When people see nature, they see it beautiful. The sea, the sky, the mountains, the trees: beautiful. In all their seasons and all their states too. Lush greenery during the summer, crumpled leaves during the fall, leafless trees in winter, blossoming in spring. Beautiful. You never look at a tree and say, if only it had more leaves in it. You never look at a mountain and say, if only it was bigger or different in any way. It’s beautiful as it is. We’re a part of nature too, aren’t why?
When you meet people on the mountain, it’s a special type of meeting. It’s real, unfiltered, vulnerable, and well, natural. There’s no make up on the mountain and no room for pretenses. There’s only the real you. So real, so out of your comfort zone, and so, well, beautiful. Faces swollen from the altitude, lips chipped from the sun, skin dry from the cold, I don’t think any of us felt as good as we did then – though some of our pictures beg to differ!
I’m Ohoud Saad, a Guanabana by day, and a Yoga Teacher by night. I’ve been sending people on life changing journeys for two and a half years now and we’ve been witnessing the rise of female adventurers for quite some time. It’s been refreshing to see and a pleasure to accommodate. On the 17th of March, we embarked on a journey to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro, led by our Founder and Chief, Omar Samra. We had a group of 19 spectacular women climbing the mighty Mt. Kilimanjaro for a wonderful cause, Kilimanjaro4Mawaddah with The Empowerment Hub – a cause that aims to raise money and awareness for Beit Mawaddah, a safety haven for children of divorcees for parent visits, pick ups and drop offs, which until recently used to happen at police stations for parents who are not on good terms.
Even though the whole group was climbing for a common cause, each woman had her own reasons for joining this journey, her own personal goal and her drive that pushed her though the roughest times. Most, if not all of the climbers were new to this kind of adventure altogether. Many of them had never even gone camping before. Many were anxious, many had questions, and few felt comfortable. The minute we hit the mountain though, it was all behind us and nothing but the experience ahead.
The beautiful thing about Kilimajaro, Africa’s highest point and the world’s highest freestanding mountain, is its biodiversity, especially on the Machame route. We started off in a jungle then went up to forests. From day 2, we were over the clouds, literally and figuratively! We then went higher up to alpine deserts and we finished the climb near glaciers. It truly felt as if we were on a new mountain every single day. The mountain changed before us and so did we.
On our first night on the mountain, we celebrated the 16th birthday of our youngest adventurer, Yasmeen. “It is said that you should buy your children experiences not things. So for my daughter's 16th birthday I planned a mommy-daughter trip to Kilimanjaro. This proved to be one of the singularly most life changing events for me as an individual and as a Mom on so many levels. Most importantly it strengthened the bond between my daughter and myself in a way no other experience could. For that I am eternally grateful to Kilimanjaro,” says Heidi Alaskary, Yasmeen’s mother.
Over the next few days, we climbed the mountain and climbed walls we had unconsciously built for ourselves throughout our daily lives. We saw each other at our lowest lows and highest highs, unashamedly. We supported each other, pushed each other and comforted each other. We all witnessed ourselves and each other grow. We slept in sleeping bags in tents, when nature called while hiking we went behind rocks or bushes, we had our daily dry showers with wet wipes, and we faced each challenge with an open mind and an open heart; accepting and loving what nature has to offer us.
Sara Alsilmi, one of our adventurers and one of three sisters who joined our group together says, “A friend once told me that we live a sheltered life, so isolated from the outside world. I am, or at least part of me was, isolated indeed. From fear of bees and darkness to fear of monkeys and spiders; I have developed a rainbow of insecurities. On the mountain, I wanted to feel vulnerable, stripped away from my castle and comfy bed. I wanted to be in peace with nature, I wanted to feel it all. I climbed the mountain, still terrified of bees and monkeys, but I slept in the dark and I screamed my way through a spider web! I wept. I laughed. I connected with 20 strong Arab women. But most importantly, as much as this experience allowed me, I connected with my original, raw self. Climbing a mountain was my version of magic; and that’s all I needed.”
The push to the summit was a brutal one. It was one of the hardest things many of us have ever gone through. Many were already getting altitude symptoms from the second and third days on the mountain; that night though, we all hit our walls. But we all climbed over them too. We started for the summit at night in the cold and it was surely a rough start. “Pole pole,” slowly, slowly, the guides repeated and our bodies could only listen. With the support of a crew of 90 local guides and porters, who helped us and pushed us, sang and danced with us, we all made it to the top, three made it to Stella Point at 5,756m and the rest to Uhuru Peak at 5,895m.
People often wonder, why climb? Why put yourself and your body through something like this? I personally learned so many lessons on this mountain. One of them is that our bodies are magnificent tools that are capable of so much and how we almost never use their potential. More than anything, this journey is mentally challenging. Surely, physical at times but really, if you have enough willpower and mental strength, nothing will stop you and contrary to popular belief, your body will actually happily allow you to push it to its limits and even break them.
Shereen Abulhassan was the first from the group to reach the summit at Uhuru Peak. She says, “My journey to Kilimanjaro was a dream that came true. I was one of the lucky ladies that had the chance to join Kilimanjaro4Mawaddah, an amazing journey that has changed me inside out, to be a better, giving and loving person. I do believe that 'challenges are what make life interesting. Overcoming them is what makes life meaningful.’”
Halfway up, it wasn’t getting any warmer and the altitude was getting harsher. On our fifth stop, the darkness around us, along with our spirits, was slowly lifted as we witnessed the birth of the new day. We saw the first rays of light caress the vast horizon before our eyes. It was truly a sight for sore eyes, hearts and legs even! It refreshed us, energized us and pushed us to keep going. It was a scene filled with peace and hope that we may never again get to witness and one we will cherish forever.
“I always thought, yes climb a mountain! It will be a challenge. What I didn't expect was the effect the mountain had on me. I am grounded and there is an internal peace and connection with nature that lingers inside looking for the chance again to meet another mountain and pay homage to it. I found myself and I found my people on the journey - truly a life changing journey thanks to WG," Wafa Alkhayal shares.
We struggled, we laughed, we cried, and we breathed in the fresh thin air breathlessly. The guides, our extended family on the mountain were more than willing to help in any way they can. They helped us up when we couldn’t stand on our feet, they gave us water before we even asked for it, the took the weight off our shoulders, more than anything, they wanted to see each one of us succeed. They wanted us to climb their jewel, their mighty Kilimanjaro. “See? Kilimanjaro is easy! Hakuna Matata,” they joked on our way down. Easy, it wasn’t. Incredible, it surely was. Then again, nothing incredible, nothing special and truly life changing is ever easy.
“They say your first is special. It all started in Africa for me. I got hitched in 2012 on Kilimanjaro. Fast-forward the tape somewhat and its March 17, 2016 and once again, I am en route to the continent that won my heart and the mountain that echoes "Pole Pole." Not knowing what to expect this time around and itching to embark on a journey of a lifetime with my family - Wild Guanabana, my mind and body played "catch me if you can" with one another. I did not think anything would top the first time Kilimanjaro and I met. Kilimanjaro4Mawaddah proved me wrong. This trip was an emotional roller coaster on so many levels. It defined passion, determination, perseverance, respect, love, loss and everything in between. To each and every one of you, THANK YOU," says Mona Shahab.