Barbie On Top (aka Barbie for World Peace)

On one of my trips to Africa, which was a hiking/safari combo, I decided I really needed to bring Barbie along with me, not only because Barbie seemed to be a good travel partner, but also because, who doesn’t love Barbie?  Sounds crazy; I know; so let me share a little history:

I am not, nor have I ever been a baby doll person.  I think I had a baby-type doll at one time in my life, but it really wasn’t a toy I was interested in.  I preferred kittens, dogs, and rabbits to most toys, and of all the toys I owned that was my most favorite toy of all time was my Barbie. 

Barbie had the awesomely great and mostly pink wardrobe, a kick ass body, that hot pink convertible, and no responsibilities whatsoever.  My Barbie’s were of the older generation as she was a newer arrival on the toy scene as I was growing up. 

Big shout out here to my mom, who made most of my Barbie clothes.  Also noteworthy, growing up we didn’t have lots of money for toys in my family, so my sister and I had to improvise:  Our Barbie convertible was made from a single strap-on metal roller skate which we tied and pulled behind our bikes (our Barbie’s got pretty scuffed up).  A Barbie camper?  Well, of course that was a shoe box strapped to our basset hound, Hildegard!

Growing up in the “only good girls go to heaven” and ever so restrictive Catholic religion, I was not allowed to have any boy Barbie dolls…better to keep the temptation of sin away from Barbie by keeping Ken at bay.  However, you can’t hold back mother nature and my sister and I just gave our ugly Barbie dolls buzz cuts, dressed them in ugly clothes, and created our own boy Barbie’s.  I think we created some of the first transgender/lesbian Barbie dolls back then.

I played with Barbie as long as possibly acceptable and mourned her passing as I transitioned out of my childhood.  Thankfully I didn’t have to give Barbie up cold turkey as my early teen years were spent babysitting and I rejoiced when the little girls (and sometimes boys) I baby sat for wanted to play Barbie (YAY kids)!!

Recently Barbie had been resurrected from being a big part of my early life to a central figure in my yearly birthday parties which all had a theme based on Barbie (of course).      It was at the time I was planning a trip to Africa that Barbie made her repeat appearance in my life, so I decided I would bring her along with me to Africa. To assure she could accompany me to the summit, I made sure she could easily be attached to my hiking backpack. 

If you look closely at Barbie’s pink pleather and faux fur summit coat, you will notice writing on it.  This is because I never travel without a sharpie marker, and Barbie’s coat became customized after the following short but necessary backstory:
One day, in Africa on the way to the summit, while discussing the Swahili language with Abraham, one of our lead guides, he mentioned how some words in Swahili mean something very innocent, yet if one letter was changed in that same word, the word then could mean something entirely different (or very bad per Abraham).  Abraham gave me an example of a Swahili word that meant the number ten, but if changed slightly had a completely different meaning.  Abraham, being a true gentleman, would NOT tell me what that “bad word” was, but now my curiosity was piqued and there was no way in hell I was going to let go of this mystery word.

After badgering Abraham to give up the goods, I decided to get the information from another source.  Later that evening after Abraham had gone to bed, while playing cards with my hiking group and rest of our guides, I asked Benjamin, our second lead guide, about that word.  Across the large table in the mess tent I shouted, “Hey Benjamin, what is the Swahili word that means the number ten but if you change one letter it means something very bad?” 

Benjamin looked at me; thought a few seconds, and said, “Kuma.” 

“Kuma?  What is Kuma?” 

I still laugh aloud today when I remember Benjamin, in a total dead-pan-matter-of-fact-everyone-should- know-this, replied “Kuma means pussy.”  The whole tent erupted in shocked laughter while the other guides were incredulous to hear this word said out loud to a bunch of tourists.  Now imagine the horror on poor Abraham’s face the next day at breakfast when I loudly proclaimed that “Kilimanjaro was NOT for Kumas!!”

Of course, my trustee black Sharpie was used the next day to customize Barbie’s coat AND my hand crafted Girl Scout sit upon* I made and brought with me for the trip.

*Sit upon:  a seat warmer made from a portion of waterproof table cloth filled with folded newspapers to keep your butt warm and dry while camping…. possibly only made by Girl Scouts while working towards some obscure badge.  

So back to the hike to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro:  We hiked slowly for several days to acclimate ourselves to the higher altitudes of Mount Kilimanjaro. 

It is important to note that due to altitude sickness, other health reasons, or unfortunate accidents, not everyone who starts out for the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro reaches the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro.   

The hiking to the summit was not pretty. it was very monotonous.  There was nothing to look at but the sky and the ground scree under our hiking shoes.  Scree definition:  damn loose gravelly volcanic pebbles which caused hikers to slide backwards and lose a little ground with each step forward. 

Eventually as we reached higher altitudes the scree was buried beneath the snow.

Finally we were within a day to reach the summit!  To avoid hiking all night in the dark and also to be one of the first groups to reach the summit at daybreak it was necessary for us to camp overnight at Crater Camp (Uhuru) which was perched at 18,500 feet. 

Although this meant a longer period at this altitude it also meant we only had to hike the remaining 845 feet to reach the summit.  Yet can you believe there are some hikers who think the option of camping at 18,500 feet is considered “cheating?” 

Cheating?  It must be a lack of oxygen to the brain if anyone thinks camping all night in freezing cold temps with diminished oxygen levels at 18,500 feet is cheating.  Hypoxic Idiots. 

Most of us slept in all of our clothes because of the cold and also to save time as we would only have about five minutes for coffee and a biscuit before leaving at pre-dawn to hike the remaining 845 feet to the summit. 

Eight hundred and forty-five feet might seem like a short distance, but going uphill through snow buried volcanic scree in the cold at that altitude is slow going and it did take us a few hours to get to the summit.  Finally, at the summit as the sun was coming up we rejoiced at our accomplishment, took in the gorgeous surreal scenery of being on the roof of Africa, and quickly assembled for our pictures.  We were told the other (non-cheating) tired, crabby, all night hikers would be arriving soon after us and we would need to be quick taking our summit commemorative photos.

Sure enough, the first hiking group of (non-cheating) tired, crabby, all night hikers, who happened to be Japanese, arrived just as we started taking our photos at the summit sign.  We were going as quickly as we could, but everyone who makes it to the summit deserves a photo, so back off Japan and wait your turn.  By the time it was my turn to have my photo taken the Japanese hikers had started shouting for us to hurry up and begun encroaching onto our group to mob us off the summit. 

But I had paid my dues and it was my turn to have my picture taken:  I had paid lots of money to be here, I had hiked seven days without a shower or hair products, I had slept in a tent for way more days than ever before, I had lived in the same gross clothes for days on end, and I had earned my photo. Dammit!  Of course, in addition to my pimped out sit-upon sign to be in my photo, I wanted Barbie to be in the picture with me as well, because even though she looked better than me, she had made this journey too. 

As I ducked the oncoming lava rocks being pelted at my head by the Japanese mob and stepped up to the summit sign, I pulled out Barbie and shouted to the Japanese hikers that it was my turn now and I was going to have my picture taken with Barbie!  Suddenly, there was much scrambling all through the Japanese hiking group as the lava rock bombs being aimed at my head were dropped and replaced with Nikon, Pentax, and Canon cameras. 

Those non-cheating, tired, hungry, crabby Japanese hikers had been immediately and miraculously transformed.  The Japanese hiking group began shouting in unison, “Barbie?!”  “Baabie!  “We rike Baabie!”  “We RUV Baabie!”  “We want take picture with Barbie!!!”   So the Japanese hikers took their photos of Barbie at the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro and the summit sign at 19,345 feet was saved that day by Barbie!

Oh and the leis we are all have donned for our commemorative photo?  All compliments of the leftover luau at 10,000 feet! 

Special Note:  Although the names have been changed to protect the innocent, Abraham and Benjamin, I thank you so much for these great Kili memories, I hope you are both well, and miss you both dearly.

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