my trip without mentioning my ascent to the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro. It was a six-day climb from tropical rain forest at the base to glaciated tundra at the summit. It was an intense, but steady five-day climb with occasional stops to take in a sunset over the Serengeti, gaze in awe at Comet Hale-Bopp, and, of course, to bask in victory at the summit. We slept in caves and ate ugali, a rather bland but filling traditional African meal made from corn meal. It was truly a rustic adventure full of several instances of poor decision making that, only by the grace of God, I survived. All in all it was a very rewarding excursion that I'll always remember as a mystical encounter with a mysterious mountain.