James Brophy
James Brophy

Returning to Africa
Monday, February 06
It was nearly 22 years ago when I left the comforts of a traditional college life to pursue an opportunity to study in Kenya. I lived and studied on a game ranch outside of Nairobi with a group of students from all around the USA and from all walks of life. Most of us shared common ideals, such as preservation and conservation, were seeking new inspiration, had an appetite for adventure, and were willing to travel outside of our comfort zones.
 
Together, we embarked on three major safaris. In the Maasai Mara, we gained an understanding of a truly different culture. Our overnight stay in the local community was an opportunity to practice our new love of the Swahili language. We were offered exotic food and potent drinks. Their home brews, called Changaa, made us hallucinate, and I was chosen as the oldest male guest to eat the cooked gizzards of a freshly slaughtered chicken out of respect. 
 
I celebrated my 21st birthday in a thatched mud hut and traded a Timex watch for a Maasai walking stick. My trade partner was so enamored by my “glow in the dark” watch that he was willing to part with his handcrafted walking stick. It was a long way from Ann Arbor study halls and even further from Mom’s homemade meatballs.
 
It was in the Serengeti that we conducted game counts and observed wildlife herds day after day. The African lion, African elephant, Cape buffalo, African leopard, and rhinoceros together make up the “Big Five” game animals. These beautiful creatures have been the subject of countless books and cable documentaries, and people travel across continents to be in their presence.  We learned about ecosystems in East Africa and the important roles that different species play. We conducted field research with the hope that future generations might also be able to enjoy the multitude of wildlife and natural beauty that surrounded us.
 
It was on our safari to Tsavo and Amboseli that I first stood at the foot of Mount Kilimanjaro. This was the “House of God” – the highest mountain in Africa, with its snow covered top that Hemingway wrote about in the “The Snows of Kilimanjaro.” It never dawned on me that one day I would return to climb this stunning spectacle.
 
This was all more than 20 years ago. Today, I’m a bit older and certainly a bit changed. I’m a family man and work long hours, spending nearly all my extra time and energy with my beautiful wife and three curious boys. The closest I have come to Africa has been the portrait of an Acacia tree that hangs in our bedroom. Deep down, though, I still have an appetite for adventure and know that our entire group has new inspiration and common goals—helping to find a cure for multiple myeloma.  
 
Twenty-two years ago, I traveled to be with the “Big Five.” This time, I will travel back to Africa with the now so called “Big Six” -- April Jakubaus, Matt Goldman, Terry White, Nancy Dziedzic, Gary Rudman and Mark Herkert. My teammates are incredible human beings and a major source of inspiration for all of us. They are multiple myeloma patients taking on this challenge for their own personal reasons but with a shared ideal that this climb will help make a difference in the battle against this awful disease.  I’m excited and honored to be a part of this team. Together, while climbing a mountain, we can move mountains!
 
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