In October this year, the ZaiLab team rose to new heights – in this case, 5895m above sea level, when they ascended the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro.
We’ve already spoken about our CEO’s intense dislike of team building. Suffering, that’s more like it. But in a good way of course.
Just this year alone he took a team of staff hiking through the majestic Fish River Canyon, dispatched the ZaiTruck on a grand overland adventure across Africa, and not to be outdone, tossed in a quick expedition up Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. Needless to say, by now our staff are really fit.
Kilimanjaro here we come
While the ZaiTruck thundered towards Tanzania as part of the Voices of Humanity project, six ZaiLab staff were racing across the skies for the expedition of a lifetime.
Anyone at ZaiLab was welcome to put their name forward for the expedition, and the final team was selected by company-wide vote. This way, the most deserving got to go as voted by their colleagues. Pretty neat, huh? That’s what we thought too.
Not quite Mount Doom but close enough
The team arrived at the Kilimanjaro National Park in early October for the gruelling six-day challenge. To CEO Nour Addine Ayyoub, the experience was so much more valuable than any team-building exercise could ever be. Not only was he building on the can-do attitude that’s such an important part of ZaiLab’s culture, he wanted his staff to get to know each other in a truly unique way.
‘When you go off and do these extreme adventures, you start to see the true colours of an individual,’ he says. ‘Either a person becomes very ugly or they remain true to themselves as a beautiful person.’
Feeling pumped and ready for anything, team ZaiLab set off from the Umbwe gate at 1800m and walked through one kilometre of montane forest to Umbwe Camp (2800m). They made good time of six hours.
ZaiLab customer success coach Sebastien Ejdaa had no idea what he was walking into. ‘From the moment I knew I was one of the privileged ones that was going to Kilimanjaro, I had completely different expectations. I thought it was going be a walk in the park, just having a good time with my colleagues – going in style to the top while enjoying the scenery. Besides, I am quite fit. With all that mountain biking and surfing during my free time I had no reason to worry.’
He couldn’t have been more wrong.
The trip was never going to be a walk in the park. From the forested Umbwe Camp it would be another six-hour hike to Barranco Camp, which lies at an altitude of 3950m. That’s seven kilometres of tough terrain, but also breathtaking views. The perfect setting for some self-reflection.
Sebastien describes the experience as a moment of truth. 'You discover what you're made of. I experienced beautiful things about myself but also ugly things which I was not very proud of.' Despite suffering from altitude sickness later in the trip, the team were behind him every step of the way. 'My whole team believed I could do it. What happens is that you transcend your abilities. I had one goal in mind. I needed to summit that mountain.'
Day 3 and 4
After a freezing cold night in the mountaintop camp and waking up in even icier conditions, it would be all mountain from there on out. Our plucky adventurers climbed to Karanga Camp at 4040m and then on to Barafu at 4550m.
For some of the South African members of the team, it would be their first time seeing snow.
Nothing good comes easy. And in this case, the big day was like a Twilight Zone of altitude sickness, extreme cold and exhaustion. From Barafu it was a seven-kilometre climb to the snow-capped Stella Point at 5752m.
The team reached Uhuru Peak after eight hours, which lies at 5895m above sea level. Everyone made it to the top – including Sebastien, who ignored warnings to go back after falling ill, and Nour Addine’s fourteen-year-old son.
Nour Addine’s faith in his team was justified. ‘Nobody showed me a different side of themselves,’ he says.
But a change was clearly evident. In the midst of dense jungles, extreme temperatures and exhaustion, the problems of the past were insignificant by comparison. ‘People are stronger when they come back,’ says Nour Addine. ‘The mountain changes you for the better.’
For ZaiLab product tester Karin Uys, the trip was a total mindshift. ‘I knew that when I started that I was going to come back a different person. And I was right. One can't go through such an experience and not come back changed. I realised how much I’d been limiting myself and that I’d made my own world so incredibly small. This trip taught me that there is a whole world out there that is waiting for me to explore.’
Kilimanjaro may have changed us, but in our own way – dancing along to The Jackson’s ‘Blame it on the Boogie’ in the middle of the forest and parking a futuristic space truck at the foot of the mountain – we think we left our mark as well.
Talk about starting a conversation.