Kilimanjaro

Author: David R. Kotok, Post Date: June 7, 2017
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“… It was difficult getting him in, but once in he lay back in the leather seat, and the leg was stuck straight out to the one side of the seat where Compton sat. Compton started the motor and got in. He waved to Helen and to the boys and, as the clatter moved into the old familiar roar, they swung around with Compie watching for wart-hog holes and roared, bumping, along the stretch between fires and with the last bump rose and he saw them standing below, waving, and the camp beside the hill, and the bush flattening, while the game trails ran now smoothly to the dry waterholes, and there was a new water that he had never known of. The zebra, small rounded backs now, and the wildebeest, big-headed dots seeming to climb as they moved in long fingers across the plain, now scattering as the shadow came toward them, they were tiny now, and the movement had no gallop, and the plain as far as you could see, gray-yellow now and ahead of Compie’s tweed back and the brown felt hat. Then they were over the first hills and the wildebeest were trailing up them, and then they were over the mountains with sudden depths of green-rising forest and solid bamboo slopes, and then heavy forest again, sculptured into peaks and hollows until they crossed, and hills sloped down and then another plain, hot now, and purple brown, bumpy with heat and Compie looking back to see how he was riding. Then there were other mountains dark ahead….

“And then instead of going on to Arusha they turned left, he evidently figured that they had the gas, and looking down he saw a pink sifting cloud, moving over the ground, and in the air, like a first snow in a blizzard, that comes from no-where, and he knew the locusts were coming up from the south. Then they began to climb and they were going to the East it seemed, and then it darkened and they were in a storm, the rain so thick it seemed like flying through a waterfall, and then they were out and Compie turned his head and grinned and pointed and there, ahead, all he could see, as wide as all the world, great, high, and unbelievably white in the sun, was the square top of Kilimanjaro. And then he knew that there was where he was going.”

Excerpts from The Snows of Kilimanjaro, by Ernest Hemingway.

This is the end of my fourth safari. South Africa and Zambia now recede into memory as a fresh natural mosaic of Tanzania and Kenya add a layer to the blending of remarkable African images. Amsterdam to Arusha to start. Coffee fresh and strong. Then off. Tarangire, Lake Manyara, Ngorongoro, Serengeti, Masai Mara, and other names are exquisite, exotic labels that still cannot wholly capture the vividness of the images and memories.

Somehow this fourth time, there is still the excitement and wonder of my first time in South Africa, many years ago. In the bush there is an expanse of separation from the turmoil of global politics, terrorism and markets. Roles and patterns in the bush are understood. Carnivores and herbivores know their places and methods in the pursuit of life and of death. Suicide bombers killing children are not part of the bush’s ecosystem.

Hemingway’s greatness with his pen was to blend powerful opposites in his depiction of the human drama. Hence we started this commentary with his movingly descriptive metaphor of Harry’s death. In “Snows,” Hemingway’s writing alternately flows between retrospective stream of consciousness and the present, between the internal and private place that is uniquely known only to each of us and the public behavior that may or may not be under our control.

That has also been the tenor of the conversation we have enjoyed privately on this trip, contrasted with the interactions and observations made during two weeks on three continents while interfacing with the diversity of the human form and spirit.

Yes, we followed markets daily. And, yes, we watched developments in Washington and Pyongyang and Beijing and Jerusalem and London and elsewhere. And, yes, we were in frequent contact with our colleagues and office. Such is travel in today’s world. Even in the bush there is a tower and a signal. And, for us, there is a personal and professional curiosity that requires our always being current.

There is something else.

Great, much-revered volcanoes capped with snow are strewn around the globe. Osorno, Fuji, Cotopaxi, Tronador, St. Helens, and Mauna Kea are among those on my list. But Kilimanjaro is special – not just because of Hemingway’s pen, obviously, though he certainly contributed to the mountain’s allure – but because of its history and character.

“Kili” has three cones: Kibo, Mawenzi, and Shira. The mountain covers about 1000 square miles and, at nearly 20,000 feet, is the highest peak in Africa. It is also unique in that it is the highest freestanding mountain in the world. It rises in massive, solitary splendor from the plain to its summit at Kaiser Wilhelm Spitze (now called Uhuru Peak). According to Geoffrey Kent’s research and personal experience, the name of the peak originates in a gift from Britain’s Queen Victoria to her eldest grandson, German-born Wilhelm II, on his wedding day. The name was applied to the peak by Hans Meyer, the first person to reach its summit, in 1889.

One can stand down on the plain in solitude and see Kili with a giraffe or elephant in the foreground. No surrounding mountains dilute the impression or diminish the impact on the senses. The name Kilimanjaro is an anglicized version of three words in a native Tanzanian language. Translation is “impossible for the traveler,” according to Kent.

We’re heading back now. No snow capping in Sarasota. This adventure is concluded and our memories have been expanded.

Let’s end with the conclusion of Hemingway’s “Snows.” We transition from Harry’s angst to Helen’s and see the power of Hemingway’s pen revealed again. In the private place in our own mind the words on the page become a metaphor for each reader’s reflection.

“Just then the hyena stopped whimpering in the night and started to make a strange, human, almost crying sound. The woman heard it and stirred uneasily. She did not wake. In her dream she was at the house on Long Island and it was the night before her daughter’s debut. Somehow her father was there and he had been very rude. The noise the hyena made was so loud she woke and for a moment she did not know where she was and she was afraid. Then she took the flashlight and shone it on the other cot that they had carried in after Harry had gone to sleep. She could see his bulk under the mosquito bar but somehow he had gotten his leg out and it hung down alongside the cot. The dressings had all come down and she could not look at it.

“‘Molo,” she called, ‘Molo! Molo!’

“Then she said, ‘Harry, Harry!’ Then her voice rising, ‘Harry! Please. Oh Harry!’

“There was no answer and she could not hear him breathing. Outside the tent the hyena made the same strange noise that had awakened her. But she did not hear him for the beating of her heart.”


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