Tuesday, 22 March 2016


the phrase “i can’t believe how amazing the weather has been” was uttered at ten-minute intervals for the first five days of our seven-day hike. my friend erin and i were on our way to the summit of mount kilimanjaro… the world’s highest free-standing mountain at 5895m (or the more impressive sounding 19,341ft). everything that could go right was. for almost 5 days we were crushing it, and telling anyone who’d listen about how we had no altitude sickness, no headaches, no nausea. it seemed the minutes of training that we had both done in anticipation of the hike were serving us well! 

end of day one... feeling good!
standing on rocks = new hobby 
day four acclimatisation hike to mawenzi peak = more rock standing opportunities
i had been walking a little each day for the month before we left, and had made a dozen or so trips up mouth coolum on the sunshine coast by way of ‘altitude’ training when i was home in australia for christmas. mount coolum stretches an unimpressive 200m above sea-level… about 3% of kili’s altitude. consider me ready.

it was day five when it felt like someone threw a piano at my chest. i’d woken up that morning with a bit of a head-cold, and with about an hour left to hike to base camp, breathing became a function that my body decided was an optional extra. it was slow going, and i knew i was in for a rough night. we arrived at base camp after lunch and i crawled into my tent and tried to sleep the afternoon away… because we were due to depart for the summit at midnight. i don’t know whose stupid idea a midnight start time was, but everyone else seemed to be acting like it was the most normal thing in the world, so i pretended it was going to be great fun. it wasn’t.

the beast
both erin and i lost our appetites somewhere on day four. i figured that three pieces of carrot, a quarter of a bean and half a forkful of pasta was all i’d need to sustain me for a twelve-hour hike ascending over 1200m on no sleep at midnight in the snow. the piano was still sitting pretty heavily on my chest, but with the wise words of gary wallis echoing in my mind (“if there’s no bone poking through your skin, play on”) i put on every layer of clothing i owned, smiled for the camera, and set off for the summit.

fun facts about summit day on kili…
  1. at least a third of the summit hike is made of quicksand. one step forward, half a step back. 
  2. someone tells you it will take about seven hours to get to the summit. it doesn’t. (well it does for all of the friends you’ve met… but not for you.)
  3. someone tells you you’ll see a spectacular sunrise as you summit… but after five days of boasting about how amazing the weather has been, the universe will decide to roll in some snow clouds that will dump all over you for your entire hike and rob you of any kind of sunrise experience.
  4. about two hours into the hike your brain will decide that it needs to do complex long division for three hours. 
  5. you’ll start counting steps somewhere in the midst of the long division and nearly cry when your guide stops you for a break on 976 steps, because you had intended to stop counting at 1000 and now you’ll have to start all over again after the break.
  6. you’ll go mildly insane and start caring too much about long division and step-counting.
  7. your thoughts will fluctuate about every three seconds trying to decide if this is the best or worst thing you have ever done.
  8. you will wish you no longer had a brain in your head because the thoughts just never stop.
  9. you’ll sob and get snot all over your friend’s nice new jacket when you eventually make it to the summit.
  10. your friend will let you get snot all over her jacket because she is kind.
  11. you will take a photo and put it on facebook because that’s how you know you’ve really achieved something in life.
  12. you’ll be smiling in the photo even though you are mostly thinking this has been the worst day of your life.
  13. you’ll suddenly realise that you somehow have to get down from the summit and will be unable to smile for the foreseeable future. 
walking so slowly here i think i may have turned back time a little... almost at the summit
pretending to be excited that i made it... i wanted to die!
i don’t know how i made it to the top, and i certainly have no idea how i got back down to base camp. i guess the old “i don’t care how out of shape this body is, i still believe i can do anything” wallis genes are made of strong stuff. at one point i remember having a guy on either side of me acting as hiking poles while my body sort of turned into a rag-doll and mostly fell down the side of the mountain. i don’t know if my man-shaped-hiking-poles volunteered for that job or i just grabbed them and forced them into it. i don’t know how i didn’t drown in the quicksand on the descent. i remember falling over many times and thinking it would have looked hilarious to any onlookers. i have absolutely no idea how… but somehow i made it up, and then made it back down again.
these two unsuspecting guys were soon to become my man-shaped-hiking-poles
i was still fairly aware of how important it would be for my facebook profile to have smiling photos on summit day. after all, we are pretty much nothing if we don’t do stuff that gets us lots of likes and comments right? so i gathered my troops for a fake, smiley photo back down at base camp. then i went to the toilet. then i tried to get back up the six steps from the toilet to walk 10m to my tent to get some rest before having to hike a further four hours that afternoon to get down to a lower altitude. then i realised i was breathing like an 87-year-old woman who had been smoking five packs of ciggies a day since the 50s. it took me ten minutes to cover about 20m of ground and roll into my tent. then more crying happened. erin instinctively pulled her sleeping bag up to save her jacket from more of my snot. then i knew i was finished.

fake smiles back at base camp after my summit
the combination of lack-of-sleep, lack of food, abundance of snow, and a pesky weight problem that prevented me from zipping up my snow jacket while wearing sixteen other layers of clothing, turned my somewhat normal head-cold into what felt like a chest infection… or i was experiencing pulmonary oedema. either way… i couldn’t breathe and had to be medically evacuated.

my ride down the hill
the next two hours are a blur of being strapped to a one-wheeled stretcher manned by six tanzanians, and getting run 9km down the mountain to an evacuation point. it was pouring with rain and the entire journey was accompanied by a celine dion soundtrack from someone’s phone right next to my head. i was stuffed in a sleeping bag and strapped down so tight i couldn’t move my arms. the combination of the rain, the celine, and my delusional, oxygen-deprived brain had me wondering if i was on the titanic. it went on and on and on.

i was picked up by a landcruiser and driven off the mountain and later that night was tucked up in a hotel room with a belly full of samosas and the ability to breathe again, wondering if the rest of the day had just been some kind of bizarre nightmare. 

i don’t know if it was the hardest thing i’ve ever done in my life, but here’s what i do know. 

i know that it wasn’t the most fun i’ve ever had.

i know that even though it wasn’t the most fun, there were moments where i was completely awestruck at the sight of the volcanic crater and glacier surrounding me at the top of kili.

i know that if i was able to see what i was undertaking (ie. we hadn’t started at midnight) i probably would not have made it. 

i know that being 35 and single and not having anything that could be described as a career is ok… and that i don’t need to hike to the top of ridiculous mountains just so people think my life is interesting.

i know that i am now happily back in my house in zambia on the river and have no intentions of hiking any time soon. 

the world’s biggest thank you goes out to all of the wonderful humans in my life who cheer me on as i pursue my crazy dreams. may your days be filled with mountain-top experiences that take your breath away (metaphorically only), and may they also be filled with the adventure of descending on a one-wheeled gurney to the delightful sounds of celine dion. 

ps. erin hiked out by herself the next day and when she arrived at our hotel she cried and got her snot all over my last clean shirt. that’s what friends are for.

Monday, 18 January 2016


i’m not always great at asking for stuff... being 35 and single will do that to a girl. i’m quite accustomed to being the only one in the house when a spider needs to be killed, or a drain needs to be unclogged, or a flaming dinner needs to be rescued from the death grip of a too-hot oven... which is only too hot because this 35 year old woman is still too impatient to cook garlic bread at the right temperature. (garlic bread in isolation is a dinner right?)

i’m good at knowing when i need human contact. i’m good at eating donuts (too good some might say). i’m good at not getting haircuts regularly. i’m good at paying bills. i’m good at pretending mashed potato is an acceptable ‘any-time’ food. i’m good at walking (but often tell people that “i run occasionally”). i’m good at friendship (i hope). i’m good at making my bed every morning. i’m good at traveling. i’m good at pretending ugly babies are cute (refer to “i’m good at friendship”).  i’m good at some stuff... but asking for ‘stuff’ is not one of those things.

i lived in zambia for the majority of 2015 working at a beautiful project for orphans and vulnerable children. my living stipend (fancy words for the money i get so i can eat and fly and have health insurance) is made up entirely of donations from an amazing support network around australia (and the world). i’m about to fly back to zambia for another year and we are quite a bit short in covering my basic costs. i have some personal savings i can use if i need to, but the goal of this work is to be able to have my daily needs met by a supporting community of people. lots of other people usually work really hard to make this happen, but i just wanted to throw this request out.

i’m not good at asking for stuff... but i find myself needing the help of my tribe. if you would like to throw some dollars or prayers or haircut vouchers in my direction here are a few options:

1. directly to me
bank – ANZ
bsb – 014018
account no. – 515812331
account name – katie m wallis

2. via paypal (this would be the option for any non-aussies)
visit our website mwandiovc.com
(if you donate via paypal please reference that your donation is for katie’s stipend)

3. directly to my support team in south australia
(this will enable you to get a receipt... we are a registered charity with the ACNC but as yet don’t have a tax deductibility status... but if you need a receipt just for your own records this would be the option for you. again, please reference my stipend)
bank – westpac
bsb – 035067
account no. – 216770
account  name – mwandi ovc project support team

job perk - this sweet view a few hours up the road from my house
2015 was a difficult but wonderful year. my work in zambia is challenging and some days it feels like it’s quite a bit more than i can bear. i fly back to my beautiful village in two weeks and i know only too well that i can’t do what i do in isolation, although often i try (cause of the ‘not asking’ thing). if you want to contribute to this crazy life of mine that’d be great... but it’s also pretty great that we’re just friends, so thanks for that :-) feel free to pop in for a coffee any time.

blessings for all that your 2016 will hold

kt xo

Saturday, 4 April 2015


cara, andrew and i rose before the sun on tuesday to head to the border and meet our tour group.  we arrived and stood around awkwardly in the middle of three hundred and twenty semi-trailers waiting to cross the river into botswana. someone recognised our confusion and we were soon asked if we were “hunt x 3”. (hunt is andrew’s surname and was apparently our booking reference). it took us a moment to realise that we were, in fact, hunt x 3, and once that was established that is what we were called for the remainder of the tour. hunt x 3 were whisked across the river to botswana where we enjoyed a three-hour cruise up the chobe river. a beautiful start to our three-day safari.

'hunt x 3' cruising
just when i thought i couldn’t get any more relaxed i was seated in a restaurant for our post-cruise, pre-game-drive lunch. i swiftly ended my month-long flirtation with vegetarianism by ingesting nine different varieties of meat.... life was good. it was time to see some animals.

we were introduced to our six tour companions and our driver/guide. i’m going to call our driver/guide barry white because his voice was three octaves lower than any human voice i’ve ever heard before. our tour buddies came in the form of three pairs.

1. an oldish french couple... the slowest photographers in the history of the universe, armed with the biggest camera i’ve ever seen in my life. i’m going to call them the french twist.
2. a pair of danish friends who were addicted to tanning. i’m going to call them burnt apple danish and burnt peach danish.
3. a middle aged italian woman and what we think was her much younger african lover. they don’t get names because they just confused us and we didn’t really know how to talk to them.

we were off.

we had a wonderful game drive and found all the things you’d expect to find in an african jungle. the french twist got pretty annoying, pointing their bazooka-sized camera at anything that had eyes and then waiting a full ten minutes before taking their picture. barry white was starting to lose his cool a little with them and sometimes just drove away and pretended not to hear the twist yelling out. burnt apple and peach danish just smiled at everything. it was a bit disconcerting at first seeing their sparkling white teeth constantly on display with the back-drop of their overly tanned faces, but they had normal sized cameras and took their photos quickly so we became friends.

barry white quickly developed a habit of shooshing us all... incessantly. i’m not known for my quiet nature so i was on the receiving end of more shooses than anyone else in the jeep. he told us that we were scaring all the animals away, but i’m pretty sure the rocket-launcher sized camera in the hands of the french twist was what was scaring the animals away. it seemed the ‘be quiet’ rule did not apply to barry white himself though. he’d talk and carry on as much as he liked. sometimes the sound of his basey-baritone voice would cause a zebra to throw their underwear at him, but mostly he just yabbered on about migration patterns and coloured breasted this, that and the other, with the occasional “shoosh hunt x 3” thrown in for good measure. we didn’t love barry.

this guy!!
we were camping in the middle of chobe national park for two nights. before we went to sleep we were told that it probably wasn’t a good idea to get out of our tents to use the ‘bathroom’. if we felt we had to get out we were instructed to shine our light out our tent door so we could see the eyes of the predators shining back at us. no shining eyes meant we could probably dash to ‘the pit’ and relieve ourselves. shining eyes meant we would probably get eaten so we should zip back up and cross our legs for the night.

i prepared for the night by having a single mouthful of wine after 1pm.

at 2am that wine was ready to leave my bladder. i was alone and from what i could hear the cast of the lion king were clearly having a reunion dinner out the back of my tent. i was busting and needed to make a plan quickly. i’m not proud of what happened next, but here it is...

i can officially add ‘weeing in a ziplock bag’ to the list of things i’ve done once that i never need to do again. or if i’m being completely honest i’ll add it to the list of things i’ve done three times that i never need to do again. it’s done. let’s not speak of it ever.

barry white, the twist, the burnt danishes, the nameless lovers and hunt x 3 enjoyed two more days of game drives and river cruising. there were shooses galore as hunt x 3 found it increasingly difficult not to make fun of barry white and the bazooka-wielding french twist. there were lions, zebras, hippos, elephants, giraffes, mongoose (fun fact: the collective noun for mongoose is ‘a business’. so formal), jackals, pythons, crocs, 15 000 species of birds, dung beetles, impala, kudu, buffalo, and the moment i had come for... warthogs. it was beyond wonderful and i feel pretty lucky to live just up the road.

this guy at our campsite took camo to a whole new level

i hope your week has been equally full of discovery, awe and thankfulness. happy easter everyone!

Saturday, 14 March 2015


my name is nalishebo.

i’ve been attending the orphans and vulnerable children project (“the ovc”) in mwandi village, zambia for a few years now to eat my lunch. i guess you could say that life has tripped me up a few times... the circumstances of my life have often caused me to fall flat on my face. it’s been painful – sometimes humiliating – and relentless these past years. but i am still nalishebo.

 this is my story.

both of my parents have passed away, so i’m what’s referred to as a double orphan. i have an intellectual disability which has made education (and life in general) difficult in the past. but my biggest fall happened when six men in my village began routinely gang raping me some years ago. some mornings i found it hard to walk because of the abuse i had endured the night before. i was pretty sure my body wasn’t made for this. the family member who was supposed to be taking care of me was accepting payment from the men as they used me for this ‘service’. their rationale was that i had to pay my way through life somehow, and this seemed like a good solution.

this experience knocked me to the ground and i wasn’t sure if i’d ever be able to pick myself up again. bad falls are like that. they hurt your body, but they also make you fear the prospect of walking in the world again.

the staff at the ovc helped find an aunty of mine who i loved, but who had moved to namibia to live. she came back to mwandi to take care of me when my caregivers refused to prosecute the village men and the local police didn’t seem to care. i began to receive counselling from the team at the ovc and slowly i learned how to stand tall again. some days i still feel like i want to curl up on the floor and escape the world... but other days i feel like i might even be ready to try and run.

a few months ago i was accepted into a special school in a town not too far away from mwandi. in this place i will be cared for and nurtured by staff who are experts at helping those of us who life has tripped up. i came to my new school a few weeks ago and i think i’m going to like it here a lot.

i’ve heard of someone called victoria who lives just up the road from mwandi. apparently she falls all the time but lots of people say she is one of the most beautiful things they have ever seen. my name is nalishebo. even though life has caused me to fall more times than i can count, i hope you will see me the same way you see victoria. my falls have made me strong and beautiful, and my desire is that my life becomes one that inspires awe and wonder in all who stumble upon it.

victoria falls

Monday, 16 February 2015


so i moved to africa. here’s five things i’ve discovered so far...

1. i’m more likely to get eaten by a hippo than to pick the correct key to open my front door.

i don’t know why there are twenty keys on the key ring for my house, but i’ve been told that’s the way it has to be. i spend a chunk of time each day searching for keys in haystacks for all sorts of other buildings too. over one hundred and fifty keys come to my house every night in a brown bag. i kind of know what eight of them do, but remain fairly convinced that the rest of them are just there to teach me patience.

a small percentage of my key stash pictured here
2. i shouldn’t be allowed to have a pet.

it sounds kind of heartless, but i don’t really like pets... and i’m pretty sure the feeling is mutual. i have to have a dog here for safety reasons, so i arrived and was greeted by my new dog kelly. i referred to kelly as a ‘she’ for a few weeks before someone kindly pointed out that she was a dude. kelly is brown and white and is a breed of some sort who i suspect now has a touch of gender dysphoria. in my fist week here he got locked in a room at our project over night. i didn’t notice he hadn’t followed me home. then just a few days ago i accidentally locked him in a shipping container for an hour on a 57 degree day. he only escaped by way of an accidental intervention from one of my colleagues. i’m not a great pet owner, and it turns out they have a host of good reasons to not like me. in other news, i probably shouldn’t have children.

kelly reluctantly posing for a selfie with me
3. my feet will never be clean again.

i only have to take four or five steps out my front door before my feet are 12 shades darker than they should be. mwandi is built on sand. it’s rainy season here so some days the sand is a bit clumpy and wet. other days it resembles a beach... kind of... but no matter what the weather is doing, the sand gravitates to my feet like i gravitate to donut king - meant to be close together at all times. i scrub about nine layers of skin off my feet every night in the shower to attempt to get them clean. my pumice stone has halved in volume and i think my feet may have gone down a size or two due to the lost skin layers. i see children’s shoes in my future.

the result of a four-minute morning stroll
4. jobs that should take five minutes will always take at least three hours.

i haven’t always had the best of times when dealing with zambian immigration, but i was assured that this time would be smooth sailing... and it almost was. i got served immediately when i entered the building and it seemed like the five minute job was only going to take two minutes. i thought i was about to leave, only to be informed at the last moment by the officer serving me that they didn’t have a photocopier and they needed a copy of my documents before i could get my passport stamped and leave. i was told i had to take my almost-completed documents to a hotel (kind of nearby... but not as nearby as i was initially led to believe) to get them to do a photocopy. once this was done i had to line up all over again to give them my copy and get the magical stamp in my passport. i eventually made it back to the front of the line only to be told that the person who operated the stamp for people with surnames beginning with ‘w’ was not in the office so i’d have to wait a bit longer. five minute job took three hours.

two year visa... if i last that long :-)
5. this place is good for my soul.

i’ve spent the past month working harder than i ever have in my life. i work ten to twelve hours a day, six days a week... although it is sunday today (theoretically my day off) and i’ve just worked for eleven hours :-) it’s hard. it’s hot. i don’t know anywhere near enough to get through most of my days. sometimes i’m frustrated. sometimes i cry. sometimes the stories of the children i’m working with rip my heart out of my chest... but other times their stories gather the pieces of my broken heart and put it back together. orphaned and vulnerable children are not voiceless like some are inclined to say. they don’t require me to be their voice. they require you and i to take the time to listen to their voice. i’ve discovered it to be one of the best sounds in my world... one that restores peace and contentment to my soul. you should totally come and hear them for yourself.

one of the amazing kids i get to hang out with every day