‘On Top of Africa’ by B. Tejani

Mt Kilimanjaro, Tanzania

Have you ever dreamed of climbing Africa’s tallest mountain, Mt. Kilimanjaro? Of watching its snow-capped peaks under the tropics, near the equator? Mount Kilimanjaro rises to an elevation of 5,895 m above sea level and about 4,900 m above its plateau base in Tanzania; it is the largest and tallest free-standing mountain rise in the world, meaning that it is not part of a mountain range. The majestic Mount Kilimanjaro is an inactive snow-capped stratovolcano that extends for about 80 km from east-west and is made up of three principal volcanic cones namely Mawenzi, Kibo, and Shira. The highest summit of Kilimanjaro is located on the crater rim of Kibo volcano and has been named the Uhuru Peak, where ‘Uhuru’ means ‘freedom’ in the native Swahili language. Scientists estimate the glaciers may be completely gone in 50 years. Mount Kilimanjaro is often referred to as the “Roof of Africa”. Thus one can imagine what poet B. Tejani, and anyone who reaches the 4th tallest peak in the world, must have felt after ascending the mountain… on top of Africa, which is the title of Tejani’s poem about the joy of ascending Mt Kilimanjaro. Bahadur Tejani is a Kenyan author and poet, born of Gujarati parents in Kenya. He studied at the Makerere University in Uganda, Cambridge University, and the University of Nairobi. He later taught at the University of Nairobi in Kenya, as well as the University of Sokoto in Nigeria. As you read the poem, you are really transported to the slopes of the majestic mountain. As you watch the snow, ‘an ageless majesty‘ fills you. As you reach the summit, there is definitely at that moment ‘no great triumph in the soul‘, after the ‘agonied 20,000 steps upwards and onwards‘. Truly, only when the ordeal is finished ‘I shall remember the dogged voice of conscience self-pity warring with will‘. This poem is part of Poems from East Africa, ed. by D. Cook and D. Rubadiri (1971), p. 176. Enjoy!,

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Mt Kilimanjaro in 1911

On Top of Africa‘ by B. Tejani

Nothing but the stillness

of the snow

and an ageless majesty

matched

by those enduring horizons that bridge the heights of you and me.

The phosphorescent sun gliding from the dark cloud under us

shone a brief once while we lay

retching in the rarefied air.

No great triumph in the soul of those

twenty thousand agonied steps upwards, always onward.

Only anguish of an ending -the vacuumed intestines shivering at

another onslaught of mountain sickness.

An ice-axe prod in the back and with it the terrible thought of the

awful retreat down the cold slopes of possible deaths; dumb eyes and

feet

lit by a single tireless search for slumber

which is as far away from us as we from the plains.

Only when the nightmare is over I shall remember the dogged voice of

conscience

self-pity warring with will

of the brown body

to keep up

with the black flesh

forging ahead

on the way

to Kilimanjaro.

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