Africa stays in your soul

Leaving Africa is undoubtedly one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. When I reached passport control at the airport, I turned back to say a final goodbye to my hiking guide. I gazed wistfully into his eyes wishing I could convey even a drop of the deep feelings of respect and gratitude I felt towards him. This mild mannered 29-year-old had taught me more during my 10 days in Kilimanjaro than anyone else in my entire life.
At that moment, I had a flashback to the first night of the hike. It was a bitterly cold winter’s night and the only sound was the gentle whisper of the wind as it caressed the already battered trees in the distance. The landscape was blanketed in a thick carpet of snow and the twinkling lights of the torches up ahead looked like tiny stars beckoning us towards them. Every so often, we would stop and have a sip of tepid soup in silence. We all looked like zombies sluggishly staggering towards the dark abyss.
As we fought our way through the brutal headwinds, the gradient of the trail seemed to increase with every step. My quads were burning, my toes and fingers were numb from the freezing cold. I was dizzy and constantly vomiting because of the altitude sickness.
I quickly discovered that I wasn't at all prepared for the physical and mental toll scaling a mountain, of any magnitude, takes on a person. Every now and then, I would collapse and my guide would rush to pick me up and put me back right on the track.
About seven hours into the hike, I realised we had reached the end of the line. There were no torches behind us and it was apparent there was nowhere to go but forward. I was totally shattered. I felt like a machine that had been assembled incorrectly.
Soon after, my exhaustion was replaced by a flood of emotion. I started crying uncontrollable tears of weakness, pain and failure. Once again, I collapsed onto a pile of snow, which soon vanished under my weight like sand in an hour glass. My guide tried to pick me up but I didn’t even have enough energy to speak.
He cradled my face into his big hands and pressed his forehead against mine. Suddenly, he dragged me up and we walked the rest of the trail in the same way a child would walk his elderly grandmother.
If it wasn’t it for his enthusiasm and encouragement, I would never have made it to the top. Support is the beautiful magic that helped me reach the summit.
Suddenly, I was awoken from my daydream. “Mam, mam! Are you OK? You are done, please move forward,” said the passport control officer.
“Oh, I am sorry!” I responded. As I walked towards my gate I thought to myself: “Africa stays in the soul”.

Chris Goward

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