It is the first story that our charming Tanzanian guides Amadeus and Joelle tell us as we begin our five day ascent up Kilimanjaro.  Legend has it that a trekker wanted to know how much further to the top of the mountain.  After repeatedly inquiring, their guide finally replied “22“…  every time they asked.
How much further to the camp site?
22
How much further to lunch?
22
How much further to the top?
22
You get the idea.
It is now a running joke among all of the mountain guides and it means “just keep going.”
And as you make your way up the highest peak in Africa, all 19k feet, the guides move you in a slow and steady pace.  “Polè. Polè.”  Or “Slowly. Slowly.”
And so each morning after a brilliant cup of coffee and a hearty hiker’s breakfast we hit the wide open trail with Amadeus and Joelle saying:
22.  Polè.  Polè.”
(Just keep going.  Slowly. Slowly)
And that is how we summited Kilimanjaro!
And I learned a lot and reflected a lot along the way…
Here goes!
Last week we wrapped up our Fourth Annual Women’s Leadership Retreat at Entusi with over 30 women coming together from around the globe to share stories and “lean in” as each of them works to solve complex social issues in their respective communities.
I have been reflecting on how far we have come since the first time we convened a group of extraordinary women from East Africa and the United States in 2012 around the dining room of a partially finished retreat center on Lake Bunyonyi with a brand new team of 18 Ugandans we had hired to help us grow into the community.
22.  Polè. Polè.
Our East Africa operations are now Ugandan run and we are 40 percent revenue generating with a proper roof on our dining room!  Ugandans are now co-leading and co-teaching the eight academic partnerships we have in place.  We have a growing music festival, a robust research agenda, and launched our first for profit social impact company.
22.  Polè. Polè.
Pam gets it too.  She is growing her peanut butter company, Tuspa, in Kampala!  She came to our first Women’s Leadership Retreat in 2012.  This year she was a featured speaker as she talked about the eight employees she has hired and her need for capital in order to grow.  She has a five year plan for Tuspa and her product line now includes popcorn, honey and roasted peanuts.  Her popcorn is insane… Jus’ sayin’!!!
22.  Polè. Polè.
Janet also gets it.  An amazing woman of elegance and grace from Uganda, she and her beautiful sister Joy run a company called Gahaya Links in Rwanda that has now employed over 4,500 Rwandan women teaching them textile skills and putting them into the workforce.  Janet tells the story of how she was born in a refugee camp over 50 years ago in East Africa in the midst of enormous unrest and violence.  Fifty years later her daughter graduated from Harvard and began her career as an executive at Visa in Rwanda!  Really???
22.  Polè. Polè.
Agnes also is on her way to Harvard!  She was with us at our first Women’s Leadership Retreat as well and is one of the lead experts in human trafficking in East Africa.  She and her family fled the Lord’s Resistance Army in Northern Uganda when she was a little girl.  And now we can only hope that thru her training at the JFK School and her passion for community development and women’s empowerment that she will ascend to key leadership positions in Uganda to impact positive change.
22.  Polè. Polè.
And we met Candy this year for the first time!  She and her business partner Linda have a magnificent boutique store and cafe called Haute Baso.  They are deep into the fashion industry here in East Africa and they know that there are enormous employment opportunities in this burgeoning sector.  Candy is Rwandan and Belgium and her creative design coupled with her business acumen make her a rising star on the Kigali fashion scene.
22.  Polè. Polè.
Just coming off the mountain, it has been almost a week since I tuned into the news or social media.  In fact, this has been the longest I have been off-line since I can remember.  If not for my “out of office” reminder I expect that many of my friends and family will assume I have deceased.  Yahoo and Google both reported a 25 percent reduction in email traffic 🙂
As I left the political rhetoric behind and have been part of this extraordinary trek in this extraordinary part of the world, I have watched hundreds of people of all different shapes and sizes work together with our Tanzanian guides and porters to navigate this arduous journey.  Interestingly, nobody here is out to “win” or to mow over their fellow Trekkers or “punch them in the nose” to make it to the top first.  Nobody here insults each other or questions their integrity or derides them for their beliefs or their gender.  We are hiking with both Muslim and Christian guides and women are slowly making their way into the industry here.  Nobody here cares about the size of their hands or has any inclination to build a wall of any kind!  Life is hard enough in this part of the world without building new walls.
Unity is what drives everything on the mountain.  It is what should drive all of us.
22.  Polè. Polè.
It is so simple.  And it makes so much sense.
And unity is what we need more than ever.
Tonight as we sat around the fire, our host Wilson asked us if we had heard about what happened in Orlando.  It was actually the first text that came thru for me when I came off the mountain from my friend: “Thinking of you.   Love outweighs any hate any day.   Please know I love you.   Hugs.”  Wilson didn’t understand why one of the candidates for president was making this about Muslims.
Neither do I.
22.  Polè. Polè.
As we summited this magnificent mountain yesterday I have had a lot of time this past week to reflect on the people in my life and to recenter myself.   And as I return home the news reminds us that we have a lot more work to do… together.
When I set out last week, I wanted to answer those important life questions that we should all periodically revisit to make sure we are on the right track.
And I did.
Where do you want to be in ten years?
22
Is the Global Livingston Institute growing the way I had hoped.
Polè. Polè.
How will I answer the seven days of emails, texts and phone calls I have missed?
22.  Polè. Polè.
And to the many people in my life who continue to guide me on this journey know that each of you was in my thoughts and close to my heart this week.  While my oxygen intake was quite limited at 19k feet my love for my friends and family runs deep.
22.
Polè. Polè.
And with a very heavy heart for the people of Orlando.
Much love, Jamie