One step at a time
The guides up the mountain keep a cadence of "pole, pole" as three PLU students ascend into the heavens.
The words are Swahili for "slowly, slowly," and Anna McCracken '14, Kelsi Leu '14 and Anthony Markuson '13 soon learn that reaching the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro is a slow climb.
"The very first day we were climbing through a rain forest," Leu said. "I've never hiked that slowly so it was kind of frustrating."
She learned the pace wasn't slow to frustrate though, but rather to avoid altitude sickness.
Markuson recalled how the final ascent was a slow climb into the dark. It starts early in the morning in hopes of reaching the top as the sun rises above the clouds and over the mountain. Each step was slow and for hours the climbers have nothing to see but the illumination of head lamps and the boots of their fellow travelers ahead of them.
"One step at a time," Leu said. "There are a lot of things you can do. The guides always told us 'Only think about today. Don't worry about tomorrow.'"
But the pace isn't only necessary, Markuson said, it's worth it.
"It's like walking on the moon," said McCracken, a global studies and anthropology double major.
Anthony Markuson '13
Hometown: Chester, Mont.
Study away: Botswana - working on community health
What's next? After he graduates, he plans to spend the next year in the Lutheran Volunteer Corps, while applying to medical school.
What brought the three to Africa and the top of that continent were study away experiences during the fall semester.
Anna McCracken '14
Major(s): global studies and anthropology
Hometown: Spanaway, Wash.
Study Away: South Africa – studying social and political transformation
What's next? After she graduates, she would like to spend a year volunteering. "I have a feeling South Africa will call me back."
Last spring, the three friends realized they were all going to be studying in Africa for the fall semester.
McCracken had plans to travel to South Africa to study social and political transformation. Leu would be in Zanzibar, where she would study coastal ecology and work on a waste-management program. Markuson, who intends to go to medical school after graduation, would be in Botswana where he would work on community health issues.
Africa is a big place. But they knew they had to meet somehow, somewhere, while they were there.
While sitting in the Anderson University Center on campus it came to them. They'll meet up in Tanzania and climb Mt. Kilimanjaro.
Leave it to a few Lutes to celebrate by climbing the highest peak in Africa, at 19,341 feet. None of them had done something like that before, but that wasn't going to keep them from trying.
"Even while we were talking about it we were like 'is this really going to happen?'," said Markuson, a biology major. "It's definitely not something I thought I'd ever do."
During the semester, the three kept in contact by email, keeping alive their idea to meet up and journey into the clouds.
Leu and McCracken met up on the lower slopes of Mt. Kilimanjaro in the town of Moshi, Tanzania. Then Markuson flew in a few days later.
"When we all met up in Moshi, it was like this is actually going to happen,"said Leu, a biology and environmental studies double major.
It wasn't an easy path, not only because it forced them to slow down, but also because it tested their endurance – mentally and physically.
"It was one of those humbling experiences," McCracken said.
Their travel up the mountain was only part of their journey as each learned to adjust to a life outside of PLU. And for three friends whose bond deepened as counselors at Flathead Lutheran Bible Camp in Montana over the previous summers, they couldn't help but use the lessons they learned at PLU to embrace any situation they faced, no matter how grueling, slow or unfamiliar.
"The one thing I learned throughout the semester is just go with the flow and things will fall into place," McCracken said.
Kelsie Leu '14
Major(s): biology and environmental studies
Hometown: Kalispell, Mont.
Study away: Zanzibar – studying coastal ecology and working on a waste management program
What's next? She would like to return to Zanzibar and continue working on the waste management program. She'd also like to continue learning Swahili.