Tucker First United Methodist Church | 5095 LaVista Road, Tucker GA 30084 | 770-938-3030
Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Tanzania Reflections by Kay Entrekin

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On July 14, John, Kay, Savannah, and Rebecca Entrekin; Brian, Zack, and Caroline Friedman; and Tom and David May departed from Atlanta to begin their journey to Tanzania, Africa. Stops included Miami, Paris, Nairobi, and then Kilimanjaro. We were a part of a larger group of Young Life volunteers (thirty-five), most of which were seventeen-year-old female students from Westminster, Lovett, and Woodward. The trip was tiring but we made it with only three lost bags.

Savannah Entrekin and kids from a Masai villageOur first week was spent in a Masai Village (one of many villages inhabited by the Masai tribe).  We rode in huge all-terrain trucks to get to the village.  I wasn’t sure why the four-foot tire radius was necessary until we got closer to the village. We passed over a very deep trench in the dark of the night upon our arrival.  I’m glad we couldn’t see what we were traversing. The drive took about seven hours.
While in the village, our goal was to pour a concrete floor and add window inserts (no glass) for an existing classroom in the local school. The room already had a ceiling and walls. This seemed a little strange to me considering that most construction in the United States starts with the floor. The process however, went very smoothly and the floor looked like a normal cement floor when we finished. I was amazed. The Masai people are very resourceful, and, as you might have expected, they had very limited tools.  In fact, we completed the job with three shovels, nine buckets (to carry concrete), and a lot of manpower.  While the floor was being poured, many of the youth from our group fellowshipped with small groups of children.  The total enrollment for the school was around 300.  Language seemed to be no barrier. They played games, drew flowers on their hands with markers, danced, braided hair, and on the last day had a soccer game between the older students and staff and Young Life. Great fun was had by all. Upon leaving, we gave each child and staff member a small item: a t-shirt or a toothbrush and a lollipop. They smiled like we had given them the world.

We slept in tents, ate all of our meals at the camp (prepared by African Young Life staff), pottied in a hole in the ground, and had no showers for the entire week.  Believe it or not, there were no complaints about the primitive nature of our living standards.  We departed the Masai Village after many hugs and headed back to Arusha (our home base) and prepared our gear for Kilimanjaro.

We each had to lay our gear out on our hotel bed and our lead guide came to our room and checked off a list of needed items. Any missing items were supplied by other volunteers or the guides.

The next morning we got up early and drove to Kilimanjaro, which was about a two-hour drive. This was Day One (stats: climbed 5,000 to 9,000 feet, seven hours, seven miles).  It was a long day but we were feeling no pain at this point in the trip.  Many friendships were being made.

Kay and Rebecca EntrekinDay Two (stats:  9,000 to 12,500 feet, 5 hours, 3 miles) we began to understand the system. The porters carried all of our tents, fifty-pound duffel bags, kitchenware and food (oh, and port-o-lets too) from camp to camp. These gentlemen (no ladies, sorry) were amazing.  They would jog by us with a fifty-pound bag of goods balanced on their head and a forty-pound pack on their back (their personal gear).  This was the limit on how much they were allowed to carry (ninety pounds) at one time. Every morning on the mountain we are greeted with knock-knock tea (usually 6:30am) followed by a bowl of hot water for washing up. Every evening we are greeted with a porter grabbing our pack off our backs and escorting us to our tent. We then go to the mess tent where they have popcorn, hot tea and cocoa waiting for us.

Day Three (stats:  12,500 to 13,000 feet, five hours, four miles) was a major test of our group altitude tolerance.  We all passed – unbelievable. We had a few headaches, loss of appetite, and lots of diarrhea (partly altitude and partly infection).  We definitely celebrated passing this milestone. The guides were really in tune with EACH and EVERY climber. They constantly asked how are you, how did you sleep last night, how is your stomach.  If anyone appeared weary, their pack was taken and the guide carried 2 packs the remainder of the hike.  We took many breaks to hydrate and for long and short calls (the terms for restroom breaks). Many of us were taking diamox which is a water pill to help prevent altitude sickness. This also impacted our number of breaks (lots more short calls). 

Day Four (stats: no altitude change, five hours, three miles) may have seemed silly to an outsider. To hike just to hike may appear as a waste of energy but this provided us more opportunity to acclimate (which is why this route is so successful at getting climbers to the summit).   

Part of the team at the summitDay Five (stats: 13,000 to 15,000 feet, four hours, two miles) was the BIG DAY leading up to the summit.  After our hike, we ate lunch at 1:30, dinner at 5 pm, slept for four hours, ate breakfast at 10:30 pm and left camp at 11:20 PM (NOT AM).  We reached the summit of Kilimanjaro at 6:20 am.

Day Six (stats: 15,000 to 19,341 then back to 10,000 feet, fifteen hours, ten miles) we reached our goal of nineteen thousand three hundred and forty one feet.  We had several hikers with abdominal pain, a few headaches, and just general fatigue.  We had to leave one of our hikers at 15000 due to severe abdominal cramping – she did not get to the summit.

My physiology lesson for the trip came when one of the hikers was in so much pain we were trying to decide whether to descend with her. The lead guide checked her oxygen in her blood. For a normal female in Atlanta (1,000 feet above sea level), the oxygen level should be 98% or higher. Her oxygen reading was 71%. The guide was quite happy with this as the take down (as in down the mountain) rate is 50%. WOW, our bodies can really tolerate conditions with very little oxygen.  When the air carries little oxygen, the blood secondarily does too. Our bodies compensate in other ways (i.e., increased heart and respiratory rates).

Well worn hiking shoes after the hike to KilimanjaroDay Seven (stats: 10,000 to 5,000 feet, four hours, six miles) we hiked to the entrance of Kilimanjaro in the slippery mud as it had rained the day before. At the park entrance, the porters had our lunch waiting for us. As a treat, we each received a soda drink. They have very different flavors in Africa and it was fun to try them out. We then rode back to our home base at the SG Hotel in Arusha. We had a celebratory dinner at the nicest hotel in Arusha and many tears were shed.

On our last day in Arusha, we were allowed to shop in the African market. Our uniformly white skin made us really stand out, and the vendors worked very hard to sell us their merchandise. We then headed to the airport for our two-day journey home.

As they say, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.  I am living proof that this is true. Thanks for all of your heartfelt prayers.  I knew that I was not alone on my African Odyssey.