Stella Maris is Latin for "Star of the Sea." The phrase originally referred to Polaris, the brightest point of light in the constellation Ursa Minor (or "Little Bear"). As this fireball is fixed in a fluid sky, navigators use Polaris, also known as the North Star, for orientation.
Such features made Polaris a ready target for allegory. By the medieval period some word-plays (coupled with copyists' errors!) linked the phrase to the name of Mary (Hebrew Mrym, sortof), the mother of Jesus. Science, linguistics, and biblical theology aside, a "preacher-truth" emerged: Mary became a stellar character who gave direction to the lost.*
I instinctively blame Jerome, the patron saint of bad Hebrew etymologies.
I contemplate these effervescent mysteries as I stand by a road in East Africa, far from the smell of salt water. The sign before me marks the turn to Stella Maris. I delight in the artistic fancy to bespangle the "i" with a pointy dot. As I've already discovered, the facility is a fascinating one. It weaves together a hotel, restaurant, bar, souvenir shop, climb center, and primary school on a single property in the village of Mailisita.
Jason, Tommy, and I have come here because the lodge is used by some Kilimanjaro teams as they prepare for a summit attempt or relax on the backside of the experience. We are in gear up mode. Our room is awash with nylon packs, gloves, candy wrappers, and expensive synthetic clothing that swishes when you move (or, as Vicki says, "makes you sound like a flag waving").
I find the accommodations and the staff to be delightful. Groups like ours overnight here because it is clean, friendly, affordable, and conveniently located near access points for climbing routes.
My appreciation for Kandoo Adventures, our climbing company, continues to grow. They claim to be committed to responsible travel, environmentalism, and assisting local economies. Their partnership with Stella Maris underlines the seriousness of this claim and here's why.
The entire complex was built in a partnership between locals and the US based Mailisita Foundation for the purpose of building a sustainable center for helping underprivileged children. These include orphans whose lives have been devastated by the AIDS epidemic in rural Africa. Income generated by the lodge goes exclusively toward paying the teachers in the school and providing food for the most vulnerable members of African society.
With the windows open, we hear them. The children sing, play, shout, and work in the classrooms By staying in this place, I am supporting a cause bigger than myself. Stella Maris offers orientation, a navigator's light in a sea of lostness. It isn't exactly the recreational experience that I expected, but something even better. I am grateful to Kandoo Adventures for housing us here. It is this kind of RE-creation that is at the missional center of a Christian calling.
*Because inquiring minds want to know, it also produced many coastal villages and chapels worldwide that preserve the name Stella Maris.