Sunrise and sunset, I’m gazing at Mount Kilimanjaro. Kili, her name here in Moshi, Tanzania, is a modest woman. She often covers herself with clouds, sometimes head to toe like the devout Moslem women on Moshi streets. Their first call to prayer comes at first break of dawn, far before Kili can be visible or any sensible Tanzanian is up and about. But soon after, I climb up to see if my muse is available for viewing. This is a little before seven and coffee from her flanks is my morning companion. Lately, Kili has been far from shy; she’s almost brazen. Yesterday she hardly covered herself all day long.
Coming back from the dry barren hills above the Kikavu River, I watched her all the way home. For two weeks I have been working with an irrigation cooperative known as UWAKICHI which organizes a valley on the sunny Northern side of Kili. Water flows in torrential rivers from the mountains of East Africa, but the lower elevations are dry as a bone. But when the water is channeled from the river to the land, the land becomes lush.
It’s the perfect time to visit Kili. It’s July—winter in these southern latitudes, but not yet the dry season. I’ve escaped mid-90s temperatures in Arkansas for the low 70s, just above 20 C. Twenty centigrade (68 for Americans) seems to be the cutoff for natives here. Any lower than 20 and it’s just too cold. They like it hot.
I’m staying at a Lutheran Hotel. Strange oxymoron, that. I don’t think of Lutherans as running hotels. Patels yes, Olsons no. And it’s a Lutheran Hotel which doesn’t allow alcohol. Strange when Martin Luther made his own beer and loved good wine.
That hasn’t stopped the Germans from visiting. The hotel was filled with German tour groups the first few days. Then German Lutheran pastors descended. Many were decked out in the colorful African shirts that only tourists wear. After they left, every day has been a different nationality. First Japanese, then Chinese, and yesterday Koreans.
None have joined me to just gaze at Kilimanjaro. Many stop by and look for a few seconds, but then they are off to some other tourist activity. They always miss the best views because they can’t wait for the clouds to clear. One sunset, when Kili was gradually revealing herself, a Japanese and a German both stopped by to look several times. But they had no patience to wait. Eventually she showed her whole western side, but they weren’t there to see it.
The Germans and Japanese were mostly older couples and young women. The Chinese were families. Lots of children happily playing in the hotel gardens. Not much different from the village children who wander in and out of our training sessions. The only difference is the laughter of the African children. They seem always happy, laughing, joking, hugging each other. Easy to see why Africans have so many children.
No children in the Japanese or German tour groups. Just as they have few children at home. Small wonder the Africans and Chinese are taking over the world.
One group conspicuously missing are Americans. A few lone Americans have turned up. No American tour groups.
The aging Americans, Germans and Japanese are perfect visitors for Kilimanjaro. According to ancient legends, the white snow of Kilimanjaro is the resting place of the gods and spirits of the ancestors. It is where you go when you die, not a place for the living.
So I won’t climb to the top. I’ll just enjoy the snow stretching far down its sides, wondering whether the doomsayers are right that the snows are disappearing. They seem pretty enduring. I think they’ll last awhile.