- Mountain Women: Outward Bound Kenya
- Basic Training
- On the Mountain
- To the Plains
- Climbing Kilimanjaro
- Wrapping Up
The day after coming off the mountain, we began another set of challenges, the low ropes initiatives. Summit or not, it was time to test the girls’ skills and newly-acquired confidence. These ropes, close to the ground, were designed to force the teams to problem solve various scenarios. The obvious solution was usually impossible, leaving a lot of room for creativity. As I observed the students collaborate, I envied them. It looked like a lot of fun but we instructors had work to do. We had to nominate an outstanding student.
First the students had to work closely on a physical challenge. One exercise, for example, required them to walk along two low tight cables which draw further and further apart; to succeed, the two must figure out how to support each other to the far end.
In the trust fall, a team member stands on a platform four feet off the ground, and turns her back to the edge. Her teammates wait below, ready to catch her when she lets herself fall backwards. For many, just letting themselves start to tip backwards is a huge risk. It resembles the first exciting step repelling down a rock face, but in this they have to that the team members will catch them as they fall.
These led to challenges that involve the entire team. The one I especially liked was The Wall. Quite simply, everyone needs to scale a ten-foot wall. A platform was rigged on the wall’s backside so the first girls over could stand on it, lean over and pull up the others. The most difficult part is getting the last person up off the ground. It often involved draping someone down from the top, for the last person on the ground to use as a ladder.
In the Spider Web, a similar challenge, a web-shaped rope is strung from two poles. The team must get everyone through the web to the other side without touching it. Most of them are just lifted horizontally and passed through like a log, usually accompanied by jokes and laughing, but the first and last people are the most challenging.
I found it intriguing to watch how the patrols solved the ones that sometimes had a twist, and required even more thinking.
For example, the students gathered at a small pond, similar to the one under the ropes course. A tire hung at chest level in the center of the water, tied to a tree limb. Three poles lay to the side with a hank of rope and a full bucket of water. The pond, the students were told, was a swamp full of crocodiles. They were given thirty minutes to move the whole team and the bucket of water from one side of the pond to the other. Anyone who fell or stepped into the water was “dead”. They could only use the available equipment and soon learned that the poles were too short to reach the other side. At the end of the exercise, the patrol lost points for water spilled out of the bucket and the patrol members who “died.”
Another exercise involved cooking a raw egg with a few matches and a safety pin. Apparently it is not the custom in their families to poke a hole in an egg to prevent it from breaking while cooking. Some teams spent an inordinate amount of time figuring out the role of the safety pin.
Usually the dominant students made the obvious suggestions, and the team tried them out, without success. Often it was a girl who had seemed weaker in the physical challenges who was able to figure out the successful strategy. After that, the dynamics in the team shifted to respect for everyone, each student with her own strength.
Not every team was able to succeed at everything, but since so many challenges came up during the course of the school, most teams succeeded at something.
As the activities slowed, one evening we watched their plays. They resembled Kipling’s “Just-So” stories, imitating the animals we saw on the plains. They all spoke, and one was always wise. The students had great fun putting them together, usually much more fun than the actual presentation. And, though they may not have recognized it, teamwork and leadership were involved in that activity as well.
On one of those later days, tired of writing reports, I joined four other instructors in one of the Land Rovers. We took a drive to one of the game parks, where we saw most of the ungulates again, and did not encounter any of the dangerous animals, to our disappointment.
On the way back, we picked up hitchhiker, a young Masai man. He was wearing Western clothes and not the skimpy ochre robe I had seen on other Masai. We stopped to pick up a bag of corn for the school. The order was not ready, so we all waited amid a herd of goats for a while. We chatted with an mzee, old man, who’d been tippling. He compared pombe, homemade beer, to God. The younger Masai, who seemed rather worldly or at least wanted us to think of him that way, ignored him.
We loaded the corn in the dark. Then, the moment we had hoped for. We sped down the dirt road, headlights ablaze and caught three cheetahs trotting along the road.
Monday night we celebrated with a wonderful bonfire, roast corn and singing. The next day, the students all left in high spirits. The instructors had time to complete our reports and enjoy what now did seem, except for that chilly pool, like a resort.
Working with a military-style, uncommunicative boss had taught me something. I had climbed Kilimanjaro, an old dream come true. And in teaching and leading the small patrols of girls through danger and cooperation, I had found the first kernels of a leader in myself.
Now I had a few days to get to Dar es Salaam where the athletes from my school were gathering for the national competition.
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