Carmel Valley resident’s African experience inspires upcoming stage presentation
Ernest Hemingway’s celebrated story, “The Snows of Kilimanjaro,” is a tale of decay and death.
Carmel Valley resident Elizabeth Eshoo’s short-form memoir “Winds of Kilimanjaro” expresses her experience of recovery and renewal climbing the legendary mountain in East Africa.
“I was working in New York City for Time Inc. magazines as an advertising sales rep for People magazine and Sports Illustrated, and I had this life-changing trip to Africa with Outward Bound,” she said.
“Winds of Kilimanjaro” follows a previous narration on another segment of her African journey — “Maasai in the Mirror.”
Both pieces were entered in the San Diego Memoir Writers Association’s annual showcase competitions and were selected from among hundreds of entries to be published in the association’s “Shaking the Tree: brazen.short.memoir” anthologies.
“Maasai in the Mirror” appeared in a previous edition of “Shaking the Tree,” while “Winds of Kilimanjaro” will appear in Volume 2, scheduled for publication in November.
Also, the association will include the Kilimanjaro piece in this year’s 2019 Memoir Showcase, in which authors partner with writing coaches, stage directors and actors to create theatrical presentations of their works.
This year’s performances, including “Winds of Kilimanjaro,” are scheduled at 4 p.m. and 7 p.m., Oct. 28, at the North Coast Repertory Theatre, 987 Lomas Santa Drive, Suite D, in Solana Beach.
Eshoo is excited about the event, having experienced the staging of “Maasai in the Mirror” in the association’s previous theater showcase.
“It was surreal,” she said. “It was an amazing experience as a writer. I never imagined my first publishing gig would be on stage.
“It’s really a fabulous opportunity for a writer, whether you’re an established writer or a new writer. You get the experience off working with an editor through this process. You get the experience of working with a director and an actor. You get to see your words performed onstage.”
Also, the association takes the writers’ stories on tours of schools around the county.
Eshoo’s pivotal decision to join an Outward Bound expedition to Africa came after her doctor told her she had an abnormal pap smear. She was informed she should undergo further tests to determine if she had cervical cancer.
“Something awakened in me, put me on high alert, rearranged the neurons in my brain so that every time the phone rang again, I realized the possibility for change,” Eshoo said in a press release. “It just had never occurred to me before that one call could change my life.”
Outward Bound offers individuals various experiences designed to encourage them to overcome challenges of surviving in the wilderness within a group setting.
Yet, for Eshoo, joining Outward Bound’s Kilimanjaro expedition was only the beginning of the unforeseen travails she would face.
On the day the trek was to launch, she was laid up with a serious knee injury and a fever that threatened to abort her quest.
“On the eve of the climb, I ended up getting this fever of like 104, probably some Rift Valley virus, so it was very doubtful that I was going to be able to climb,” she said.
“The next morning I woke up and I felt strong enough and the group of us all convened. ... They all voted and said we’ll wait another day for you to get stronger. The deal was, ‘If you can climb up, we’ll carry you down.’ I was like ‘You must be joking.’”
The Outward Bound team was true to its word and after they made it to the peak, Eshoo was transported down the mountain, leading to other magical moments, as described in “Winds of Kilimanjaro.”
The African experiences led to another profound twist in Eshoo’s career trajectory.
Rather than continue to pursue her dream of advancing in the publishing world, Eshoo decided to become a teacher of English as a Second Language in Costa Rica in a program designed to help residents become eco-tourism guides in the rain forest.
“They became stewards of the environment and that obviously has become very important for Costa Rica’s economy,” Eshoo said.
That job led to an assignment in La Paz on Mexico’s Baja California peninsula, where she taught fishermen in southern Baja California to conduct whale-watching tours.
If Eshoo’s journey sounds like the soundtrack from Rodgers and Hammerstein “Climb Ev’ry Mountain,” she is tagging on her own coda, i.e.: “And write about it.”
She is working on an extended book-length memoir including the African stories titled “Beyond the Peak” as well as a book she calls “Dancing with Epilepsy: A Mother-Daughter’s Story of How to Move Through Adversity with Courage, Grace and Hope.”
“It’s about my daughter’s journey struggling with epilepsy while she’s training to be a professional ballet dancer,” Eshoo said.
For more information on the San Diego Memoir Showcase, visit sdmwa.org/memoir-showcase/
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