Trail Report: Kilimanjaro (Part 1)

We returned from Tanzania about a week ago and my head is still spinning from the surreality of it all. I want to vomit some of these words up (because that's what it will be - vomited words, not graceful or lovely at all) before I lose them entirely, so here it goes.

Sometimes the biggest part of the journey is in the "getting there."

I am deathly afraid of flying. I couldn't even think about any mountains until I got through 24 hours' worth of flights. But oh, how strange life is sometimes.

On the longest leg of the flight, Los Angeles to Amsterdam, I was seated next to a young Jesuit priest from France.

Now, I have been to mass before. But this was my first up-close encounter with a be-collared priest. God does have a sense of humor!

Gregory was very friendly, wanting to communicate (probably to practice his English). He thought my name was Josephine. He made some niceties in English when I sat down, but I was feeling ill from the thought of what was to come. I am not a friendly flyer.

He spent the flight meticulously studying English over his laptop, entering words into a spreadsheet and reading their definitions carefully. But he was learning words like wholesome and rote, words that may be useful on paper but fail to roll off the tongue in everyday speech. I continued to look at his computer screen as he moved on to "truism" but he must have felt the weight of my eyes for he turned to me and said,

Josephine, ça va?

And I tell him I'm okay, but I don't tell him what I'm thinking: I'm better because your presence is strangely comforting. Because I know that "presence" and "comforting" are not on his carefully typed English spreadsheet as of yet.

And I drift peacefully to sleep.

Eventually I awake and he is eager to engage in more conversation. I learn that he has been in the Bay Area (and then Los Angeles) learning about the people, and in particular, evangelicals. (This makes me chuckle.) But something he said struck a cord with me. Little did I know how important it would be to carry this with me to Tanzania (and beyond):

Loneliness is the greatest poverty.

I was impressed with this string of English words, obviously contemplated as heavily as their content would suggest. He was speaking of his time in San Francisco, among the homelessness. But he wasn't speaking of their lack of material possessions. Gregory's eyes took on a sad expression and he repeated,

There is no poverty like that which comes from loneliness.

In Tanzania, I learned to look at poverty differently. I learned to avoid dismissing the people as "impoverished" by the standards of my First World, privileged existence. I learned that Kipling is alive and well when maybe he'd best be forgotten.

Where is Kilimanjaro in all of this? Closer and farther away than you might think. Stay tuned for Part 2 :)