13 December 2013

A STROLL WITH BARRY FINLAY (For International Mountain Day)

          “Every mountain top is within reach if you keep on climbing” ~Barry Finlay

You really don’t know what it feels like to be 'on top of the world' until you get to the summit of a mountain. Okay I’ve not gotten to the summit of any mountain—though I’ve climbed a few hills—but I know someone who has; meet my guest, Mr. Barry Finlay.

After getting to the top of his career as an accountant working with the Canadian government, Mr. Barry retired in 2004; and one day in 2009 he got up from his couch and decided to get to the top of the African continent; conquering the great Kilimanjaro with his son Chris. Apart from being an accountant Mr. Barry is also a wood sculptor, philanthropist, author, motivational speaker, and recipient of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee medal.

In course of our stroll, we discussed about his Kilimanjaro expedition; his future plans on conquering other summits; and even a bit about the global economic crisis and the way out. This is a very special stroll because, it’s the first time I’m strolling on a guest’s birthday, so I’d like to wish Mr. Barry a big happy birthday, and many more years of fruitfulness. Climb along with us, here’s my stroll with Barry:

Ebenezar: Thank you so much for having this stroll with me Mr Barry.

Barry: It's my pleasure, Ebenezar! I have read your recent interviews and I’m truly honoured to be among such great company.

Ebenezar: Thank you sir, so what did it feel like getting to the summit of Kilimanjaro with your son Chris, and pinning the Canadian flag?

Barry: I can summarize it in one word. Amazing! It was the culmination of months of training and anticipation. It was a lot of hard work to get to the point where I felt I was ready to do it. In addition, before we left Canada, we had raised money to help the children of Tanzania. 

Barry and Chris at the Summit of Kilimanjaro
Over 200 people had donated and we put their names on the Canadian flag that we carried with us. I have to admit it added some pressure the first few days of the climb because we desperately wanted to make it to the top for the people whose names were on the flag. However, in the final few hours it felt to me like there was 200 pair of hands pushing us to the top. So even though we were tired and trying hard just to breathe at that altitude, it was hugely satisfying to finish what we started. As an added bonus, I got to do it with one of my sons and that was something for which I will always be grateful. We subsequently handed the flag over to some administrators at a primary school and when we went back in 2011 to see the new classroom we had helped to fund, our flag was hanging beside the Tanzania flag on the wall. 

Ebenezar: Wow, that’s beautiful, but what actually inspired you to get up from the couch and want to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro after retirement? I mean, that’s really guts

Barry: There were a few converging events. It started with a visit to our family doctor for my annual check-up. I had had a relatively sedentary lifestyle sitting behind a desk during my career and it had taken its toll. My triglyceride levels were elevated and the doctor told me the only way to deal with it was to improve my diet and conditioning. I took him at his word, stopped on the way home, joined a gym and hired a personal trainer. As my conditioning improved my sixtieth birthday was rapidly approaching. I started to think about ways to celebrate. Chris had talked about the climb about ten years previously and it had stuck with me, apparently. We discussed it again and after doing some research and having a lot of discussion, we made the decision to go for it. 

Ebenezar: How were you able to keep fit for the task? What physical routines did you follow?

Barry: It was more than a matter of “getting” fit for the task. As I mentioned, I hired a personal trainer who made me realize that when I thought I had used every ounce of strength I had, there was still more to give. I hiked, biked, ran up and down stairs, etc. I lost 28 pounds. We don’t have much elevation where I live in Ottawa, Canada so I worked on my cardio and strength. I tried to do something physical every day and I tried to do it a little bit faster or longer every time. The last thing I wanted was to look back after attempting the climb and thinking I should have done more to prepare. 

Ebenezar: (hahaha) trust me that was a lot, so apart from Kilimanjaro have you climbed other mountains?

Barry: I haven’t done anything of that magnitude. I had the good fortune to go up Mount Vesuvius two years ago. Learning about the volcano from an expert on the way up was fascinating. I think my love of mountains started when I was 12 when my aunt took me on a train ride through the Canadian Rocky Mountains. Mountains are incredibly imposing and awe inspiring to me. I love to spend time in them. This summer, I had the opportunity to do some hiking in our Rockies and I just never get tired of the mountains. 

Ebenezar: I’ve been thinking, can anyone be a mountain climber?

Barry: Well, I think we have to clarify what we mean by “mountain climbing.” Can just anybody climb Mount Everest? I would say “no” but a lot of people seem to think they can, with tragic results.

Ebenezar: (haha) Yeah, we’ve heard a lot of stories

Barry: Yeah, so the main issue with any climb, including Kilimanjaro, is the altitude and how an individual reacts to it. It is completely unpredictable. However, I would say if someone wants to do it, they should give it a try. Just prepare properly and go with a trekking company that knows what they are doing. The mountains have to be treated with the respect they deserve because they can kill you with altitude sickness and falls. But the dangers can be mitigated with the proper preparation and understanding and it can be a tremendous experience, such as the one Chris and I had.

(Image Credit: dailystar)
Ebenezar: Okay, today is International Mountain Day on the UN Calendar, and the aim is to draw attention to mountains and how we take care of them. What do you think Governments can do to preserve mountains for posterity?

Barry: That is a very important question, Ebenezar. I suspect most people wouldn’t think that mountains have to be protected because they are large pieces of rock. However, there are issues of climate change destroying the glaciers that provide water supplies to people living below. There are issues of deforestation which result in flooding of the people living at the bottom because the natural barriers are removed. 

There are issues of too many climbers leaving garbage on the mountains or destroying the natural flora and fauna. I think it’s a matter of education combined with more regulation. I think governments need to pay more attention to mountains, examine the issues and deal with them. It may result in controls on the number of people climbing, continuing attention to climate change, regulations on deforestation, etc. The government of Tanzania seems to be doing a good job of ensuring that their mountain is kept relatively litter free, considering the number of people attempting to climb it each year. As long as there are mountains people will climb them so in my opinion, protecting them is a matter of better education and regulating what takes place on and around the mountain. 

Ebenezar: Very true sir, before Mountain climbing you worked for 32 years with the Canadian Federal Government in the financial management sector, and you retired in 2004. Let's talk a little about Global finance now. Do you think the Global Economic Crisis that hit the world after you retired could have been averted?

Barry: Unfortunately, I think it was inevitable. I think it was a perfect storm of complacency among lenders and borrowers resulting in easy money and people with little or no credit wanting to borrow it, overspending by governments trying to win votes, low interest rates that forced investors to find higher (and riskier) rates and a lack of direction and control on everything that was going on. It is a complex issue but I think many people just have to think about their personal financial situation to get a sense of what happened.

 We all have our bank accounts to manage and most of us don’t do a very good job of it. We all have a limited amount of money to spend and there always seem to be more things we need or want than we have money available. So we borrow, resulting in interest charges and repayment requirements. When we borrow, we not only have to pay for our daily needs but we also now have to service our debt. Sometimes we have to borrow more to be able to do that. Eventually, there is a breaking point and we just can’t do it any more. Now multiply that by billions of dollars and you have the situation that unfolded. We are probably all complicit in what happened because we all want everything before we can afford it. Don’t get me wrong, borrowing is often necessary but it has its time and place. But we do have to control spending and that goes for all levels, including governments.

(Image Credit: Alibaba)
Ebenezar: Okay, looking at the current state we are in. The Eurozone crisis, bailouts here and there, debt ceilings, the increasing poverty line... Is there a panacea to the global financial problem? Can we still fix this?

Barry: I think it depends on the lessons learned from the crisis. There also has to be the will to fix it. It seems to me that some action has taken place to ensure that the lending/borrowing fiasco won’t happen again, at least to the extent it did. I also think the public is becoming more vocal by demanding transparency and holding their political leaders accountable and also by getting more involved. However, there is still a lack of co-operation among political parties that brings any kind of progress to a standstill. Criticism for the sake of criticism to try to gain political points is not helpful. In my opinion, focusing on the issues and adopting and implementing the best ideas, no matter where they come from, would go a long way to fixing financial problems or any other problems for that matter. 

Ebenezar: You're also involved in philanthropic ventures. How do you manage to raise funds? Do you have like a foundation?

Barry: I had thought about establishing a foundation but for now it would just add a layer of bureaucracy that isn’t necessary. We direct the money we raise to Plan Canada, which is part of Plan International

Ebenezar: Okay? That’s also beautiful.

Barry: We have seen firsthand the respect that Plan receives in Tanzania, the work they have done and what it means to the people there. So far, the money we have raised has completed a borehole that provides fresh water for 13,500 and a classroom at a primary school and helped some young women and youth start small businesses. I have found that the best way to raise money is to offer something in return so we have an annual golf tournament and variety show. Of course, none of it would be possible without the generosity of our donors and volunteers and when we visit the projects in Tanzania, we are representing all of them. 

Barry, Chris, and some Tanzanian kids waving at the camera
Ebenezar: Finally, many people around the world have various challenges that pose as 'mountains' in their lives. From your experience so far, which attitude do you think is most needed to inspire them to keep on climbing?

Barry: I realized something when we were on the mountain in 2009. You are so right that everyone faces challenges and the mountain we were on was a metaphor for the mountains everyone has to face from time to time in their lives. Ours at that time just happened to be a very large piece of volcanic rock. But we were able to conquer our mountain in the same way that all mountains in life have to be approached. We had to keep a positive attitude and push on. We had to take one step at a time and keep putting one foot in front of the other. I believe that every mountain top is within reach if we just keep on climbing. 

Ebenezar: Thank you so much for your time Mr. Barry, I really had fun on this stroll. I wish you luck as you keep on climbing those summits and inspiring people around the world.

Barry: Thank you too Ebenezar, all the best.

For more about Barry(@karver2), you can visit his blog keeponclimbing.com. You can also buy his books online; ‘Kilimanjaro and Beyound’, and ‘I Guess We missed the Boat’

I was talking about mountains with my partner Maria, and there’s something she told me I’d really like to share with you, she said; " Life in itself is a mountain and while some are done climbing, some are climbing and others are about to climb. And though we climb using different sides and means, we all climb. In our climbs, we assign goals and purposes, find something to help us climb, a propeller as we journey, an end in sight...

The process is exhausting but we climb all the same. This is what it means to climb mountains. To take steps, one at a time, finding strength to put one foot in front of the other even when it seems the fount of strength is barren. To draw still, raising hope even as the steeps get raised, having a positive attitude that the altitude is not a problem and the climb will soon be done. This is how it feels to stand on mountains. To know hope had not been in vain, strength did not fail, and mountains are nothing to be afraid of, after all. To take a sweeping glance and see all- worries, stress, trials- at your feet as you stand atop greatness.

There is a fount of strength inside you; though it may appear dry, it is not. Go fetch again and climb your mountains."

Till my next stroll with Aseed Baig on December 18th; International Migrants Day—which will be my last stroll for 2013—be good, Jesus Loves you

Ebenezar Wikina(@EbenezarWikina)
All Rights Reserved

1 comment:

  1. Very inspiring! It's funny how simple moments in our lives can lead to big changes (health--->climbing)

    It's also refreshing to read an honest and 'right on' opinion on the global crisis. It's an opinion I share!

    Ebenezar: thank you for sharing!

    And to Mister Finlay: keep on climbing & sharing the love!