Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Porters are Teachers by Heather Watts

The following heartwarming story is written by a fellow Axis Pharmacy Kilimanjaro Challenge 2007 participant Heather Watts from Toronto, Ontario:

Porters are Teachers

The travel book said there would be porters to carry your extra gear up the mountain. It is the law of the park that you must have guides and porters to hike. All you need to carry is your daypack containing the day’s food, water, and change of clothes. These came as encouraging words when planning for our trek up Mount Kilimanjaro, the tallest free standing mountain rise in the world, its peak at 5,895 meters (19,340 ft). Little did I know that these porters and guides would turn out to be much more than lifters and carriers of our essential provisions.

We took on this challenge as a group of 37 people, looking to push ourselves to the limit. Our 78 porters were integral to our success and satisfaction. Porters carried up our gear, cooks prepared all meals and water on the mountain, guides walked with us to ensure we all made it safely to camp. The guides were not only knowledgeable tour guides, but also counselors, cheerleaders, parental figures, entertainers, photographers and medics.

Porters are native Tanzanians mainly from the Chagga tribe. They speak rudimentary English and are fluent in Swahili. The work is physically demanding. Some guides and porters appear too young, mere teenagers. Others seemed too old for such physical work. Yet, we never hear a groan or complaint; only the friendly greeting “Jambo”. The porters don’t have the luxury to walk with the hikers. They rush past to ensure that our bags are ready for us and food is promptly served on our arrival. Many do not have essential gear. They climb in sub-zero temperatures without even gloves. The porters and guides do anything for you with a smile and encouraging words.

There was James, our head guide and father figure on the mountain. Instantly warm, with a great big toothy grin, asking, “You okay?” every time you talk to him. When we answer “Hakuna matata!” (No worries!) he laughs and pats our shoulders. James teaches us Swahili. “Mambo?” (How’s it going?) he shouts. “Poa!” (Great!) our group hollers back.

Nobody in our group could escape from the watchful James. If you were exhausted after a long day of hiking and suffering from altitude sickness, James would find you. You must eat on the mountain to gain enough energy to keep going. You must force yourself to eat even if you have diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, a pounding headache, or no appetite. James is watching.

I asked Bruta, who was training to be a head guide, how many times he had climbed Mount Kilimanjaro? He laughed and said “three times a month”.
“For how many years?” I wondered.
He laughed again, “I don’t know!”
“What? You’ve lost track?” I retorted.
He grinned, “Is that bad?”
I knew I’d never lose track of how many times I have climbed Mount Kilimanjaro. Once. And only once.

Climbing to Gilman’s point, the steepest, most grueling part of the trip, in the middle of the night, each of us has a guide. Shuffling along is all we can do to keep going, slowly, pole by pole. We take a much needed break at 17,700 feet. Our guides start clapping, dancing and singing the Kilimanjaro song with pride in Swahili! Their energy is remarkable. From this point on, the guide in front of me gently pushes up the hiker in front of him. Nora, the guide behind me carries up two of my fellow hikers’ backpacks, plus his own. The whole way Nora sings comforting, soothing songs and reminds us, “No sleeping on the mountain!” With the monotony of the walking and the physical fatigue, one could easily fall asleep and lose balance. The guides are watching our footwork and providing stability. We trust in them and their experience to get us through the journey. Another one of our group gets carried down to base camp by two guides.

There is plenty of time to talk to the guides and this provides one of the most fascinating aspects of the trip. One of our guides, Goodlike, is instantly recognizable in his green striped shirt with the words “No money no friend” emblazoned across the front. I wonder what is it like for him living in Africa, working as a guide? He answers that it is not very good, but he is happy because he has been promoted to a guide from a porter. Porters carry up to 50 kilos at once up and down the mountain. They are supposed to get three meals a day, but often miss lunch. Fifty porters and guides sleep each night in a hut built for 20.

“Why don’t they just use jeeps to drive the supplies up the mountain?” I inquired.
“That would take jobs away from the porters. We need these jobs,” Goodlike informed me. He added that Kilimanjaro is a National Park and the government wants to conserve it in its natural state.
“Why do the porters carry things on their heads?” I wondered.
“That’s the way we carry things. If it falls off, it is easy to catch with your hands.” He stated.
“Why don’t they have a shop at the huts? They would do a great business selling drinks and snacks to the hikers.” I asked.
“That would produce too much garbage,” Goodlike said.

I asked about his family. He has a wife and a 3-year-old son. His son is named Roadyman because his dad is away from home a lot. He married early and dropped out of school to look after his wife. He did this purposely to avoid contracting HIV/AIDS. He would like to have more children, but he can’t afford any more right now. He wants to study English so he can better converse with the tourists. He asks me if I will give him $30US for the course to improve his English. He asks me if I will give him $10US for gas. He makes $4US a day as a guide and depends on the gracious tips of travellers. Goodlike used to be a farmer, but the frequent droughts made this type of work unpredictable.

I ask Goodlike what he worries about. His main concern is his family’s health. There is no way for him to pay for any of his family to see a doctor. He hopes to get enough money to send his son to high school. Public schools go up to grade 8 then you have to pay for school yourself. He doesn’t have a bank account because he doesn’t have any money. He would like to get a cell phone and email, but can’t afford the monthly fees. He gets a real kick out of seeing the pictures I have taken of Africa on my digital camera.

Goodlike asks me what I worry about. I tell him that Canadians don’t worry about whether their children go to school, but whether they go to the best school. I tell him that Canadians worry about their health too. We worry about high cholesterol and diabetes. We worry about eating too much?! Goodlike laughs a quizzical laugh. We worry about eating too much? I wonder if he has understood me correctly.

I ask him if he has heard of McDonalds. No, he hasn’t. I rejoice inside. There is still a protected corner of the globe. I try to explain fast food to him. He is somewhat puzzled.

I tell him that Canadians worry about not getting enough exercise. He laughs heartily at that and I join in. It is funny to think of that on our long way down the mountainside. Our lives are worlds apart, yet we both share a common concern of protecting the health and welfare of the people we love.

I came to Africa to provide support and to challenge myself. I leave Africa having learned more about myself and humanity. Africans have taught me what it is like to live on the edge of life. I remember Goodlike laughing at my trivial daily concerns, James’ big smile and Bruta the imposing figure in my summit picture. I am grateful to all 78 porters and guides who made my trip a joyous one. I will never forget the fellowship of the whole group, porters, guides and hikers, singing and dancing together. Without the law restriction, one could climb Mount Kilimanjaro by oneself, but to do so would be to miss out on learning the rhythm of the mountain and the soul of its people.

Heather Watts

Monday, February 25, 2008

The Parable of the Three Rings - Gotthold Ephraim Lessing

The Parable of the Three Rings
Gotthold Ephraim Lessing

An uneasy peace ruled in Jerusalem. Saladin's victory against the Crusaders had cost the Muslims dearly, both in the loss of troops and in the depletion of the royal treasury. Saladin was resolved to rule with civilized humanity as far as possible. But it was an uneasy peace, with Jews, Christians, and the newly victorious Muslims all suspicious of one another.

Thus when Saladin requested an audience with Nathan, a leading Jewish merchant, the latter was very apprehensive about the Sultan's motivation. Nathan was known far and wide not only for his successes in commerce, but also for his skills in diplomacy and negotiation. Jews, Christians, and Muslims alike called him Nathan the Wise.

Nathan's suspicions were well founded, for Saladin was indeed looking to replenish his exhausted coffers with a loan or a gift from his wealthy Jewish subject. Too civil to openly demand such a tribute from the peace-loving Nathan, the Sultan instead masked his request in the form of a theological question.

"Your reputation for wisdom is great," said the Sultan. "You must have studied the great religions. Tell me, which is the best, Judaism, Islam, or Christianity?"

"Sultan, I am a Jew," replied Nathan.

"And I a Muslim," interrupted Saladin, "and between us stands the Christian. But the three faiths contradict one another. They cannot all be true. Tell me the results of your own wise deliberations. Which religion is best?"

Nathan recognized the trap at once. Any answer except "Islam" would offend Saladin the Muslim, whereas any answer except "Judaism" would place his own integrity under question. Thus, instead of giving a direct answer, Nathan responded by relating a parable to Saladin:

In the Orient in ancient times there lived a man who possessed a ring of inestimable worth. Its stone was an opal that emitted a hundred colors, but its real value lay in its ability to make its wearer beloved of God and man. The ring passed from father to most favored son for many generations, until finally its owner was a father with three sons, all equally deserving. Unable to decide which of the three sons was most worthy, the father commissioned a master artisan to make two exact copies of the ring, then gave each son a ring, and each son believed that he alone had inherited the original and true ring.

But instead of harmony, the father's plan brought only discord to his heirs. Shortly after the father died, each of the sons claimed to be the sole ruler of the father's house, each basing his claim to authority on the ring given to him by the father. The discord grew even stronger and more hateful when a close examination of the rings failed to disclose any differences.

"But wait," interrupted Saladin, "surely you do not mean to tell me that there are no differences between Islam, Judaism, and Christianity!"

"You are right, Sultan," replied Nathan. "Their teachings and practices differ in ways that can be seen by all. However, in each case, the teachings and practices are based on beliefs and faith, beliefs and faith that at their roots are the same. Which of us can prove that our beliefs and our faith are more reliable than those of others?"

"I understand," said Saladin. "Now continue with your tale."

"The story is nearly at its end," replied Nathan.

The dispute among the brothers grew until their case was finally brought before a judge. After hearing the history of the original ring and its miraculous powers, the judge pronounced his conclusion: "The authentic ring," he said, "had the power to make its owner beloved of God and man, but each of your rings has brought only hatred and strife. None of you is loved by others; each loves only himself. Therefore I must conclude that none of you has the original ring. Your father must have lost it, then attempted to hide his loss by having three counterfeit rings made, and these are the rings that cause you so much grief."

The judge continued: "Or it may be that your father, weary of the tyranny of a single ring, made duplicates, which he gave to you. Let each of you demonstrate his belief in the power of his ring by conducting his life in such a manner that he fully merits -- as anciently promised -- the love of God and man.

"Marvelous! Marvelous!" exclaimed Saladin. "Your tale has set my mind at rest. You may go."

"Sultan, was there nothing else you wished from me?" asked Nathan.

"No. Nothing."

"Then may I take the liberty to make a request of you. My trade of late has brought me unexpected wealth, and in these uncertain times I need a secure repository. Would you be willing to accept my recent earnings as loan or deposit?"

The Sultan gladly acceded to Nathan's wish.

And thus Saladin gained from his wise Jewish subject both material and spiritual benefit, and Nathan the Wise found a safe haven for his wealth and earned the respect of the Islamic Sultan.

Source: Abstracted from Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, Nathan der Weise, a drama in five acts (1779). Events leading up to Nathan's telling of the parable are depicted in act 3, scenes 4-7. The parable itself is contained in act 3, scene 7.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Would You Think It Odd? - Hafiz

I read the following delightful poem by Hafiz in the programme of "Nathan the Wise", a production of the University of Calgary's Department of Drama:

Would You Think It Odd?

"I am in love with every church
And mosque
And temple
And any kind of shrine

Because I know it is there
That people say the different names
Of the One God.”

Would you tell your friends
I was a bit strange if I admitted

I am indeed in love with every mind
And heart and body.

O I am sincerely
Plumb crazy
About your every thought and yearning
And limb
Because, my dear,
I know
That it is through these

That you search for Him

Source: 'I heard God Laughing - Renderings of Hafiz' by Daniel Ladinsky

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

U of C Drama - Nathan the Wise by Gotthold Ephraim Lessing

Nathan the Wise by Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, translated by Edward Kemp
  • Tuesday, February 19th to Saturday, March 1st, 2008 (except Feb. 25 & 26) at 7:30pm
  • 2 for 1 Sunday Matinee, February 24 at 2:00 pm
  • University Theatre at the University of Calgary (230 University Court NW)
  • $15 (adults) / $10 (students/seniors)
  • Tickets available through Campus Ticket Centre at 220-7202 or at the door.
Ripped from the headlines: Where is our tolerance?
University of Calgary’s latest Drama production is a plea for tolerance from all of us.

The Faculty of Fine Arts Department of Drama in co-production with the Department of Germanic, Slavic and East Asian Studies, is presenting Nathan the Wise by Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, Tuesday, February 19th to Saturday, March 1st, 7:30 pm at the University Theatre.

Challenged by both church and state during his lifetime and banned by the Nazis, Lessing’s masterpiece is a passionate plea for religious tolerance that resonates with today’s modern reality as much as it did in the 18th century. The story takes us to Jerusalem during the Third Crusade where an uneasy stalemate exists between the Muslim forces of Saladin and the western Crusaders. Caught in the middle are the Jews. All sides respect Nathan for his wisdom and wealth. But in a war-zone no one is secure.

Director and Fine Arts Faculty member, Dr. Barry Yzereef is passionate about bringing this play to Calgarians. “Nathan the Wise is not only a play about tolerance, it is a plea for kindness, understanding and acceptance of people and opinions that are different from our own. Through humour, common sense and reason, Lessing takes us on a journey that leads to the greatest discovery of all ... Wisdom is found in humanity." Yzereef continues, “I’m also excited to be working with a fantastic cast of students that bring to the work their incredibly diverse backgrounds: Muslim, Jewish, Christian, Buddhist, Agnostic and Atheist – we’ve got all these great views working on a story that is a fervent plea for religious tolerance.”

This production is part of a collaboration with the Department of Germanic, Slavic and East Asian Studies and other disciplines on campus to concertedly examine the concept of 'tolerance' and its operation in society today. The Research Symposium, "Testing Tolerance: Acceptance -- [In]Tolerance -- Exclusion," takes place February 21-23, 2008. For more information visit: http://gsea.ucalgary.ca/tolerancesymposium2008/.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Axis Pharmacy Kilimanjaro Challenge 2007 - The Story

“Jambo” – “Hello”

This is how our head guide (James) woke us up at Kibo hut, about 10.00pm on the night before our pre-summit nap. We were at an elevation of 15,500 ft. Most of us only had about 3 hours of sleep. However, the excitement of starting on the last phase of our adventure got us up to venture out into the cold Kilimanjaro night to do what we had come to do – ascend to the summit by dawn the next morning.

Our adventure (The Axis Pharmacy Kilimanjaro Challenge) had started on December 26th, 2007 when 37 of us, 21 males and 16 females, from all across Canada, boarded on the flight to Arusha, Tanzania to start the Kilimanjaro trek on December 29, 2007.

We were somewhat aware of the challenges of the trek and shared with each other the stories we had heard from previous climbers that we had been in touch with. Our group consisted of 12 Pharmacists, and other friends and relatives, ranging in age from 16 to 58. Nothing could have motivated us more than the presentation we heard during our initial orientation from Jimmy, who had come from Kenya to meet with the group, the day before the climb. Jimmy works with Save the Children and is based in Kenya. He gave us an overview on the plight of the children and adults affected by HIV/AIDS and how the funds that we had raised from this climb would benefit programs operated by Save the Children Canada in Kenya.

While there are many routes to ascend the summit, we had picked the Marangu route – commonly known as the “Coca Cola” route. This is the most travelled route and supposedly the easiest one. After the first 2 days on this route, we realized that there was nothing easy about this route. While we had all done some training before leaving for our trip, very few of us expected the Marangu route to be this difficult. This explains why we were told that in a group the size of our, not to expect a success rate of more than 50% to reach the summit. The limited toilet facilities and no showers added to the conversation we had every evening during dinner time where we shared our experiences of the day and laughed to ease our weary bodies.

On Jan 1st, 2008 at 10.00pm, with both anticipation and trepidation, our spirits soared as we put on our 3 to 4 layers of clothing, had a cup of tea with a few cookies and ventured out on the perfect night for summiting – still, mild, with millions of stars. The head lights on our foreheads ensured that we were all walking in a single file following the guides and assistant guides. We had an intimidating 15hour day in front of us: climbing 6-8 hours to achieve the summit; 3 - 4 hours to return down to Kibo hut and then a final four hours hiking down to Horombo hut at an elevation of 12,300 ft to finally sleep.

“Pole Pole” – Swahili for “slowly slowly” is what gets you to the top of Kilimanjaro – this is what we had been told during our orientation meeting. And this is exactly what we did – ascend slowly – getting closer to the top step by step. Above us we could see headlamps from another group. At times these could easily be confused with all the stars that were visible against the blackness of the mountain.

The glory of the African dawn greeted us at about 5:45am, 100 feet below the rim of the crater. We paused to see the horizon turn a brilliant red with Mawenzi, which the day before had towered above us, now far below. Shortly after sunrise, we found ourselves over the rim and standing on Gilman’s Point at an elevation of 18,740 ft. It’s a bare, rocky area with the bowl of the extinct crater below and magnificent glaciers all around. It was a hugely emotional moment for many of us – we had “made it”, well “almost made it”. By this time, the Team had been split up into various groups and each group of 3 to 5 people reached this point at different times.

We weren’t quite done yet. The “true” summit of Uhuru (“freedom”) Peak was only 1.25 miles away and at an elevation of 19430 ft, yet reaching it in our exhausted state would take us another two hours along the snow on the crater rim. And none of us knew if we had it in us. But, collectively we motivated each other to reach our goal.

The exhaustion continued to deepen, and we all went slower and slower. Occasionally we would meet other team members coming the other way who would encourage us with “keep going it’s worth it”. We paused more and more frequently as we all reached our limits. As we reached the glory of Uhuru Peak, there was no immediate sense of exhilaration. Only silence, extreme exhaustion, and overwhelming emotion.

What seemed like a dream, was now a reality. All the months of planning and preparing had finally bore fruit. Not only did we succeed the physical challenge, but our whole beings were altered. We came together as a team, raised money for children who are vulnerable, through no fault of their own and experienced an adventure that we could not even imagine. As we wondered how we would have the energy to get down, an inner reserve seemed to flow and guided us to the base. This climb was definitely worth doing, for all the children’s lives it impacted.

Of the 37 climbers, 31 of us (83%) made it to Gilman’s Point and 29 (78%) reached the summit at Uhuru Peak. Thanks to the generosity of our sponsors, together we were able to raise a net amount of over $150,000.00 for Save the Children Canada to be used for its HIV / AIDS projects in Kenya.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Peace impossible?

The following is a well written response (IMHO) by my wife, Nimira, which was published in the Calgary Herald:

Peace impossible
Calgary Herald Source
Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Re: "Hyperbole" Letter, Feb. 1.

It is clear that Steve Harris has not read the Qur'an. He is relying on the misguided interpretations of the likes of him who see the glass as half-empty.

Their suspicion, ignorance and the misappropriation of faith for political and ideological purposes will never foster the concept of religious tolerance. The Qur'an specifically states the creation of diverse peoples so that we "may know one another." It includes Jews and Christians as "people of the book" and instructs respect for all people. For Harris and his groupies, world peace is a myth.

Nimira Dewji,

The original ignorant comment by Steve Harris:

Calgary Herald Source
Friday, February 01, 2008

Re: "Plea for religious tolerance offers hope for future," Nallai Nallainayagam, Opinion, Jan. 30.

Nallai Nallainayagam's plea for religious tolerance was full of hope, a model in itself for understanding and brotherhood, and, oh yes, totally useless. His column was one politically correct empty aphorism after another.

Add him to the list of people who talk about "the misinterpretation of the Qur'an" minus so much as one example. If Osama bin Laden has it wrong, surely someone should be able to parse his declaration of war in which he quoted the Qur'an 18 times, and explain his flawed logic.

No accord among the religions will ever be achieved without adding some painful honesty to the mix. Jews will have to work out how to "tolerate" a holy book that calls them "apes and swine" and "the greatest enemies of Muslims," and Muslims will have to figure out how Allah will view them becoming friends with said enemy despite verses that clearly command them not to ally themselves with Christians and Jews. Christians will need to make concessions to a belief that singles them out because of their blasphemous belief that God has a son.

If peace is to reign, the first casualty will have to be the truth about the teachings of Islam.

Steve Harris,

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Road to reconciliation follows path of peace

Richelle Wiseman
For the Calgary Herald Source
Sunday, February 03, 2008

For Imam Muhammad Ashafa and Pastor James Wuye, peace is personal and powerful.

As former militia members engaged in conflict with each other, the two men had to choose between forgiveness and revenge, and their decision to choose forgiveness was the starting point for a grassroots peace movement in Nigeria.

The Imam and the Pastor, a documentary film about their remarkable story, was aired at Calgary's Plaza Theatre last Monday. More than 300 people braved -30 C wind chills to see the film. Initiatives of Change, an international group with a Calgary chapter, sponsored the film and the question-and-answer session that followed.

"We came with a message that transcends religion," Ashafa said to the audience. "We do not say we shall compromise our faiths." "Dialogue is not compromise," added Wuye. "I am the Way, the Truth and the Life -- I still hold to that. We disagree, but we are the same. We have the same aches and pains, and we can respect each other and co-exist." The film unfolds their dramatic story. In Nigeria, Christians and Muslims lived side by side in relative peace until the 1980s, when political unrest and economic challenges created major rifts between faiths and ethnic groups.

Ashafa joined a Muslim militia group out of zeal to protect Islam and defend against western influences. Wuye, a Pentecostal pastor, joined a Christian militia group to defend Christianity, its churches and pastors, from attacks by Muslims.

In the ensuing conflict, Ashafa's elderly spiritual teacher and two cousins were killed by Wuye's group; Wuye lost many friends, as well as his right hand.

Both men were filled with hatred for each other and a desire to exact revenge.

But the core teachings of Islam and Christianity broke through their anger.

Ashafa was moved by a sermon at the mosque where the imam described how Prophet Muhammad had forgiven those who had persecuted him, and instead of asking Allah to destroy them, he responded with forgiveness.

Ashafa finally discovered the liberty of forgiving Wuye Then Wuye heard a sermon in which a preacher said, "You cannot preach Christ with hate in your heart. Christ is love. If you want to do this work, you have to forgive." The two men embarked on what has become an extra- ordinary example of faith-based peacemaking.

Five years after the conflict, they established the Interfaith Mediation Centre in Kaduna, which sponsors teams of pastors and imams to travel around Nigeria to trouble spots. Based out of offices in six geopolitical zones of Nigeria, they conduct workshops on conflict resolution and reconciliation.

Ashafa and Wuye's relationship demonstrates that forgiveness is powerful, liberating and crucial for the establishment of peace between individuals, ethnic groups, religious groups and communities.

"I believe that living a Christian life can influence people positively," Wuye states at the end of the film.

For his part, Ashafa wants Islam to be a safe haven for people of other faiths.

"I would give my life to protect his honour and dignity," he says of Wuye. "This is what Islam has taught me to do." The road to reconciliation was initially bumpy, as their friends and followers did not understand their change of heart. Some felt Ashafa and Wuye were sellouts and traitors to their own faiths. Of their former militia friends, Wuye told the audience they had to be "deprogrammed." "They had to be reprogrammed to follow the path of peace," he said. "Seventy per cent of our former militia friends are now working with us." In 2001, at the city where violent conflicts had occurred and many died, Wuye and Ashafa brought together religious leaders to sign the Kaduna Peace Declaration.

Eleven Muslim leaders and 11 Christian leaders joined the governor of Kaduna state to sign the declaration, after which a plaque was unveiled by Nigeria's president.

In 2004, violence broke out in the small village of Yelwa Shendem. Some 600 people died and were buried in mass graves. Wuye and Ashafa made 17 trips to the area to mediate and preach peace.

Little by little, trust was regained to the point where the community joined together in a Festival of Peace.

Their work at the grassroots level has led to the national government setting up a Nigerian Inter-Religious Council, and their film will be screened in Sudan at the invitation of the Sudanese Interfaith Council.

"We are influencing the Nigerian government," Wuye told the audience. "But we are independent. We do what the Almighty has given us to do." While the media often focuses on stories of conflict, bloodshed and controversy, Ashafa hopes reporters will begin to embrace "breakthrough news," and focus on stories of people changing the world for the better.

From bloody conflict, violence and vengeance, Imam Ashafa and Pastor Wuye have moved through forgiveness to become peacemakers who are influencing an entire nation.

Now that's breakthrough news.

Richelle Wiseman is executive director of the Centre for Faith and the Media and co-ordinator for the multi-faith chaplaincy at Mount Royal College.