Porters on Kilimanjaro today will earn on average Ts24,000- 36,000 (around US$20-30) for a six-day trip - plus the undying gratitude of anyone who’s ever trekked with them.These men (and the ones hired by trekkers are nearly always male) never fail to draw admiration from the trekkers who hire them. Ranging in age from about 18 (the minimum legal age, though some look a good deal younger) to 40 (though occasionally way beyond this), porters are amongst the hardest workers on Kilimanjaro. To see them traipsing up the mountain, water in one hand, cooker in another, rucksack on the back and picnic table on the head, is staggering to behold. And though they are supposed to carry no more than 15kg, many, desperate for work in what is an over-supplied market, carry much, much more.
And if that isn’t enough, while at the end of the day the average trekker spends his or her time at camp moaning about the hardships they are suffering – in between cramming down mouthfuls of popcorn while clasping a steaming hot cup of tea – these hardy individuals are putting up the tents, helping with the preparation of the food, fetching more water and generally making sure every trekker’s whim is, within reason, catered for.
Yet in spite of appearances to the contrary, porters are not indestructible. Though they rarely climb to the summit themselves, a few still expire each year on the slopes of Kilimanjaro. The most common cause of death, perhaps unsurprisingly given the ragged clothes many wear, is exposure. For this reason, if you see a porter dozing on the wayside and it’s getting a bit late, put aside your concerns about depriving him of some much needed shut-eye and wake him up: many are the tales of porters who have perished on Kilimanjaro because they took forty winks and then couldn’t find their way back to camp in the dark.
It’s this kind of horror story that has caused so much concern over recent years and led to the formation of organizations such as the Kilimanjaro Porters Assistance Project.