Tuesday, December 25, 2012

What the Climb Can Teach Us About I-Cell

Ronak, Achal, Preena, Swetal and Ruchir
By Hetal Gandhi - They set off on a journey knowing it would change their lives and their entire perspective on life as they know it. That’s exactly what my family did on December 13, 2012, when seven people embarked on a mission to “Climb Kili” to benefit the Yash Gandhi Foundation. A year’s worth of training, reading and arming themselves with the best supplies could not have prepared them for peaks and valleys they would face along the way.

Throughout their trip, I’ve acted as a documentarian. A mere observer in some aspects, a messenger of sorts, but all the while, a loving sister, a proud aunt and a sympathetic sister-in-law, who tried to play a small part in a tremendous undertaking.

Achal, Ronak, Ruchir, Swetal, Pritesh and Ashesh
In the coming weeks and months, there will be much time for reflection from all the climbers and what they experienced, but what I can candidly share with you is how analogous this journey was to the cause which was the driving force behind it. The one thing I learned from watching my family take on this daring, bold and, at times, risky mission, is that what they did over the span of a week, in many ways, exemplifies the struggles of families dealing with children who have I-Cell.

Day after day, we waited for answers. Have they reached? Are they okay? Where are they now? Will they make it to the next camp safely? I can’t even imagine what it was like for the climbers, but I can tell you that for their families, it was brutal. It made me think that in some ways, the families who deal with I-Cell are much like the climbers – experiencing the grueling fight to keep moving on, sometimes shielding others from what they’re going through, feeling helpless at times, offering their support and just hoping they can do what it takes to get their child to the next milestone.

Achal, Pritesh, Swetal and Ruchir
 I know at times, the climbers shielded us from the harsh realities of what they were really facing. They sent us messages telling us, “We’re safe, we made it, we’re all doing great.” In reality, we know that the emotional and physical challenges were much tougher than they lead on. You see, that’s part of what you do when you’re trying to protect the ones you love. The sad reality is that as much as parents with I-Cell do to protect their kids, there is always the harsh reality that there currently is no cure, and that this difficult path is one they will continue to endure for the rest of their lives.

On December 14th, as the Kili Climbers were facing the last few struggles before reaching the peak, we found ourselves facing painful and heart wrenching news here at home. Twenty children, many who were the same ages as the children of our climbers, had been brutally gunned down in Newtown, CT. You can only imagine what it was like for our group of mothers who were holding their children tight and wishing that daddy was home to comfort them at this horrible moment for our entire nation. It reminded us of an important lesson - that in life, your family, health and happiness are all that matters. This is why they did the climb. To help I-Cell families enjoy the same simple joys that we have.
Preena and Achal

I’m happy to say that after the peaks and valleys that we’ve faced through the past weeks and really through our lifetimes, there is nothing we will treasure more than welcoming home our climbers. You know them as Ashesh, Pritesh, Achal, Swetal, Preena, Ruchir and Ronak. We know them as daddy, bhai, ben, bhabhi and beta. We love them with all our hearts, we couldn’t be prouder of their achievements in 2012 and the great things they will do in 2013. Most importantly, we are grateful for your support as we continue to fight for those I-Cell families to always have these simple gifts of life. The truth you find at a top of a mountain, a world away, is that everything you need to make you happy is right here at home.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

On Top of the World!!!

Super Seven!
December 19, 2013 - We can finally celebrate!!!!  Woohoo!!  After a long and challenging journey up Mt. Kilimanjaro, they've finally made it to Uhuru Peak.  We received word at 2:14 am EST and most of us were restlessly awaiting some type of communication after not hearing from the group for the entire day!   

They described it as an emotional and overwhelming experience to accomplish such a great feat in honor of such a personal cause.  Once they reached the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro, they placed Yash's little Elmo in the wooden box where everyone leaves their journals of the climb.  They also held up a Yash Gandhi Foundation banner as they took their pictures together.  It's important to note that only half the people who attempt to reach the top of the world's highest free-standing mountain actually accomplish this goal.  It is not an easy climb.  

We learned late in the day that Swetal made it just short of the peak because of trouble breathing, but he listened to his body and recognized his limits, so we're glad that he's safe and was able to make most of the amazing journey with the family.  We are so proud of the entire team!  They trained for more than six months, they climbed for six days but the feeling they have today and the pride they've instilled in all of us will last a lifetime!   Congrats Team Kili!  

Ashesh - After the grueling climb to the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro there were so many things going through in my head, but most important was the fact that Team Kili set out to accomplish a mission for raising awareness of I-cell and raising research funds without even blinking an eye. They left their family members to be part of this important cause, and for that I'm extremely grateful and proud to be part of team Kili. Being at the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro was quite emotional for me and the rest of the team. With every step I took, I felt Yash telling me, "Go Papa," and along with the inspirational messages from Kavi, friends and family, it helped me tremendously to reach the peak. As we unfurled the Yash Gandhi foundation banner at the summit, it did not even phase me that we were at an altitude of 20,000 feet with heavy winds and snow. I felt the raw emotion of being so happy and so proud of our accomplishment and knowing that all kids with I-cell were rooting for us. My eyes were filled with frozen tears as I placed Yash's little Elmo in the momento box at the summit. I'm extremely grateful to Team Kili for putting their lives on hold to raise money for an important cause and to all our friends and family who have been so supportive and encouraging all the way. Thank you!!!

Pritesh - From my perspective - For those that state that Kilimanjaro is not a technical climb, I beg to differ.  The climb tests your will power, drive and motivation from Day 1.  Day 2 is all about mind over body and the summit climb is pure anxiety and thrill!

Ruchir - Exhilarating, but at the same time the most difficult thing one can accomplish!

Achal - The most beautiful trek that I have ever soon! 

Ronak - Every hike seemed never ending but we all built a memorable bond with each other!

 Message from Kavi

Message from Sonal - I will never forget the moment I reached out to my phone at 2:14am, and read that they reached Uhuru Peak safely. It was a moment that is so difficult to describe.  Tears just came rolling down my eyes.  I was so happy that they reached there so safely.  It was an incredible proud moment.  I just could feel Yash’s presence with me.  Him clapping his hands with joy and often as he did when he loved what you did, screaming “AGAIN!” (LOL, I don’t think that is happening.)
As we congratulate the climbers, there are seven very important people who have been part of this incredible journey. Simran, Khush, Sia, Kavi, Niaya, Krishani and Milani.
For months they have watched their dads train for the climb, spending so much time buying all their gear, and as a result, giving up spending some time with their dad.  For the last week, each morning and afternoon, they ask how is their dads and uncles are doing.  Each time they get the update - they reached base camp - it had been a excitement and proud moment for them.  They have been sending notes of encouragement to the climbers even before they started their journey.  I am just proud of these young kiddos.  
All of our parents have also been cheering the team on, offering words of encouragement, knitting sweaters, saying prayers and having faith their they would make it.  Mahesh Mamma has been keeping up with the team on What's App, Niranjan kaka and my father-in-law Jitendra bhai have been posting on Facebook and Nital's dad has been doing Hanuman Chalisa several times a day.
Finally, our cousin Hetal has been spending countless hours, pulling all the updates we have been getting from the team, and entering them in the blog, so each of you can follow their journey. We hope you enjoyed this amazing life experience with us!!  We may be strong as individuals but together we are invincible

Message from Khush

Message from Dilpa - Congrats again!  The kids and I are super excited for you all.  I know you all worked very hard for this.  This is a very important accomplishment and a major milestone in your life.  I know how proud Yash was to have you in his life and he is smiling really big today.  Everyone did such a terrific job.  Be careful going down the mountain.

Message from Sia

Message from Simran

Message from Nital - Kili 7 – You have reached your goal!!!!! We could not be prouder of you.  For last 8 months, you have worked very hard to get here.  For past 7 days, you have put your life on hold – be it being with your families, friends, work, residency applications, holiday-parties……and today is your day! A heartfelt Congratulations to you all! Feel the pride, enjoy the moment, and know that Yash is smiling at you.  Your dedication and perseverance are inspirations to all of us! Thank you and we can’t wait to see you!

Message from Krishani

Message from Sheetal - As I read the blog today and read the messages and posts, I had tears in my eyes. What an ACCOMPLISHMENT from the trekkers! You guys did an amazing job. We are sure that this was no easy feat by any stretch of the imagination. All of us at home can't really even begin to imagine it, but we are so glad that you all did this with family and will be able to relate and share the stories. We can't wait to hear the stories and see all the pics and videos. We are so truly proud of your HUGE physical, mental, emotional accomplishments. We hope that you are all doing well. Hopefully you can breathe a huge sigh of relief (with lots of O2) and  relax and enjoy the rest of the "fun" part of your trip.
Thanks to Hetal, Sonal, and Nital for keeping us posted and up to date via texts, calls, and blogs. It was amazing to share the experience with all.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Day 6 - Powering to the Peak

File Photo of Uhuru Peak
December 18, 2012 - "Uhuru" means "freedom peak" in Swahili and that is what the Kili Team for I-Cell is reaching for today, in their final climb up the mountain.  We are asking for all of your prayers and well wishes as Ashesh, Pritesh, Swetal, Ruchir, Ronak, Achal and Preena all power their way to the peak.  This is THEE day that they've been waiting for and it's especially tough for our family because we have not had communication with them for the last 24 hours.  We believe they don't have cell phone reception at this time, so please keep them in your thoughts tonight as we get ready to celebrate their triumphant feat!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Day 5 - From the Valleys to the Clouds

December 17, 2012 - After climbing out of the Karanga Valley the trail ascends a ridge to the Barafu Hut, a bleak location with little vegetation.

File Photo of Barafu Camp

Special Messages from Sheetal, Milani and Krishani

Special Message from Raja

Day 4 - Climbing to Karanga Camp

December 16, 2012
By Swetal Gandhi - We are rock climbing right  now.  Going to Karanga Camp.  I am fine.  Walking up right now.
File photo of Karanga Camp
By Pritesh Gandhi - We left for Karanga camp at about 9:00 am.  Once again, the terrain was like no other we had seen.  On a number of occasions, we felt like we were rock climbing.  Views of water falls, fresh water streams and green vegetation intermingled with each other was indeed unique.  We made it to Karanga camp in 4 hrs 15 min; just in time for lunch.  For lunch, we had chips (for the Americans, fries) and pasta.  Achal and Preena brought noodles with them from Nairobi so we asked out chef, Amadeus, to make them for us.  After a few laughs, mainly making fun of Ronak, we had  much needed time to just chill! 

Just finished climbing Baranco Wall.  Two more hours to camp.  Day 4 is SO MUCH BETTER than Day 3.  Day 3 was just brutal.  We are all doing well.  We are now at 4200 m and it is 10:30 am local time.  We have safely reached camp!  Time for lunch!  Ronak thinks every Swahili sentence ends in an exclamation point!

Simran, Sia and Arav Cheering on the Team!

Hi!  I am writing this to you as we rest before our really long day tomorrow.  Today was a relatively easier day compared to yesterday.  In the morning, we had a spectacular view of Baranco Wall and right behind it was Uhuru Peak.  After a hearty breakfast consisting of porridge, eggs and toast we did our routine vital signs.  All our oxygen saturation values were good.  Most importantly, Swetal's values were excellent compared to the night before.  He looked really good as well and was his normal self.  It is really amazing how the numbers on a machine change your outlook for the day.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Day 3 - Braving it to Baranco Camp

File Photo of View from Baranco Campa
By Pritesh Gandhi
December 15, 2012 - Off to Baranco Camp.  Will keep you posted.  Feel like we are on the moon!  Amazing view of the mtn ahead of us.  Sleeping has been tough for most.  Going pole, pole!

By Ashesh Gandhi - Day 3 at Shira camp began with the usual hot breakfast of porridge, toast, sausage links and omelette. Today we were packed and ready to go at 8:30 am. The trek from Shira to Marangu camp was supposed to be for 6 hrs. We were going from an altitude of 3950m to 4600m at the lava towers for acclimatization and then descending to the Marangu valley at 3950m. We were going at a slow and steady pole pole pace, but Gasper our head guide said we were going too slow. On our way we met JP and JR as well as JP's dad. JP's dad asked me if we were related to Mahatma Gandhi and I said yes with a half serious face. He was intrigued and we all were engaged in a casual conversation as we were trekking and then he asked again if we were related and the moment we said no that we were just joking he quickly left us - that was quite funny. 

The trek to the lava towers was brutal and I think that is an understatement. We were all starting to get pounding headaches. Swetal was more tired than usual. We tried to eat our boxed lunches but the vegetable pie was tasteless and there not much choice. I think we also did not force ourselves to eat and that did not help. Most of us also ran out of water. We had a choice to not get acclimatized, avoiding the lava towers and head straight to Marangu. Swetal was brave even though he was tired to go the harder way. It took us a long 6 hrs to lava towers and then a tough downhill descent to Marangu for another 2 hrs. With sheer determination we all finally made it to Marangu. We were tired, hungry and just wanted to go to sleep. We had pasta for dinner and all called it an early night. Day 3 was tough but hopefully it helped us to acclimatize. Day 4 involves climbing the Baranco wall. 

Sia and Simran Host a Holiday Sale

Simran and Sia with their teacher
December 14, 2012 - While the Gandhi family continued their climb up Mt. Kilimanjaro, back in Boston, Pritesh and Nital's twin 6-year-old daughters Sia and Simran, were doing their part to contribute to the Yash Gandhi Foundation.
Knitted items made by Nital's Mom
The sisters teamed up with their school to host a holiday sale which included delicious baked goods, Christmas gifts and knitted goods hand made by Nital's mother. Congratulations to the girls for such a wonderful show of support for our family's climb and for honoring Yash's memory with such a great charitable event! He would be so proud of his sisters!

Friday, December 14, 2012

Day 2- Stunning Views at Shira Camp

File Photo of Shira Camp
December 14, 2013 - We set off in good spirits. The trial rose up to 3940meters(13,000ft) to Shira Camp.

File Photo of Shira Camp
The scenery was stunning. Shira camp is a moorland and it is covered in clouds - it feels like we are living in the clouds. We feel fine so far - We thought it was a little easier today even though the path was steeper than the day. We reached here at lunch time and will stay here until tomorrow morning. Since he is scared of heights, Ashesh did get scared at some parts because it was a long way down. The food has been good so far.

By Achal and Preena Gandhi - Day 2 greeted us with beautiful bright blue skies, as a result of which we spent too long taking photos and got told off for not getting ready quick enough! We took our oxygen levels again and most of ours had dropped by about 8% which was incredible. We then spent far too long talking about our new favorite topic, to use the bathroom or not use the bathroom!!
The trek was pretty tough today, almost always going uphill, steep climbs and some freestyle mountain climbing without our sticks - we trekked through some of the most incredible scenery I've seen, the terrain looked like something from a Lord of the Rings film, completely different to the rain forest we trekked through yesterday. Although it was tough going we kept ourselves entertained with some rnb and bollywood music, singing 'Jada Paag ne Jaara thaai gya', taking regular pit stops for a number 1 and number 2, Princess Pritesh freaking out as to whether to go or not, and passing by our first cave and natural waterfall.

We arrived at camp by half 2, everyone was pretty shattered, we didn't expect a 5.5 hour steep uphill climb - most of us knocked out after lunch and woke up just in time for dinner - Ashesh almost got taken to a special 'cave' by Francis - most of us were like 'dang, another trek today - no way!'

Ronak also likened the kili night-time experience to being a rich homeless person! Only Ronak would come up with something like that. Until tomorrow...Salaam...from Ach and Preena

Video from Khush to the Team

Letter from Ashesh Gandhi - Dear Kavi and Sonal - how are you? today we climbed to Shira camp at 3940 meters. The scenery is stunning. Shira camp is a moorland and it is covered in clouds - it feels like we are living in the clouds. I feel fine so far - I thought it was a little easier today even though most of it was uphill. We reached here at lunch time and will stay here until tomorrow morning. I did get scared at some parts because it was a long way down but I remembered your notes and it helped me get through. The food has been good so far but the granola bars $mommy made have come in very handy as well. I miss you guys so much. I'm glad the ministry of caring wrote to you Kavi - that is awesome. I wish I could open the letter but maybe I will be able to open it after Mt. Kilimanjaro. Well - that is it for now. I love you loads. You take care... Daddy - Ashesh

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Day 1: Team arrives at Machame Camp

The Kili 7 -Ashesh, Ruchir, Swetal, Ronak, Achal, Preena and Pritesh
Machame Gate to Machame Camp
Hike time: 5 hrs, Initial elevation: 5,400ft (1828m) Estimated distance: 7 miles (11km), Final elevation: 9,400ft (3020m)


The Kili Crew with their Kili Crew of guides
By Pritesh Gandhi
December 13, 2012 - We woke up in the morning anxious to get started.  After months of waiting the final hour seemed like eternity. We had our last shower, unfortunately we had 5 drops of hot water. Last night we learned that we have one main guide, Gasper.   Team Kili for I-Cell completed their final packing, and met for breakfast.  We had a hearty breakfast consisting of a vegetarian omelet, toast and AfriCafe!  Our outfitter was supposed to arrive at the hotel at 8:30 am but was delayed.  Once he arrived, we filled our camel bags with 1.5 liters of  water and drove to Machame gate.  

Ruchir at the Entrance Gate
We registered at the gate and waited for the guide to select the porters.  It seemed interesting that the porters had to be selected; I do not know what the interview process involved.  While we waited, we saw a couple of monkeys swinging on the trees and more importantly eyeing our food.  After we waited for over an hour, off we were.  To many of us, the first day was more strenuous than we had imagined. It rained pretty hard for about an hour but then the sun was out!  The views were simply amazing--lush and dense forest as far as your eye can see.

Made it from the yellow star to the first red dot

A couple of us had a mild headache but we  were very good in drinking all our water.  After we hiked for about 5 hours, we arrived at the camp site.  
Tents were already up and so was tea and popcorn.  We  changed out of our wet and sweaty clothes, had our snacks and before we knew it, dinner was served.  To my surprise, dinner was delicious and included cucumber and leek soup, fried potatoes and vegetables and fish.  Tiny bananas were offered as dessert.  Before we retired for the night, Gaspar came in to check our oxygen saturation, pulse and temperature.  Ronak was the first one to check his temp and placed the thermometer under his armpit.  As soon as he was done, he passed the thermometer to Swetal who then placed it directly into his mouth...CRAZY!!!  To our surprise, he is now complaining of a sore throat:). 

By Achal and Preena Gandhi - Day 1 ended with our party looking up in wonder at the sky by night. There were more stars than any of us had ever seen before and Pritesh was even blessed by seeing a shooting star pass by.

The night passed with an orchestra of synchronized snoring by Ronak, Ashesh and Pritesh.Tomorrow, we will start a steep climb at about 9am." 

Entrance Signs at Kilimanjaro Park's Machame Gate - "The Whiskey Route"

A lot can go wrong on the way up the Mountain.  Yikes!!!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

A Touching Message from Yash's Brother Kavi

Kavi, Ashesh, Sonal and Yash

By Kavi Gandhi

How many kids can say that their dad has climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro? Not too many. I am one of those few lucky ones.

When Pritesh uncle (kaka) told my dad about climbing Kilimanjaro, I thought it was a joke. Pritesh Kaka, my dad, and the rest of the Gandhi family got into deeper conversations. Soon after that, I realized this was getting serious. I was excited and a little bit nervous for all the climbers.
When Pritesh kaka decided that they should all climb for a cure for I cell disease, it made me feel so proud.  He worked very hard, it trying to get donations from lots of companies.
When so many people started donating to our foundation that didn’t know Yash, or us, it made me feel very happy to see how generous people are. We now have raised a lot of money!   When we were at the airport to drop daddy and Swetal Kaka off, I was nervous and excited for them.
Today, I got to Facetime my daddy.  He got me to talk to hotel manager. To her, it was pretty cool to talk to family miles away on a small phone! 
I knew they can do it. Lets get Elmo to the top!  Yash was an awesome brother to me. He was always there when I needed him to comfort me. Although he had I cell disease, I could still play with him, laugh with him, learn from him, and do a lot of other things with him. Yash and I had a spectacularly good relationship. We never fought with each other unlike other brothers and/or sisters. He would be very proud right now. I miss you a lot Yash.

Please leave your comments for Kavi on this post below.
Also, We are still collecting donations for the Climb to Kili Challenge.  It's easy!  Just click here to donate!

The Harsh Realities of Moshi

Ruchir and Ashesh look at Mt. Kili from a distance
By Ashesh Gandhi
Today Ruchir and I had a small adventure - we were at the SIM card store in downtown Moshi with Swetal and needed to exchange money from USD to the local currency. The bank called Bureau De Change was located in a part of Downtown Moshi (The area near. Mt. Kilimanjaro) that even tourists don't venture - of course we did not know that.  Ruchir and I stuck out but everyone seemed friendly. Afer the transaction, 

I made the mistake of asking where we could buy a duffel bag as Ruchir's had torn. Suddenly there was a mob of 8 different vendors vying for our business. It got a little scary and I had to firmly tell everyone to stop following us and they finally left us alone. Luckily Swetal was still waiting for us at the SIM card store.

From Kenya to Tanzania

Preena, Achal, Pritesh and Ronak with Pritesh and Achal's grandfather's old Mercedes
By Pritesh Gandhi

Hi!  I am writing this to you as we drive to Moshi after passing the Kenya border and now into TZ.  Obviously, this morning was filled with mass hysteria due to lack of sleep.   Before the car ride to the bus station, we took pictures with us in front of my grandfather's car.  That Mercedes is as old as I am and I remember being driven in it.  Actually, I remember that my uncle has a pic of Swetal and I when we were toddlers on the hood of that car!  We got to the bus station early.  The conductor made it sound like we would have the entire back of the bus to ourselves.  Before we knew it, there were not only passengers next to our seats, they piles of bags as well.  Achal tried to convince the driver to pile the bags on the top of the bus but that did not go well. Preena was not feeling well and Ronak gave her a Benadryl and she has been sleeping since.

Achal and Ronak on the bus
En route to the border, the views were incredible of luscious greenery.  We stopped at a cafeteria were we chatted with some Masaii women who were insisting that we buy hand crafted jewelry for our Mama; I suppose they meant Mom, wife or sister.  Interestingly, they did not ask Preena if she wanted to buy something for the men in her life.  Perhaps because the Benadryl was still in effect and she still looked dazed!  Trying to get some zzz's but it is sporadic amidst the random border patrol, surprising off roading, frequent speed bumps and accidents--saw a truck in the ditch with a bunch of Masaii men looking at it like it was some sort of an artifact.  In contrast to the views in Kenya, in TZ there are plains of dry savannah sprinkled with spotted dust balls.  We should be in Moshi in about two hours.  I do hope the hotel issue has been sorted out!
Pritesh and Ronak
We got to Arusha at about 1 pm local time yesterday.  All the passengers had to disembark and we had to wait for another 1.5 hours for our connecting bus to Moshi.  Once we got on the bus, we all passed out.  Actually, I do not think Preena ever woke up since we left Nairobi.  Once we got to Moshi, at about 3:00 pm local time, our ride to the hotel was not to be found.  The locals insisted taking us to our hotel--they must have asked us at least 30 times.  Interestingly, none of the locals talk to Preena--she has the look down whereas the rest of us are suckers.  It seems like our outfitter is also the town's mayor--everyone knows him and refer to him as 'Papa'.  We made a call to him and they came to get us in a grayish green van--we used call it a Combie back in the day.  On arrival to the hotel, we united with the team, put our luggage in our rooms and were off to see Papa for Mountain orientation.  Orientation was simple and it seemed like a round table discussion with Papa being the facilitator.  We also met the chief guide--Gaspar.  The key take away was to drink 4-5 L of water a day!  After orientation, we went to an EXCELLENT Indo-Italiano place for dinner.  We offered the cook to join us on the climb but were not successful.  Back to the hotel, we depacked, repacked, met for an hour, had a few laughs and called it a night.

Kids of Kilimanjaro

Kids of Kilimanjaro
Swetal Gandhi writes this about his journey in Moshi:

"The little girl in the picture that we bought the sim card from was hugging all three of us... Ronak, Ashesh and me...very cute and not shy at all.  Her name is violet
I am feeling great...just want to start the climb right now.

Meanwhile, back in Jacksonville, his own little ones, Khush and Naiya were wishing they could give daddy a big hug too.  They sent him this message to let him know they were cheering him on from thousands of miles away as he prepares for climb day.

Khush and Naiya

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Adventure Begins - Even Before Arriving to Mt. Kili

Ashesh and Swetal
We knew there would be plenty of adventure once we got to the foot of the mountain, but we had quite the unpredictable start to our journey, even before leaving the U.S.  On Monday, Ashesh and Swetal were scheduled to leave from Philadelphia, PA.  However, Swetal got unexpectedly ill just a couple of hours before their flight.  
"Oh no!  What should we do?" thought Ashesh and Sonal.  They discussed moving his flight to the next day or canceling the trip altogether, but Swetal said, "Let's just see how I feel once I get to the airport."  Fortunately, he recovered.  It turns out, he was probably having a bad reaction to the malaria tablets.  They met up with Ruchir in Detroit and continued the 24-hour trip to Amsterdam and then Kilimanjaro Airport in Tanzania.  Ashesh commented how intense the coffee was in Amsterdam and it seemed like they would need it for the long road ahead.  

From the airport he wrote, Just met Ken from Limuru. He is Kenyan and lives in Lawrence, MA. Ken has eleven brothers and sisters - six of whom live in Boston. When I told him about Kili, the first question he asked was, "Are you guys hitting your mid life crisis?" as he just turned 40 this year."

Pritesh and Ronak, London to Nairobi
Meanwhile, Pritesh and Ronak were making their journey from Boston to London to Kenya.  Their journey seemed a little more seamless.  Pritesh shared a special touching message that he got along the way, "Hi! I have reached Nairobi. The lady who sat next to me en route to Nairobi, a dual UK and Kenyan citizen, and I had an extensive conversation. She is going to visit her parents, siblings and newly adopted nine-month old daughter outside the slopes of Mt. Kenya. The biological mother is 32, an alcoholic with signs of jaundice, and has has had eight other children who have all been given up for adoption. I told her about our cause as well as Sia and Simi. A few years ago, the lady sitting sitting next to me was expecting twins, one of whom she was going to name Sia (I could not believe it either). Unfortunately, she had a miscarriage. The lady sitting next to me is a project manager who has worked in several countries for large consulting firms. Having grown up in Kenya, she told me that she never thought about her color until she worked in South Africa in the early 1990s where she was treated worse than the local South Africans because she was "from up there in Africa [Kenya]". Aligned with the latter story and very relevant to our cause, she taught me a Kiswahili proverb, "Haba na Haba, Ujaza Kebaba, " which translates into "Drop by Drop, The Bucket will Fill". With patience, we will prevail! The name of the lady sitting next to me is Annmarie."

Pritesh's poetic path continued as he arrived in Nairobi, where he was born and grew up.  He hasn't been back for more than two decades and it was clear that he felt a special connection to the city as soon as he arrived.

"Just passed the old hood... gosh, crazy memories of me driving on this highway when I was 14ish," he wrote.

Swetal, Ruchir and Ashesh arrive in Tanzania
Back here at home, the Gandhi wives were getting a little worried about Ashesh, Swetal and Ruchir.  They still hadn't heard from them and Dilpa began sending out distress calls through What's App, which has been our family's main mode of communication.  Leave it to Dilpa to track down the boys half way across the world.  It turns out there was some type of problem at that the hotel they were supposed to stay in and they ended up having to move to another hotel.  Let's just say the accommodations were not as nice.

Arriving at the Hotel
After checking in on them, Dilpa wrote, "Just spoke to Swetal and they are fine. Bhabhi thanks for making thepla's because that's what they just got done eating.  They are awake so if anyone wants to call. The front desk has to walk up to their room to give them the phone, so they will say the guys are sleeping. Let them know they are awake and need to talk to them."  (She doesn't mess around.)

Meanwhile, Pritesh and Ronak were at our family friend's house in Nairobi.  Ronak seemed to enjoy finally being in a bed for a change. Pritesh wrote, "Ronak just said that he feels like a princess sleeping under the mosquito net and now he is eating Snickers for breakfast."

Doesn't look like a bad place to stay
Pritesh clearly had a case of insomnia before the climb.  He wrote "Trying to sleep under a mosquito net and Ronak is snoring!  I think he actually woke up the rooster! :)"  He added, "As I think about the hike, I think we are more prepared from a food, pharmacy and technology perspective tan the ACTUAL climb!" 

He clearly will not be ready for the seven hour bus ride to Moshi that awaits him if he doesn't get any sleep!  Moshi is the area in Tanzania where Mt. Kilimanjaro sits and that's where the entire team of seven will reunite for the very first time!  How exciting!

Where are Achal and Preena during all of this, you may ask?  They're chilling at our family friend Neha's house.  Must be nice!

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Climb to Kilimanjaro - Journey of a Lifetime


As people get ready to celebrate Christmas with their family under the beautiful lights of a tree circled with gifts, several members of the Gandhi family will be making a long and traitorous journey up Mt. Kilimanjaro, the world’s highest free-standing mountain. The life-changing trip will be packed with adventure, emotion and memories that will surely be an incredible chapter in our family’s story. What makes this climb so special is the fact that it’s a charity fundraiser to benefit the Yash Gandhi Foundation, named after our beloved Yash Gandhi, who passed away after a long struggle with a rare disease called I-Cell.

The Climbers

Counterclockwise from the Top Left - Pritesh, Achal, Ruchir, Preena, Swetal, Ronak and Ashesh
Ashesh Gandhi - Ashes is Yash's father.  He is the oldest and arguably the wisest of the Gandhi Cousins.  Ashesh is a pharmacist.  He, his wife Sonal and their 9-year-old son Kavi all live in Philadelphia, PA.

Pritesh Gandhi – Pritesh is Ashesh’s brother. He, his wife Nital and two twin 6-year-old daughters Sia and Simran live in Boston, MA. Pritesh is also a pharmacist who specializes in drugs for rare diseases.

Swetal Gandhi – Swetal is Ashesh’s cousin who lives in Jacksonville, FL with his wife Dilpa, 8-year-old son Khush and 5-year-old daughter Niaya. He recently opened up his own pharmacy and still works as an ICU pharmacist at a local hospital.

Achal Gandhi – Achal is our baby cousin. He lives in London with his beautiful new bride Preena and works as an accountant.

Preena Gandhi – Preena is the newest, prized addition to the Gandhi Clan and the sole brave woman in the group of Kili climbers. She and Achal got married last year during a week of beautiful festivities in London. It was the biggest family reunion we’ve had prior to this climb.

Ruchir Parikh – Ruchir is Pritesh’s brother-in-law. He’s married to Sheetal and has two daughters – 6-year-old Milani and 3-year-old Krishani. Ruchir is also a pharmacist.

Ronak Gandhi – Ronak is Pritesh’s brother-in-law and the youngest climber in the group. He lives in Woburn, MA and is currently studying pharmacy at Northeastern University.

Our Family’s Story
Gandhi Family, Achal weds Preena's in London, 2011
To understand our family, you have to understand our history. Our family’s journey began in Kenya, where we will be returning to for this special climb. Ashesh, Pritesh, Swetal and Achal were all born in Kenya. Over the years, we all moved our separate ways between Africa, UK, US and Canada. However, the bond was never broken. Throughout our lives, we have lived together at times, spent months traveling together and supported each other through the most triumphant and trying experiences. We have celebrated weddings, the births of our beautiful nieces and nephews, and taken memorable journeys across the globe, ranging from African safaris to Alaskan cruises. Sadly, our story is not free from tragedies. In 1998, we lost our dear cousin Komal Gandhi (Achal’s sister) in a car crash. She was just 19 year old. It was a devastating time for our family and certainly brought us closer together. In 2009, we suffered the unimaginable pain of losing our little Yash at the tender age of 9. It was one of the saddest reunions our family has ever experienced, but it was also the inspiration for the Climb to Kili. 

Yash and the Yash Gandhi Foundation
Yash loved Elmo and Music
Combine the sweet sounds of a baby’s laugh with the most loving expression you’ve ever seen in anyone’s eyes and top it off with eternal sunshine. This was Yash. Yash Gandhi was born on December 23, 2000. Ashesh and Sonal were the proud parents of the first Gandhi grandchild on our mother’s side and we could not have been more overjoyed as a family. He was perfect in every way. He was always smiling, laughing, hugging and kissing everyone he met. It was impossible to not fall in love with this beautiful little boy. So, as you can imagine, it was a complete shock to our entire family to learn that this happy ball of joy was actually suffering from a life-threatening disease. ML2 or I-cell is a devastating, rare, genetic, lysosomal storage disorder that affects every organ of the body. Children affected by the ailment show resilience and overcome huge challenges and obstacles in their little lives to do little things that we may take for granted such as walking, speaking, breathing or even eating. At the time he was diagnosed, doctors told Ashesh and Sonal to just give Yash all the love they could, because he would probably only live for another year. It was incomprehensible for a family full of pharmacists to now face one of our own suffering from a medical condition with minimal research and no cure. Ashesh and Sonal traveled the world looking for answers, trying different treatments and desperately doing whatever they could do give him the best life a little boy could have. They accomplished that. Yash was blessed with amazing people around him and those who had the privilege of knowing him left feeling nothing less than inspired. In the midst of dealing with the nightmare of his disease, Ashesh and Sonal had another prayer answered when they welcomed their second son Kavi into this world. Yash loved his little brother and Kavi soon became like a big brother – doing everything he could to help Yash and his parents during their continuing uphill battle with I-Cell. It’s hard to comprehend how they all did it, but somehow, in the midst of all the close calls, hospital visits, occupational and physical therapy sessions, live-in nurses and mounting medical bills, Ashesh and Sonal decided to start a foundation to help other families who were facing the same struggles and challenges with I-Cell. In 2002, the Yash Gandhi Foundation was born and the non-profit organization is built completely on a volunteer and donation basis, meaning there are no overhead costs and all the money goes directly to research. They knew that there probably wouldn’t be a cure for Yash, but perhaps they could prevent another child and another family from dealing with this traumatic disease.

Yash's unforgettable smile
Through all of it, Ashesh and Sonal also made sure that each of us shared a special bond with Yash and that he had a brilliant childhood. He enjoyed his music classes, playing with Elmo, face painting on Christmas vacation in Florida, meeting his favorite characters on a Disney Cruise and countless visits with all of us. He also got to share special time with his Swetal kaka, who lived in Philly for a year and spent lots of time with his favorite nephew. In 2009, Yash’s condition got worse and his parents had made countless visits in and out of the hospital. It was a trying time for the family and they were tormented by the decision of how much longer they could let Yash endure the pain and struggles that were now magnified with each hospital visit. Once again, we supported each other. Pritesh and Swetal made trips to Philly to help them out, but it was touch and go. We weren’t sure how much longer our little guy could hang on. On November 6, 2009, God cradled Yash into his arms and assured our family that he would take care of him forever. In a celebration of his life, the family came together, remembered the wonderful gift that was Yash and vowed to work together to keep his legacy alive through the Yash Gandhi foundation. Since then, we have held “Brighten a Child’s Day” volunteer events across the country, hosted our first annual golf tournament which raised $10,000 for research, awarded a $20,000 grant to the Greenwood Genetic Center in South Carolina which is working on a cure, won Pfizer Volunteerz challenge as one of the top 10 most voted and inspiring projects in the world and raised over $15,000 through the Climb for Kilimanjaro Challenge. Yash would be smiling and clapping right now. He must be so proud of his family’s efforts.

The Climb to Kili
Machame Route
Knowing Yash is with God, it is fitting that our family is taking a journey to Mt. Kilimanjaro, which is revered as the “the place where God lives.” The pinnacle of the climb to the peak will be looking up above at Yash, smiling and saying, “We did it. We did it for you Yashy!” Now, this climb will not be easy. Mt. Kilimanjaro has been called the “most underestimated mountain in the world.” The seven-day hike will take place on December 13 – 19, 2012. The journey begins with a trip to the homeland - Kenya, where the majority of our climbers were born. You can imagine the emotional journey of returning to your birthplace, seeing where you grew up, remembering some of your fondest childhood experiences, all the while reminded that the simple things you enjoyed as a child were things Yash could never do. It will fuel the fire of passion in our climbers during their 50-kilometer hike up the Machame Route to the Uhuru Peak. The Machame route is nicknamed the “whiskey route”. It’s much tougher and less crowded. Marangu is much easier and is referred to as the “Coca-Cola” route. Leave it to the Gandhi family of Crown and Coke drinkers to choose the whiskey route. We’ve always picked the path less traveled.

Climb to Mt. Kilimanjaro
The climbers are in different age groups ranging from their twenties to their forties, so it will be interesting to see how each person responds to the unpredictable physical challenges. Some of the biggest problems climbers experience include altitude sickness and acute mountain illness. So to prepare for the climb, each person has used his or her own workout routine consisting of Stairmaster, swimming and running. Ashesh even completed a triathlon this year! Throughout the trip, we will be blogging about the climb, so please stay tuned for our updates. It is sure to be a captivating and comical journey. At the Uhuru peak, as the climbers catch their breath while experiencing the breathtaking panoramic views around them, they will commemorate the climb by putting Yash’s favorite little Elmo into the infamous wooden box at the peak, where for years the climbers of the past have left their personal journals of the trip. As December 23rd approaches, a day when we would have celebrated Yash’s 12th birthday, the Gandhi family will be celebrating our feat up the world’s biggest free standing mountain, a quintessential symbol of our family’s lifelong journey. Thank you for your donations and support.