This is the first in a series of stories about women porters climbing Kilimanjaro. Working in a mostly male dominated field, women often struggle to secure employment as porters. However, Anna J’s story represents the resilience and perseverance that women possess. Women continue to demonstrate their ability to break down gendered environments.
Anna J. is 34 years old and lives in Rongai in northern Tanzania on the north side of Kilimanjaro. She has 2 children and is also responsible for taking care of her mother and auntie. She has been climbing Kilimanjaro for 5 years.
“I worked as a house girl for three years and then as a casual labourer on different farms. By that time, I had children who needed school fees and other basic needs. My kids were attending school in Kenya as we live by the border. Supporting life with just casual labour was not enough.
During these hard times I was convinced by a friend, who is also a female porter, to start mountain climbing. I started making frequent visits at Kilimanjaro Rongai gate waiting for whenever a chance may be possible as a reserve porter. I was later able to work as a KPAP (Kilimanjaro Porters Assistance Project) investigative porter.
Things were tough during the time waiting to get reserve work as a porter. I could wait for maybe three weeks without getting any climb. There are lots of challenges climbing as a female porter. I received bad comments like “What do I miss in town for me to join this hard work?” Some other difficulties are when I need to change and get cleaned up. I have to find bushes or use the toilets – unlike the male porters who would do this in the sleeping tents.
Women’s reaction to porter’s work is that many believe this is a male’s job and is really hard and they can’t do it. But as they see me and other female porters making some progress with it , some have approached me asking me how I can help them. It is one of the hardest jobs, but I love it.
I benefit a lot and have made huge steps in life. My children are in school, I rent a farm for agriculture and I also keep 3 goats and 2 sheep, all from my mountain wages. I have diversified my income sources when not working on the mountain. I sell shoes and clothes and do food vending, depending on the seasons and opportunity.
Corona has hurt me economically because I was very dependent on tourism for income. I have been doing some small business such as selling vegetables and agriculture work to provide food for home. My hope is that work on the mountain will return and life will go on.”