I’ve been trying to figure out what on earth gave me the impression that I might be up to doing something as crazy as hiking up Kilimanjaro (the highest peak in Africa standing at 5892 meters).
It’s not like I’ve done any sort of real hiking before. I have lived in Cairo for the past 23 years, for goodness sake. And never in my life have I ever lived anywhere near mountains, or even hills for that matter.
When I was in the fourth grade my dad took me and my brother hiking down the Grand Canyon. I suppose that counts. I have fond memories of that hike. I don’t remember it being particularly difficult in the physical sense. I do remember it being extremely hot. My dad would make us pour water on our heads and wet our caps at every water hole we found along the way. That was the funnest part of it all. It was most difficult on my dad. By the time we got back to the top he was suffering from a heat stroke. I remember my mom complaining frantically about the lack of help she got from the hotel management in handling my father’s heat stroke. Now that I think of it, though, it couldn’t have been all that bad. I don’t remember any doctors’ visits and he was not sent to hospital. And we got up and drove to our next destination the following morning.
When we lived in New Mexico for a summer, the same summer we hiked the Grand Canyon, my parents also took us to A-Mountain. I’m not doing any research for this blog so you must understand that I’m basing this purely on memory. A-Mountain was thus called because for some odd reason there was a huge A written on its top that could be seen from miles away. We hiked all the way up one evening; my parents and their three kids at the time. Since I do not recall it taking more than an afternoon’s stroll, A-Mountain couldn’t have been more than a hill. A-Mountain also has a very vivid memory because on the way down, my brother slipped into a crop of cactusi and it took the rest of the night for my mother to remove all the thorns using her ever-handy tweasers.
That summer was clearly our hiking summer. I do not remember ever doing any real hiking again.
In the summer of 2006 I visited Palestine for the first time. A friend took me to the north of the 1948 lands and wanted to show me an old castle on the top of a hill. I started up after him but after only three minutes I decided that I had no breath to take me up that silly hill.
In December 2007 (might have been 2008…all years are pretty much the same to me), I took a friend visiting from Palestine (the same from the hill) and my cousin visiting from the U.S. to Sharm El-Sheikh in Sinai. Part of the plan was to spend a night going up Mt. Moses (also called Mt. Sinai), which stands at 2285 meters). At the time I had started training semi-regularly at the gym so I figured I was good for the hike. I wasn’t really. Ask my cousin Andrea. There must be a word for something beyond the mere panting. It was pathetic really. I did make it to the top. But I vividly recall going up those final large stairs-made-out-of-rocks near the top and feeling like my hiking boots were made out of lead. I had not been anywhere really cold since I was a kid. So I was freezing at the summit and nothing could warm me up. I have a picture of me smiling on that summit. It’s not a smile. It’s a clenching of the teeth.
When I started training for the Kili hike I visited a protectorate in the Western Desert near Cairo. I hiked that twice (13 km) and that was fine. But that was flat land. Desert flat land, but still flat.
So as you see, I have no history at all in any of this. As a kid I wasn’t all that athletic. I was the fastest runner in class till I reached the sixth grade. That must count for something. I could beat up boys if I wanted to (and I actually did at least once). I loved swimming and I know I could do several laps back and forth with no trouble at all (not any more). I was great at dodge ball! Remember that, anyone? Is that still even played? I climbed trees all the time (and other peoples’ garages, by the way). And then there was a game called Kick the Can. I remember that involving a can, lots of kicking, and some hiding. And red light, green light where you are asked to run as fast as you can on green towards a certain goal and suddenly freeze when the word red is called. But all that is pretty much the summary of my childhood physical activity.
So what got this into my head, I repeat? I think it’s The Craziness (a disease I’ve had for the past few years), the Little Man in my head who just won’t shut up, my free soul gene that my mother tells me runs on her side of the family, and my dimagh gazma (traslated from Arabic: head like a shoe) that I’m pretty sure comes from my father’s side of the family although they’d probably more appropriately call it dimagh hagar (translated from Arabic: head like stone).
All these put together have made for a pretty crappy personality I can assure you. If I get something into my head (usually gets there as a result of a combination of The Craziness and Little Man) I cannot rest until I’ve at least tried to do it (a result of a combination of free soul gene and dimagh gazma).
It has also meant that I’ve done some rather interesting things these past few years. While visiting the Alps in southern Germany (I went up in a cable car), I bumped into a man who was getting ready to do some paragliding. I asked him if I could join him and since he was a certified tandem paraglider person he agreed. So I literally jumped off the Alps! That was an amazing experience. In Antalya, Turkey I actively sought out a place where I could get some bungee jumping in. The result of that was I jumped off a 53 meter steel structure. SICK! I’ve done some simple kayaking (on the Jordan River and on one of Turkey’s many rivers). I’ve pretty much given myself permission to feel like doing something and just doing it.
That can’t be all bad. I always know that I might not be successful in the try. But I usually don’t really care. Success has rarely been my goal. It’s more about the actual experience. I KNOW that if I don’t try I’ll spend the rest of my life regretting it. And I’d rather try and fail than not try at all.
So THAT’S what is taking me up Kilimanjaro. I simply want to try. I am very aware that I might not succeed reaching the summit or anywhere near the summit. But I will have tried and I won’t have to live with myself constantly wondering what it might have been like trying to climb a mountain. I’ll know what it was like. I’ll have experienced it first hand – not read it from a book. And whatever happens, I’ll feel secure in the fact that I’ve lived my life; not just watched others live theirs.