Yesterday was a beautiful day of riding. 450 K through the Great Rift Valley and up the East wall, stopping at a roadside cafe to take in one of the great views of creation. Then, through Southern Kenya into Northern Tanzania, a spectacular journey of empty roads and endless vistas, culminating in a dusk ride under the luminous snow capped peak of Kilimanjaro. It was such a great day that despite a three and a half hour delay at the border and the fact that my bike decided to just quit working at 80KPH on the major highway into Nairobi, nothing could spoil it (the inestimable Andrew fixed my bike quickly and Danielle spoke loving words of encouragement over it to keep it going. They were definitely better words than I used.....).
But here’s the thing. As incredible as the roads and views are. I am coming once again to realize that it’s the people that make this world beautiful, that make the journey so worthwhile. People like Jesteohe, our Masai guide in the Mara, who talked to me about his life and customs as we had coffee under a tree, or the Dutch couple Lisa and I met at dinner that night in a tent at the camp, who were traveling together and didn’t just want the adventure, but really wanted to understand about the cultures they were seeing. She was a teacher trainer and we immediately bonded as we talked about how education can change the world.
People like Tatiana, who Kaitlyn and I met at the border yesterday, part of a Russian tour group travelling through Kenya and Tanzania, a lovely girl who proved that politics and international tensions are largely due to idiots, and that we could all easily get along if we laughed together and told stories of our lives back home. After all, we’re all just humans.
People like Faudi, who we met at dinner last night. It was his 50th birthday and he had just come down from Kilimanjaro, so we bought him a beer to celebrate. Sadly he didn’t make it to the top, but his girlfriend was summiting that evening and he was waiting for her. We talked for ages about his life living in the Middle East and how that part of the world works. As he got up to go, I sent my congratulations to his wife and corrected it to his girlfriend. He stopped and said “Well actually I was planning to give her this at the summit of Kilimanjaro” and pulled out a ring from his pocket. “Guess I’ll give it to her in Zanzibar now. Goodnight”. Best. Exit .Line. Ever.
And finally I’ve also realized that the people we think we know are way more beautiful and precious and unique and amazing than we realize, if we just take the time to listen. I have friends on this trip I knew from before. But I’m realizing that I missed so much and in taking the time to learn about the rich tapestry of their stories, I am humbled beyond words to have the privilege of knowing them. I have also made new relationships that I am very happy to have in my life now. Without exception, I am learning new things about my companions and about myself as we engage in laughter and discussion and as we ride through Africa together. It is a thing of incomprehensible beauty.
Last night ended with a few of us staying up late and talking about the issues of gender and male power dynamics. Hearing the stories of what successful, intelligent, talented women have to go through just to do their job, filled me with sadness and renewed a desire in me once more to do all I can to be a hinge on a door for them to walk through.
We all have a story that is the summation of our upbringing and experiences, good and bad. A journey likes this helps you to reflect on that as you listen and attempt to understand what makes people who they are. And in that, perhaps we can gain an understanding of how we can help make their journey just a little bit easier, how we can make the world just a little bit better, and how we can become better human beings ourselves. If we just learn to listen.
I hope I remember this when I get home.
Peace and grace to you all