Level by level, rung by rung, step by step, little by little.
A Kiswahili phrase I learned from the local Maasai boy who was basically my personal guide up Raspberry Hill and down to the Themi Hills waterfall. A phrase I often pair with another popular Swahili saying: pole pole meaning slowly.
These concepts are very familiar as I am an avid Colorado hiker. It is comforting to experience them in very different contexts.
In January, I started going on Sunday morning hikes with a local group called Twende Hikes – twende meaning let’s go. A group of expats, volunteers, travelers, and locals gather for guided hikes in the natural beauty surrounding Arusha. Two local guides lead the group while also running a safari company. The group of usually 10-30 people carpool near and far into the foothills all around Arusha and at the foot of Mt. Meru. The hike’s terrain is on average fairly mellow though the sun can get to you for the 3-4hrs, but it’s a great deal for the minimal guide fee of 10,000 TSH (about $4.50).
The group is a fantastic way to see the small communities perched on the hillsides of Meru as well as the hidden vantage points atop the many hills jutting out of Arusha proper. The group is also a uniquely perfect way to connect with people who are in Arusha for very diverse reason and then have the chance to spend hours chatting about life, the universe, and everything. Finally, the hikes have been a great way to break in my boots on TZ soil/dust before tackling Mt. Kilimanjaro in a couple weeks.
I find myself in a familiar position, choosing between attending Sunday morning church or making Sunday morning tracks in the sunshine. My past couple years in Colorado I was delighted to dedicated a lot of my Sunday mornings to my childhood church community, Beth-El Mennonite Church. But here I’ve found myself longing for more introspective time and energy directed towards developing a broad and diverse public health network.
Hiking here does and interesting job of both. Not only does it provide a unique community of people willing to open themselves up to each other in conversation, but also the chance to contemplate silently along side each other. Hiking allows friends, new acquaintances, and strangers to, without any pretense or awkwardness, observe both nature and thought with only the constant metronome of footfalls accenting the sound of the world around us.
Just today I met another American woman contemplating an MPH degree and a man from the Netherlands working with an international NGO that supplies contraceptive products to shops and clinics throughout TZ. We had long and engaging conversations about reproductive health and public health challenges here and elsewhere. Connections I hope to keep moving forward, and the type of unexpected interactions that fuel my passions.
One step at a time, hiking brings the body, mind, and spirit together on a journey both physically and mentally. Step by step I move through nature and community I know I am privileged to witness. Little by little my mind and spirit clarify my values and priorities. Ngazi kwa ngazi I am drawn towards a better understanding of my place in this world.
I do not choose to hike instead of or in place of attending church and being a part of a spiritual community. I choose to hike because each step I take down dusty roads or up rocky slopes is in physical and spiritual celebration.
I look forward to taking that celebration to new heights in just two weeks. My father, Laura, Tarik, and I will set off to hike the Lemosho route up Mt. Kilimanjaro! Seven days of gnazi kwa ngazi and pole pole to summit the 19,341 feet to the roof of Africa. Wish us happy trails!