My story changed on a mountaintop
By Nora Foster
“Hey, I think we can do that!”
OSU Spears School of Business alumnae Renee Caldwell, right, and Nora Foster, left, climbed Mount Kilimanjaro to celebrate their 50th birthdays.
That’s what Renee Caldwell, my fellow OSU alumnae and best friend of more than 35 years said after we watched an IMAX movie about climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, Africa. The mountain is one of the seven summits, the tallest peaks on each of the seven continents. At 19,340 feet, the highest freestanding mountain in the world is also known as “The Roof of Africa.” What better way to celebrate our 50th birthdays?
We trained hard for about a year, hiking the hills and trails in and around our Austin, Texas, neighborhood and traveling to Colorado to try a couple of 14ers — mountains 14,000 feet or higher. Finally, in February 2011, we climbed Kilimanjaro. It was incredibly challenging — Renee and I both said during the trek that we weren’t sure we would get to the summit — but we never thought about quitting.
Reaching Uhuru Peak, the top of the mountain, was life-affirming. I didn’t realize quite how life-changing it was until after the climb, when the high wore off, and I realized I had fallen in love with our head guide, Bernard Shirima. I found out later he had fallen in love with me, too.
Nora Foster fell in love with her mountain guide, Bernard Shimira.
After months of texts and internet phone calls, I traveled back to Tanzania in 2012. The following fall, Bernard came to visit me — his first trip out of Africa. He is part of the Chagga tribe and had lived his entire life in Tanzania. Bernard was immediately a fan of the San Antonio Spurs and Shiner Bock beer, and he enjoyed exploring Austin on foot and bicycle. As the bond between Bernard and me grew over time and distance, we began to understand how deeply we shared a love of the people, culture and natural wonders of his native country. What could we do to share that with the world and keep building our life together? We decided to start a safari company.
My professional life up to that point had been a business world of accounting and finance. I graduated from OSU in 1983 and became a CPA. I could easily have moved to Tanzania and continued as an accountant; there are lots of opportunities to share the knowledge and skill I have, and Bernard and I could have a comfortable life together. But we agreed that sharing Tanzania with others would also be helping the country.
Leopards and other wild animals are common sights in Tanzania.
Tourism brings opportunity to the Tanzanian people as well as awareness and protection to its wildlife and natural resources. The country’s beauty and wonder is so spectacular that the Tanzanian government has preserved over 25 percent of its land as national parks or conservation areas. Wildlife, such as lions, elephants, buffalo, leopards and rhinos — together known as the “Big Five” — can roam freely in their natural habitats. This preservation means, we hope, that all of us can enjoy watching the majesty of the great wildebeest migration or listening to the bark of a zebra from a tented camp deep in the Serengeti for many years to come.
I’ve been fortunate to do quite a bit of international travel over the years in Europe, South and Central America, and Asia. Nothing had prepared me for Africa. Standing at the summit of Kilimanjaro took my breath away. Watching a herd of elephant mothers surround their babies at the first sign of danger brought tears to my eyes. Seeing a child’s eyes go wide with wonder as I tried, haltingly, to speak in his native language made me smile.
Three generations of Masai women greet visitors on an African safari.
I have had so many experiences that have enhanced my life in ways I never thought possible. Even at over 50, life can hand you surprises.
This year, Bernard and I completed our home in Tanzania, where we can see Kilimanjaro from our backyard. We both travel back and forth between America and Africa. Our home is a blend of our lives and cultures, and our business is a blend of our skills and personalities. The attention to detail and meticulousness I learned across 30 years in accounting and Bernard’s 20 years of knowledge and experience in the Tanzania tourism industry make us a good team. Our clients have loved their trips with us. They say they can’t imagine anything better, and I feel the same way. It’s not easy to build a new company and a new life, but when you love what you do — and the person you’re doing it with — it’s very rewarding. From the awe-inspiring vista of the Serengeti to the palm-fringed beaches of Zanzibar, the ancient continent speaks to your soul. It changed my life story and, together, Bernard and I ask, “What will your story be?”
If you want your story to include a chapter on Africa, or you’d like to know more about ours, we’d love to hear from you! Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Published in STATE Magazine, Volume 13, Number 2, Winter 2017 by STATE Editor Elizabeth Keys
Uploaded December 1, 2017 to website: statemagazine.okstate.edu