FIRST PROJECT – CONQUERING KILIMANJARO
The first project of the organisation “South African Male Survivors Of Sexual Abuse” was undertaken not only for the personal healing of one of the directors of the organisation, but to use this mission to create an awareness of male abuse in South Africa. The analogy of conquering a mountain with that of a survivors journey to recovery, is being used to carry a message that is not often talked about in South Africa. It will give us access into schools, universities and non governmental organisations. The climb was in support of the survivors that had touched his life in a healing and comforting way and to support male victims who are not yet survivors.
Here is the extract from the blog CLIMBING KILIMANJARO FOR MALE SURVIVORS
“After months of planning we were on our way and left our hotel at 9am, making our way to the Kilimanjaro National park. Registration was extremely slow as approximately a hundred climbers registered for the climb. It did cross my mind if many of these fellow climbers also had a purpose and what that may be. We were excited on the one hand to get going but like all challenges that you face in life, patience was something we would learn by the end of our trip.
After some negotiations and unavoidable problems we finally left Marangu gate at midday, the pace was very slow as we walked on a pathway, through the tall trees of the rain forest. The atmosphere was damp with lots of fern and moss and at times the forest was so thick the sun rays could barely break through. It reminded me of a time in my recovery when I thought I would never see the sun again, that I would never feel the warmth of happiness again – how wrong I was.
The porters, our unsung heroes reminded me of the unconditional love I was so lucky to have found in the people that surrounded me – my loved ones who put up with my mood swings, my controlling behaviour and my constant need to protect them. They like these men persevered and stood by me by never giving up on me. Samson our guide gained our total trust, he was an amazing human being, he listened, he shared his thoughts, and was interested in me as a person. It is not an easy thing for a victim of abuse to trust again, to accept that people do not always have an alternative reason for being kind.:
Today we walked for six hours, a distance of 12 kms and increased our altitude by over 1000m. Through our months of training we had never got to this height before but we were all still coping well and in good spirits. Due to our late arrival at the site we were accommodated in one of the older dormitories on top bunks.I got into bed at 8.30pm and only slept about 50% of the time. I felt uncomfortable, not only because of the hard mattress and confining sleeping bag but also because of the unfamiliar surrounds and strangers sharing the same facility. As I tried to fall asleep my last thoughts for the day were that I would never have coped with these “shared sleeping circumstances” a year ago – oh yes I had come a long way.
Unlike the first day which was a moderate walk, the second day’s pace became slower and more energy was needed as we reached new heights climbing another 1000m. I started feeling like I had to push myself, it was gruelling but I am pleased to say that I had not yet gone beyond my limits.
Samson our guide reminded us about “polepole” a Swahili word meaning “slowly slowly” – the slower you walk the better your body acclimatises. I reminded myself that the road to any recovery can be slow at times. It allows you the time needed to adjust to new feelings that healing brings with it. The weather became cooler after lunch and we started realising that we would need to cover up and start adding layers to keep warm.
By about 3.30pm that day we were getting tired and passed a very old porter carrying about 20kgs of baggage. Once again I think of the people that I have met along my pathway to recovery, very often people who had heavier burdens than I had to carry. I gave him my energy bars and chocolates hoping it would assist him along his journey. This is all he knew and he had probably done this all his life, that enormous weight was his world for that moment. It made me think of others that were abused and have not healed and still carry the baggage, many into their old age and some even to their graves. Through the organisation “South African MALE SURVIVORS Of Sexual Abuse” we hope to offer assistance and encouragement to men of all ages on their journey to healing.
We nagged Samson to tell us how far it was still to go to the next camp and he said the camp is at the base of the third hill ahead of us. In my estimation it would still be another 1.5 hours and I was hoping that I would have the energy to get there. As we reached the top of the first hill to our surprise the camp was right there – so one never knows there may be unexpected healing in an adverse environment and that it sometimes help to humour yourself and others. Sometimes progress can come at the most unexpected times and you must not take those little achievements lightly, those achievements are the building blocks to success.
Tonight I was approached by an Irish man who was climbing with his son-in-law, who had seen me with the flag “1 in 6”. He told me how an attempt was made to abuse him as a young boy and how the same Irish priest had abused many of the boys in the parish. He further explained how today a community centre stands in the village, and is named in the same priest’s honour. I was moved that this stranger acknowledged me in my quest and once again brought to the fore how far reaching male abuse is worldwide.
The altitude was now starting to take its toll, 3700m above sea level is not ideal for humans and we felt it. We went to bed at 8.30pm and I had to sleep separately from my group as beds were in short supply. This did worry me a little as I was in close confinement with male strangers. Again I marvelled at how far I had come in my healing that even though I was cautious it really did not alarm me much.
Keeping our liquids up was very important and we had to purify the stream water chemically, which gave it a bitter taste. When I was in the early stages of my recovery it was difficult going through the motions of life, simple things like getting up in the morning and going to work seemed futile but I pushed myself. Life does go on, the sun does rise every morning, the accounts do pour in, the kids have to be dropped off at school, you have to eat and of course you have to quench your thirst. Sometimes my journey of recovery was tainted with things of an insignificant importance and that was all part of becoming a survivor.
On the third day we got our first view of Mount Kilimanjaro in all its glory as the sun was basking on the southern ice field. We also got a better view of Mawenzi which was impressive and mesmerising although its peak is lower than Kilimanjaro. Mawenzi was an ever present companion on this part of the journey. From Horombo the Mawenzi peak seemed to tower over Kilimanjaro – this of course was only a perception.
I could not help but remember how on my journey to healing there were often obstacles on the journey that appeared higher than my ultimate goal – telling a family member, sharing my story – but it was only a perception. Just as Mawenzi was much smaller than I perceived but only seen on the slopes of Kilimanjaro, my ultimate goal.
Whilst I revealed the flag “Real Men Get Raped” near Zebra Rock with Mawenzi in the background, the unveiling of the flag also unveiled people’s perceptions of male rape. I was standing holding out the flag when a Chinese climber also on the hike noticed the flag and came over and started reading it out aloud for the group behind her. In a loud voice she started reading “Real men get ….” Her voice tapered to silence and she could not bring herself to say the last word “raped”, and she walked back to her group uncomfortable at the concept that men can get raped.
This was also shower day – yes in my moment of madness I decided to have a shower. As mentioned before there is no running water but the shower is supplied by the passing streams. The shower cubicle which is situated in the toilet block has an overhead nozzle. The temperature at the camp was just 5˚c, I stripped in the freezing cold and due to the lack of design there was nowhere to put your clothes so I used the window sill. Even though there was a cold draught I decided to take the plunge. The water was freezing probably about zero degrees, my body went into shock. All the wrinkles and flab firmed up and I had an instantaneous sex change – just as a tortoise’s head would disappear into its shell so did my penis. I soaped down and then horror of all horrors the water stopped. About a half meter from the floor there was a tap with a trickling of water. I bent over with my arse in the air, the absurdity of the situation distracting me from my vulnerability and I rinsed my head and shoulders after which I also splashed the freezing cold water onto my body to remove the cleansing soap studs. The pain and anguish of the experience was worth it because I felt like a new person and was ready for the continuation of my journey. I did laugh hysterically and once again gave that inner child a chance to come out.
The experience was not unfamiliar in the reflection of my journey to healing. The pain and anguish that I endured making myself vulnerable by sharing my experience of sexual abuse and rape, risking rejection and the public and personal realisation that I was not always in control as my public persona had projected. The physical and emotional exposed to those around me had a cleansing feeling – I felt renewed, refreshed and invigorated that I could be me, just me and enjoy being me.
All spare time was used for resting and sleeping. After dinner we heard that three porters who use this route regularly had died a few months earlier. It dawned on me that there were very real risks involved in our hike, the journey changed in my mind from a walk up a mountain to the participation in an activity that could result in death. Approximately 20 deaths are reported on Kilimanjaro each year – although I had read this before, it now became a real statistic. I realised that the journey to healing takes many turns. At times I felt depressed ,unbeknown to me many others on the journey were suicidal and make take their own lives rather than take the next step On the fourth day we woke up very early at around 6am, the air was dry and it was already very cold. We packed and repacked and checked and double checked our kit. We finally left camp at 8am and hiked to our base camp before our summiting. The previous night’s disturbed sleep was probably the last decent sleep I had for the next two days. Today the pace was extremely slow as the mountain took its toll on us. I started becoming apprehensive and excited that tomorrow would be the final challenge – a 36 hour marathon of climbing.
We stopped for lunch, which I nibbled at as food had become more of a hindrance. The last 1.5kms to Kibo hut took us over an hour to walk. We arrived at 3pm, had an early dinner and had to pack, dress and ensure that all our equipment worked and that we were ready for our 11pm departure.
We should have rested from 6pm to 10 pm but the energy levels in the hut were so high that I was feeling great excitement and sleep was almost impossible. The anticipation of what lay ahead seemed to summon my fear.
Our departure was delayed to allow other groups to go ahead of us because our reputation of being last was known by all. However, to me this was not a race, I just wanted to be able to meet my final goal on this mission. We finally left at 11.45pm. The temperature was 0°c, the stars were visible as I had never seen them before, the sky was clear and it was almost a full moon, no wind, it was a perfect night.The moment took my breathe away as I realised that just like this clear sky above me, my life had evolved into something I could be proud of. I had become a survivor in many senses of the word – I felt healed to a point that I could take on just about anything. I had come full circle and I could now stare my abuse and rape squarely in the face and not feel shame. It felt like I had already summited in that split second.
We started to climb and very soon realised that it was not an easy task, because of the loose volcanic gravel we had to switch back (zig zag) up the steep slope to avoid slipping and sliding. We reached Williams point at 5000m and made our steady approach to Hans Meyer point where unfortunately one of our party had to turn back because of exhaustion.
Well before we reached Gilmans point we saw the most amazing sunrise you can ever imagine. You could see the curvature of the earth as the sun rose, the orange glows awakened a new dawn. We probably saw the sun rise a little later than those in the town below as we were above the clouds.
My balaclava was soaking wet from my nasal fluids, people were vomiting and laying down to rest, the reality had hit home. Our guides stressed that under no circumstances must we lay down – never give up the fight. At this stage the water in my backpack had frozen and I had very little energy, not even enough energy to open the other bottle of water. As my doubts tried to creep in I realised how much this climb mirrored my journey for the last ten years, the parallels and similarities were amazing. My purpose was starting to become something more personal – if I did not get to the top would that mean that my own survival journey would also not triumph? With this thought in mind I pushed on.
We were clambering over the rocks and having extreme difficulty breathing and at this point I believed I had consumed all my available energy and would not be able to make it any further. It was at this point that it became a mental game. I had to remind myself why I was doing this and that it was no longer all about me but about all the other males and healers I had met in Scarborough and the young man “my hero” that I had met in the UK who was dealing with his abuse at such a young age.
We reached Gillmans point at around 7.15am and my sister who was also my climbing partner began coughing, her breathing was a gurgling bubbling sound and her chest ached. I was very concerned about her state as were the guides. The guides informed her that she needed to prepare herself that she may need to turn back as she was showing very clear signs of altitude sickness. Whilst there we saw the magnificent site of Africa’s only glaciers, the beauty of the white ice face against the barren sandy alpine desert was a clear contrast and revealed absolute beauty.
After another 45 minutes we reached Stella Point at 8am. At this point my climbing partner had to succumb to the mountain – it would be too risky for her to continue. From where she stood was a view of the Uhuru peak sign. I was extremely heartsore and I cried as I nibbled my energy bar but we had made a pledge: “that our safety and life itself was more precious and that we would adhere to the guides advice no matter what, and that the other person would continue”. She was very brave as she was led away but she had seen everything, she was just 750m away from the top.
The solo attempt at summiting was not something I wanted but it happened. I had to walk away on my own in order to complete my journey. In our journey of healing, we need the support of our families and loved ones, we need to be part of a structured therapeutic programme – BUT there comes a time on the journey when no one can accompany you and you have to take the hardest part of the journey alone. I continued my quest to reach my ultimate destination. I was taking a third of a step at a time and having to rest every few minutes, even though we were only climbing gallansoranother 150m in height the air became so thin – approximately 50% of a humans normal oxygen requirements. Every time I rested my body wanted to give up. I had to continue for my fellow climbers, for my wife the love of my life, my children, for my own sense of accomplishment, for “my hero” back in the UK and fellow male survivors that I had met in Scarborough and all other males that have ever been abused.
I imagined every step being taken as being a tally of male survivors even those I had not met. It was probably the most painful and longest 90 minutes of my life, at minus 10˚c I finally summited and reached the highest point in Africa at 9.30am.
As I reached the top my emotional state took over and I cried, believing that I had made it and was now on top of the world. I had overcome a lot of my fears and kept my promises to the male survivors, healers and “my hero”. I was so proud of myself but I had limited time up there but I had to share it with a lot of people. Samson was already nagging me to hurry up as he was concerned for my health but I needed to have a photo taken of my flag.
The journey back was painful, I had used all my energy and reserves to get up, I had none left. I dug deeper and found the energy but the biggest motivator of all was getting home to my loved ones. I now wanted to go home more than anything. My mind and body was past exhaustion but I eventually made it back to Kibo Hut the transit camp at 2.30pm. As I looked back in daylight at what I had accomplished it felt like a dream, it was all unreal. I had changed my clothes, devoured some hot soup, packed and we left at 3pm for the overnight stay at Horombo Hut. I reached camp at 7pm after a marathon 36 hours hike since we had left this point the day before. Sleep came easy as I collapsed in bed at 9pm.
The next morning I got up at 5.30am had breakfast at 6am and left camp at 7am for the 7.5 hours hike to get to the main gate. It was a slow walk and I decided not to walk with anyone else. It was the first time I spent 7,5hrs in silence by myself thinking about everything. It may seem minor but I had always had a fear of being by myself because it would allow me to think, which prior to this journey I was not willing to do. In those hours I processed my journey, my abuse, my life and came to the conclusion that my purpose was to use my experience to help other men. Mission impossible accomplished! What a It is ironical and somewhat poetic that the organisation “South African MALE SURVIVORS Of Sexual Abuse” was officially registered by the government of South Africa on the same day as I reached the top. I am taking it as a good omen.”