Before, after and during our recent trip we heard comments about our 'holiday.' The trip was many things, but it was not a holiday. In my former career I got to travel widely and always sought to ring every possible ounce of excitement out of each trip - whether that trip be to South America or Cardiff - I love travel and adore the chance to try something new. Four and a half weeks in Tanzania was harder work than any other trip I have ever done. Being 'on duty' 24/7 is exhausting. If you are a parent, think back to those early days when you had a baby that didn't sleep through the night. It was a bit like that - I never felt that I could sleep deeply and the unbroken nights were as rare as rocking horse poo. And while I probably, on occasion, ignored my own child crying there is no way I could ignore one of my students.
Behaviour, in the main was excellent - but I still have a couple of 'tricky emails' to send to parents. I'd not looking forward to that. Most of the boys grew and developed over the 4.5 weeks, but decision making was still painfully slow. The whole point of the expedition was that they boys take responsibility as much as possible, but this meant that it could take most of a day to organise a hotel, transport and places to eat.
Hmm, places to eat... teenagers don't tend to be the most adventurous souls when it comes to food. Our food budget was meagre - purposely so in order, in theory, to encourage the students to try local food rather than more expensive western food. I love food, I would quite happily eat street food at lunch time to allow space in the budget so that we could eat somewhere more exotic in the evening. The boys were interested in food they could recognise, burgers, fried chicken, pizza... So that whole lovely holiday vibe of lingering over a good meal was not part of our trip. We were much more likely to be dealing with a vomiting student. NB One student who has necked 2 bottles of Fanta and a plate of chips in record time can empty a restaurant in record time by vomiting copiously at the table!
All this could drive one to drink... except that this is not an option on a school trip. School rules state that at all times there must be two members of staff who have not drunk in the last 24 hrs - we had three members of staff, and the organisation running out expedition had a blanket 'no alcohol' policy. So no relaxing evenings, sitting on the beech with a beer. No chilled glass of wine with a meal. I'm not an alcoholic but... Part of me wonders if an opportunity to model 'adults enjoying an alcoholic drink in a responsible manner' was missed.
So no, it wasn't a holiday. It was hard, hard work. Amazingly rewarding at times, incredibly frustrating at others, I experienced some of the (literal and metaphorical) highest of highs but also the lowest, bleakest and most lonely times too. The days when I could not get in touch with home - but wanted to talk to Husbando or my children more than anything else. The late nights when we stood in the pitch black in a remote bit of field (because it was the only place we could get a phone signal) spending hours on a conference call to discuss our concerns about certain boys and situations.
Would I go back? In a heartbeat. I'd do this type of trip regularly if given half the chance. The benefit to the boys is immense. I've had emails from parents saying how much their son has changed, for the better, because of the experience. I'd love to be able to run this type of trip with children from disadvantaged backgrounds - I have a hunch that they would benefit even more than our relatively privileged pupils.
I was amazed at how much of a circus Kilimanjaro was - I hadn't expected it to be quite so busy, which is naive of me I know. Hopefully my next long expedition with school will be to somewhere equally as exciting but very different. Outside school, I've got a few ideas about mountains I'd like to climb, which is just as well as my running mojo seems to have deserted me at the moment.
It won't be with SW, which is a shame. I am still struggling to come to terms with him sacrificing his summit attempt so that I could summit. It was always going to be a very hard decision - I wanted him to summit as much as I wanted to summit myself, but going down, and choosing to go down rather than tossing a coin, must have been so hard. I know that the day after he went down was one of the lowest days of the entire trip for me - I can't imagine how tough it must have been for him. Maybe he realises that, at my great age, time is running out for me to get back to Tanzania! I'll miss him next term - work won't be quite the same without him there, but I know that he will be hugely successful and popular in his new school and wish him all the best.