Trekking trip: Hike to the top of Africa's Mount Kilimanjaro was not the only summit attorney attained



By Sheila Pursglove

Legal News

The 5-day trek up Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania – at 19,341 feet the highest free-standing mountain in the world – was the toughest physical challenge Butzel Long attorney Aghogho Edevbie has ever faced.

“It was too big of a challenge, too enticing of an adventure, and too big of a potential accomplishment to pass up – I had to seize it,” he says.

Edevbie was one of a group of eight, with most from Canada and Europe.

“We had a much larger staff of people supporting us – ranging from climbing guides to cooks. We were spoiled,” he says.

The group hiked through five major ecological zones.

“Towards the bottom it’s hot and as you climb it gets colder and colder,” Edevbie explains. “At the top, there’s a great deal of snow.

“I didn’t realize how unprepared I was for the rigors of climbing until the first day of the climb. That night I contemplated quitting, but convinced myself to give it another day.”

The Detroit native had the same debate with himself each night until summit day, the hardest day of the climb – by then he was too close not to give it a shot.

“I really struggled and fell far behind the rest of my group,” he says. “About 15 minutes from the top, with the sign clearly visible, a woman from another group was descending with the
help of a guide – she was white as snow”.

The guide advised Edevbie to turn around, saying, “This mountain will always be here, you might not be.”

Edevbie’s guide also advised him to stop, and offered to rush up and take the picture of the sign for him. “I ignored their advice and kept going,” Edevbie says. “This was probably a dumb decision and not one I would encourage others to take.”

But reaching Gilman’s Point, one of three summits on “Kili,” was an awesome experience.

“I felt a lot of pride and joy that I’d been able to finish the climb and accomplish my goal,” he says. “It’s one of the best feelings I’ve ever had.”

The jubilation quickly faded.

“About five minutes into my descent I pretty much collapsed,” he says. “For most of the rest of my descent I had to be helped down, I was just too exhausted. When I got back to Michigan two days later, I spent two days in bed recouping my energy.

“While I’m disappointed I wasn’t able to come down on my own, I’m really proud I gave it everything I had and made it to the top. I hope to go back one day and do it with much better preparation.”

Edevbie’s adventure took place after his 2012 graduation from the University of Michigan Law School. Encouraged by a world history teacher at his alma mater, the University of Detroit Jesuit High School, he spent two-and-a-half months teaching civics at the Jesuit St. Peter Claver High School in Dodoma, the capital city of Tanzania, before climbing up Kilimanjaro.

“Our motto is ‘Men for Others’ – and we’re taught from day one that we have a duty to give back to our communities and serve others — it’s very ingrained in me, it’s at the core of my being,” Edevbie explains. “My experience at a Jesuit high school was transformational and I wanted to help children in their journey through a Jesuit school.”

After his long flight to Tanzania — via Toronto and London, where he visited Windsor Castle, and Ethiopia — he arrived in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania’s largest city; and after a night at Loyola High School, took an 8-hour bus ride to Dodoma.

The task of teaching Tanzanian civics – an entirely unfamiliar subject – to 179 students in four classes, was almost as daunting as Kilimanjaro.

After reading textbooks over the course of three days and preparing a comprehensive outline, Edevbie felt confident to face his students.

“My confidence did not save me from falling on my face,” he notes. “I botched handing out the 20-page outlines because I had forgotten to have them collated. To make matters worse, I rushed the lesson and my students were so confused they requested I re-teach the lesson.”   

Despite the rocky start, Edevbie soon got a handle on teaching, and was gratified to see a 43 percent increase in the number of his students receiving As and Bs by their final exam. The students were taught four times as much material as they covered in the two and a half months prior to Edevbie’s arrival.

Living in the Jesuit Residence on campus, Edevbie found the Jesuits to be wonderful examples of selflessness.

“The biggest sacrifice they had to make was not foregoing marriage, but giving up a great deal of their independence – and they did it cheerfully and with great enthusiasm,” he explains.

“That is not to say they didn’t experience tough moments and have their disappointments – they did. But they realized the bigger purpose for their lives and embraced the selflessness required to carry it out. It’s a lesson I imperfectly try to live out in my life.”

Some of Edevbie’s friends worked at a school for HIV positive children who are raised in the “Village of Hope” on campus.

“I was struck by the resilience, compassion, and love that was present there,” he says. “This is despite the widespread discrimination people with HIV/AIDS face in Africa. I came away humbled.”

Edevbie, who was taken aback to find that women are not viewed as equal partners in Tanzanian society, learned that human rights mean different things to different people in different circumstances.

“As one person said to me, ‘Your version of human rights is a luxury America has. We have too many things to worry about in Tanzania.’”

Edevbie’s fellow volunteers were white Americans and Britons.

“Too many Tanzanians felt this was an accurate representation of our countries,” he says. “And many Tanzanians had never met an African American; some didn’t even believe I was American. It was a surreal experience and made me realize the diversity we have in our country is not recognized or visible by many people outside of it.”

Edevbie was also struck by the poverty in Dar Es Salaam, where his view from a hotel rooftop bar revealed shanty towns stretching for miles.

“It was a revealing experience,” he says. “The irony, and unfairness really, of that moment was not lost on me.

“I keep a picture of my view from that hotel next to my desk at Butzel.”