*Photo above courtesy of Eva Melusine Thieme.
Some of you will probably feel cheated when you open this, thinking that I climbed Mount Kilimanjaro myself. Sorry to disappoint you. While I am an adventurous person and I think Kilimanjaro is beautiful (I’ve seen it from afar), I’m not particularly interested in climbing it. I’m content with hiking up smaller mountains, as I did in Lesotho.
Me on a mountain called Fukufuku in Lesotho. Not Mount Kilimanjaro. (Photo: Michelle Stern)
Anyway, this particular Joburg expat (or Joburg migrant, if you will) did not climb Mount Kilimanjaro. But another Joburg expat — my friend Sine — did.
I first met Sine (professionally known as Eva Melusine Thieme) through her blog, the Joburg Expat. Sine and I moved to South Africa from America at around the same time, and we both started blogs about it. Sine (who is originally from Germany but every bit as American as I am) moved back to the States in December 2012 and renamed her blog “the Ex-Joburg Expat”. I still read it faithfully.
Sine and I only saw each other occasionally when she lived in Joburg. We lived far apart and our lives were drastically different. Sine is a busy mother of four. Her family moved here for her husband’s work assignment and they lived in the far northern suburb of Dainfern. My story is obviously different. And yet I’ve always felt a kinship with Sine. My life could easily have turned out much like hers, or visa versa. And Sine and I are more alike than it seems. Both of us moved to Africa from America and discovered ourselves as writers.
Which brings me back to the topic of this post. A few months before moving back to America from Joburg, Sine climbed Mount Kilimanjaro with her son Max. And she wrote a book about it.
I love the cover of Sine’s book. It kind of reminds me of my new blog header.
I’ve never done a book review before but I was excited to review Kilimanjaro Diaries. Sine is a fantastic writer (a compliment I don’t bestow lightly) and I think it’s great that she used her blog as a jumping-off point to write a full-length, memoir-style book. This is something that I’m planning to do myself, hopefully sooner rather than later, so Sine is an inspiration.
Even though I have no plans to climb Kilimanjaro, I really enjoyed reading Kilimanjaro Diaries. I read many of Sine’s blog posts about her Kili climb back when it actually happened in 2012, and it was great to see how she expanded those posts into a book. I especially loved the early chapters, when Sine describes her preparations (or non-preparations, in some cases) for the climb, and the late chapters when she tells the story of her summit attempt. I don’t want to give away the ending but I’ll just say that I cried.
I also love Sine’s no-nonsense style of writing. She doesn’t mince words and she’s not concerned about political correctness. She’s not afraid to call herself a housewife, for example, and she’s not afraid to discuss the existence of “toilet apartheid” on Kilimanjaro. (Apparently Kili has separate toilets for the tourists and the porters. Sine has a fascination with toilets, as you’ll learn if you read Kilimanjaro Diaries.) Sine simply tells the story in an interesting, engaging, funny way.
If I had to offer a critique, it would be that I wanted to get to know some of the other characters in the story better. More about Max, more about the other climbers in Sine’s group (some of whom seemed quite quirky), and more about the team that led the climb. I especially wanted more of Godlisten (Gody), the Tanzanian leader of the expedition, who climbs up and down Kilimanjaro countless times each year. Where did he come from, how did he become a Kili guide, and what does he do when he’s not on the mountain? I felt like Gody’s character was somewhat idealized. I was left curious about who he really is.
Oh, and I really want to know how much this trip cost.
Sine harbors no illusions about what it means to climb Mount Kilimanjaro. The mountain is crowded, scattered with litter (and..ahem…human excrement), and suffering from the effects of climate change. Sine also freely admits that although climbing Kili is a huge physical and psychological challenge, it’s a pampered experience that only the wealthiest segment of society (guides and porters excluded) has the wherewithal to do.
But that reality doesn’t alter the fact that climbing Kili changed Sine’s life. That dichotomy is what makes the book worth reading.
I agree that climbing Mount Kilimanjaro is a tremendous achievement and I respect Sine immensely for doing it. However, Sine achieved something much more tremendous than summiting the tallest mountain in Africa, at least in my view. Amidst being a mother to four children, moving her entire family from one continent to another, writing a popular blog, and countless other tasks that I can’t even fathom, Sine WROTE AND SELF-PUBLISHED A BOOK in the span of 15 months. I am in the midst of learning, though personal experience, that writing a book is insanely hard. I’m in awe.
Lastly, I’d like to share my favorite two sentences from Kilimanjaro Diaries, which happen to be the last two sentences of the book.
I started out the week signing my name into the logbook at the end of each day with “housewife” as my profession. I ended the week with “writer”.
Mad props, Sine.
Kilimanjaro Diaries is available on Amazon and iBooks. For more information, visit Sine’s author site.