There is simply nothing quite like Mt. Kilimanjaro anywhere else on Earth. Although it’s considered to be one of the easiest of the seven summits to climb, it certainly shouldn’t be underestimated. Standing on its own at 5,895 metres tall, it is the world’s tallest free-standing mountain; and can take between five and nine days to complete.
Shining a spotlight on the amazing female porters of Mt. Kilimanjaro, activity and adventure holiday company, Exodus, shot a powerful film featuring Olympic Gold Medallist, Crista Cullen. Directed, filmed and edited by Olly Pemberton, Ngumu: The Women of Kilimanjaro, documents the Olympian as she journeys to the peak alongside the pioneering women that are now changing the face of the iconic mountain.
For Exodus, it’s all about adventure; but people too. They strive to ensure that their inspired activity holidays empower and protect the communities and environments they bring people to visit; and they are proud to support this goal further through the Exodus Travels Foundation; a platform consolidating decades of support for life-changing, community-based projects across the globe.
Strength, perseverance and resilience.
10 years ago, it was unheard of to have a female porter working on the tallest mountain in Africa. They’d regularly experience comments such as: “You’re women, you don’t have the strength of men” or “Your job is to have children, not to do the work of a man.” And this only motivated these inspired women further.
Today, a small group of females have joined the ranks. Carrying up to 25kg worth of equipment on their heads, these strong and resilient women lead their clients all the way to the top. Each porter is fondly known as a ‘ngumu’, which means ‘tough’ in Swahili.
On the journey to the top, it’s vital that spirits are kept high, so ngumu life means plenty of singing. Throughout the video, it’s clear to see just how much the ngumus care. These remarkable porters send their clients on their way every day rested, well fed and ready to tackle more of the climb.
A tough experience for an Olympic athlete.
Being an athlete, Crista Cullen certainly knows a thing or two about determination, but it’s evident within the video just how tough she found climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro. Kenyan-raised—and a Swahili speaker—she joined the porters on the journey, trying to carry the heavy weight on her head as best she could.
Witnessing the equality that both men and women porters now have, Crista describes what a positive experience it has been, despite the shifts in altitude and relentless trekking. The film highlights the need for more companies like Exodus, so that more women can work as porters. Since the women have been accepted, controversy and bad feelings have been eliminated. Today, men and women can work side-by-side in harmony.
“Everyone is together now, it feels like the men have mums and sisters with them. It’s comforting for them,” explains one of the male porters.
Women have come so far in this journey. The persistent nature of the role of a porter getting the kit up the mountain deserves a lot of respect, and they’ve certainly earned it. If you were to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro today, you can expect a family environment as well as a strong team ethic.
Without women, this balanced team ethos that helps everyone wouldn’t happen, and agencies really need to realise how important they are. The ngumus have the strength to keep smiling and empower each other to keep going. And Crista couldn’t have felt more privileged to have walked alongside them.