December 9 – Party Prompt: Party. What social gathering rocked your socks off in 2010? Describe the people, music, food, drink, clothes, shenanigans. (Author: Shauna Reid)

Sitting under the archway with $480 in my pocket, I ordered another round. The sun wasn’t as relentless as it had been for the past eight days, but that may have been because I was 20,000 feet farther away from it that day. The conversation was awkward, but the lulls were thankfully filled in with the sounds of birds I never knew existed. 45minutes later, I’d get a close-up look at one of those birds when it flew into my window and then stuck there, staring its beady eye at me, hoping that I wasn’t going to kick it when it was down.

I was surrounded by 17 anxious men. We waited. The tension was building, and even though it could dissipate in the hot air, it chose not to. I didn’t know what to say, and even if I did, I couldn’t say it anyway. I contemplated round three, but thought better of it. Things were going to get wild soon enough.

My skirt was too short, and the hair on my legs was far too long. Did they notice? Did they care? Why did I? It’s not like these men hadn’t seen me looking far worse in the past week. I crossed my legs and tried to push my fuzzy knees farther under my chair. I kept checking my pockets to make sure I hadn’t dropped any money. I hadn’t.

Soon, it was time to stand. I checked the $480 one last time, before I got rid of it once and for all. I spoke, but very few heard. I was applauded anyway. I began to make my rounds, shaking hands with twenties palmed, passing off my thanks with a hug and an ‘asante sana’. These men had seen me safely to the top of Africa’s tallest mountain, and in appreciation, I was giving them more money in a moment than they make in a month. It wasn’t enough.

The porters of Kilimanjaro have the world’s hardest job, hauling up the gear of whining tourists, and doing so not because they want to, but because they have to. Arasmus carried my personal belongings on his head, up a mountain, while wearing dress shoes and a pair of pleated slacks. And I gave him $40 for it. But the part he hated most was still to come. And now, the time was here. He had to do it.

They all stood, I cringed, but held a half smile… while they sang.

Although the video above is not of the porters that helped my team make it up the mountain, all the Kili porters have to sing it when their team completes the climb. Don’t get me wrong, to hear 17 African men sing just for you is an experience that can never be rivaled. But to know that they have to sing it, makes it a little less meaningful. We still clapped appreciatively and thanked them for the song, because it truly was beautiful. But not nearly as beautiful as what happened next.

They sat back down, and we tried to resume conversation both using languages we didn’t know. And then, out of nowhere, someone started singing. Then they all joined, with smiles, swaying with the tune they were remembering in their heads, giving emotion to the song. They looked one another in the eyes and faked falling in love with one another, they laughed as they shook their heads slowly, and pulled their clasped hands to their hearts.

But they sang, and they loved it.

I remember the smell of the hot sun, the burning palm leaves, and the subtle aroma of spice that settled on every surface. I remember those 17 voices, lifting above even the birds, who I believe had stopped chattering anyway just so they could hear, too. There was a flush in my chest as my heart caught in my throat. I couldn’t help it, there was nothing else to do but sit, listen and cry.

Aug 31, 2010 – the day that a party showed me my heart.