It was a long day of climbing. We are Americans, after all. We don’t move for 7 hours at a time, we WORK for hours on end at our desks, in front of the biggest screen possible. I don’t know about the rest of the group but it was the step ups that got me. Each step had a mini-order of challenges. I placed my foot upon one broken and off-kilter slab after another, stepping forward and upward, forcing my weight into my quadriceps and knee and pushing up into a precarious one-legged balance before quickly pulling my other foot into place. Step after step without distractions of civilization- no drinks with friends, no Hulu or Netflix marathons, no juicy gossip or bag of potato chips to scarf down mindlessly. Instead it was me and the steps, the endless steps, the rolling dust and the mirage, the constant promise of the peak of Mt. Kilimanjaro.
As we trudged into camp, as the tents grew closer, a choir of voices also drew near. They didn’t sing in English, but their eyes and smiles trained on our slowly moving line, it became clear this good will was directed as us. The collection of African characters in their dusty boots and mismatched gear, huddled in a circle swinging their bums rhythmically as there was a nightclub among the bright blue skies and mountain scapes. They shook their “booties,” and sang a song to us in Swahili, seemingly (I never confirmed) blessing us, the camp, the mountain, and the American guide. Swinging and swaying to our future success, visioning the moment we stood on top of the mountain. At first the little strip of rubble and dust that separated my tired and worn American group from the wildly joyful Africans might as well been a cavernous valley that separate the peaks on Mt. Kilimanjaro. Us with our tired smiles and newly pressed hiking gear and them with ridiculous joy, their one change of ill-fitting clothes and worn heels.
And yet they danced, shaking their rumps provocatively and laughing at the future, enjoying the moment. I felt it winding around us, lifting us up and making us smile. Something reached across the divide and enveloped us in joy. It was nothing short of contagious.
Their joy shamed me, inspired me and taught me a six things:
Booty Shaking Joy Lesson #1: Your clothing has nothing to do with your mood or your skill.
Their stuff didn’t define them. I didn’t have to ask them; they didn’t change their clothes for the entirety of the trip, only cleaning up and swapping clothes at the end. They didn’t have a lot of “stuff,” in fact our Alpine Ascents guide Eric shared they would sleep many to a tent, snuggling together to offset the 30 degree temperatures of the dawn. And yet, they bounded up the hill ahead of us greeting each other with loud calls of “JAMBO, JAMBO!” (a cheery, “hang loose” sort of greeting) and then joyfully and patiently waited for us to arrive at the next camp and then celebrate our hard-won success of the day.
Booty Shaking Joy Lesson #2: Doing the simplest task well is inspiring.
There were many people supporting our 13-person group. I can’t tell you, although if you look at the video you will see the number is sort of embarrassing. Each individual was assigned a job. There were cooks, people who set up the tents, others who travelled with us, making sure we didn’t march too quickly and tire ourselves out. There were even people who carried our poo, yes, that’s right, our number two. I won’t say everyone had the same attention to detail but the culture was enforced just the same, with senior guides encouraging or demanding (depending on the need) that all participate with those delicious smiles and joyful demeanors. They did everything with nothing (see the photo of the cake they made us over an open fire) Read: They demanded joy as a culture and living in that sort of excellence at all costs was nothing short of inspirational- we couldn’t tip them enough.
Booty Shaking Joy Lesson #3: Your joy is not dependent on your beautiful smile.
I had to throw this one in, against the backdrop of America’s teeth-whitening obsession. I refer to their beautiful smile several times in this post but the truth is, their brown teeth probably drove Brian (a dentist from North Dakota) insane. The Africans most likely did not grow up with regular dental checks and daily brushing. Yet, I don’t think any of us will forget one of the most beautiful smiles we saw, belonging to the lead singer and bouncer, Shedrach. I can’t describe it in words but he is front and center in the video- Any flaws I might have noticed were overcome by the joy seeping out of every pore.
Booty Shaking Joy Lesson #4: Joy comes from the inside
We are a forward thinking culture here in the U.S. of A, for sure. It’s all about the next big thing, the retirement, the wrinkles that are going to arrive. So much do we think of the next step that we don’t see the wonderful amazement standing in front of us, the breath in our lungs, the amazing selection at every grocery store, the opportunities that greet us at every corner. And yet, in sharp contrast, the men with their joyful connection and collaboration were living in that moment. They didn’t have a retirement plan to fall back upon. Most of them weren’t really looking forward into next week! Yet, I am certain they felt more joy in that moment than we did.
So here I am back in the U.S. My temperature is controlled at a kind 72 degrees. My world is filled with options to eat, plenty of clothes, a general lack of germs and bugs and a bright future that is mine to grasp any time I want. Yet now I know, as I close my eyes and conjure up what should be a top-40 hit called Joy- I will always remember those beautiful smiles, the booty-shaking joy. Your cup runneth over to me, Shedrach and crew. I will never forget you and I will always enjoy you. Thank you for sharing with me.
Now it’s YOUR turn to create your own Mt. Kilimanjaro experience! Create excitement and momentum around your business. Or, delve into the personal with the Live Big Project Series.