In 1998, I had a life-changing phone call. I was in one of my sad-me moments, whining to a friend about how hard my life was and how everything that was wrong because I was wrong, and well you get the picture. But in my self-involved haze, I hadn’t taken the time to remember who the friend was on the end of the line. He was in a battle for his life, a battle he would soon lose. My friend patiently let me vent, then asked me a simple question, “If you knew you would die tomorrow, what would you regret having not done?” The first thing that popped into my mind was I hadn’t yet gone to Africa. He told me, “Whatever just popped into your head, just do it. Make the plans now to start and make it happen.”
Within a few months, I was flying into Nairobi, Kenya beginning my journey. You know me, I can’t do anything small so I had planned to summit Mt. Kilimanjaro on this first trip. I found myself in the lobby of the famous Norfolk Hotel, half way around the world. As fate would have it, I was not alone. Behind me I heard a familiar voice, “Hey Jody!”. There in this land far away, was my friend from home Paula. In her thick Boston accent, she had jarred me into remembering how the universe has a way of being very small when necessary. Finding her familiar face, we excitedly embraced and I relayed all I had planned, including my climb in just a few days.
“You got a coat?” Paula asked. “Well, I have this one.” I was wearing my khaki safari jacket, all very Out of Africa. “Oh, you’re gonna freeze, hon.” Paula had completed her trip and was on her way home. “Here’s my down jacket…get it back to me when you get home.” That fateful meeting had indeed saved my life. More than a few days on the mountain were spent wrapped in the warm down jacket that a friend from a world away had loaned to me. I had indeed reached Uhuru Peak in that very jacket, and had only begun what was to become a lifetime of African adventures. Fast forward twelve years and I’ve begun my own safari company, become a field guide myself, and take many new adventurers to Africa every year.
I somehow never thought going to Africa was something I could do. But within a few months, I was disembarking from a small bush plane onto African soil. The minute we touched ground, I felt I was returning home. But always in my heart, is the knowledge that it is the friends and families we have at home that allow us to follow our dreams, even to the remotest mountaintop.