In a bout of altitude induced creativity, I jotted this down in my journal at Barafu Camp.
Ajali was a strong young man in his late teens. His exact age is not known. Who keeps track in these parts?
Ajali’s father died working the tanzanite mines when he was just a boy. Forced to quit school to take care of his brothers and his sisters, he took work in the mines like most men in his village. The mines gave Ajali strong legs and strong arms, but being a miner was not what he wanted.
Since he was a boy, Ajali spent clear afternoons dreamily staring at Uhuru Peak. He learned to identify the glaciers by name and pick out the major features of the mountain. He religiously studied a guide book he found in the streets of Moshitown. He memorized the routes and played them out in his head.
Closing his eyes at night, Ajali turned into a mountain guide leading visitors up the steep slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro. Opening them in the morning, he went to work at the mines. Too poor to afford guide school, he knew his only chance was to start as a porter and work his way up.
But the work of a porter was unsure and Ajali had his family to think of. This all changed when his mother fell ill with malaria; a bout from which she did not recover. His brothers and sisters went to live with an aunt in Arusha, leaving Ajali to fend for himself.
Tragedy turned to chance and Ajali packed what little he had, making his way to Londorossi Gate to await work as a porter. He waited and waited, but nobody wanted an inexperienced porter. The boy lived by the gate, sleeping in the field and surviving on what scraps he could find. One day, his chance arrived along with a large group of tourists. The group needed every last porter.
Ajali wanted desperately to prove himself and taking more than his fair share of gear, he struggled to keep up with the others. Fearing he’d be sent down, never to serve as a porter again, he told no one of the headache and nausea that crept in during the 3rd night of the trek. Instead, while the tourists ate breakfast, he helped pack up camp and started up the Great Barranco Wall.
The Wall was so steep at points that hands were needed to pull oneself up. At over 4000 meters, it was no longer easy to balance the load on his head. A tiny mistake and Ajali’s fingers no longer gripped the rock. His body landed on the rocky trail 50 meters below, right next to some American tourists. His porter’s bag, carrying a dining tent and portable toilet, followed a split second later.
The tourists were traumatized by the experience and, after finishing the trek, tipped their guide accordingly.