Meet the Climbers – Jonathan Justice

With a little more than 50 days until our 2019 Kilimanjaro Climb gets underway, we are featuring climber Jonathan Justice. To support Jonathan’s fundraising goal and learn more about where the funds that we are raising will be going, visit his personal fundraising page.

Q: Who are you?

A: Jonathan Justice

Q: What do you do?

A: I’m a professor in the (newly named) Joseph R. Biden, Jr. School of Public Policy & Administration at the University of Delaware, where I study and teach public budgeting and finance (guess how I know Kurt!), policy analysis, urban affairs, and local economic development.

Q: Do you have any hobbies? Of course you do! What are they?

A: I’m an avid (but slow) recreational cyclist and concertgoer (mostly jazz, opera, and the extraordinary Philadelphia Orchestra. I also spend a lot of time walking a personable standard poodle around our quaint village in downtown New Castle, Delaware, where I am a member of the City Planning Commission. And of course, when I can, I love to read for pleasure, completely unrelated to my work.

Q: What makes you want to climb Mount Kilimanjaro?

A: Actually, I have wanted to do this since I was a child. The exact reasons are lost to the mists of time (50 years or more), but probably I saw a TV show about Kilimanjaro or the Leakey family’s work. This is in fact the #1 item on my “bucket list.” Plus a memorably excellent former student lives and works in Arusha, and I hope to visit briefly with him while I’m there. So when Kurt said TDS was going to climb the mountain again this year, I knew I had to get into it.

Q: How are you preparing to hike to the top of a 19,341 foot mountain?

A: Cycling for an hour, two-four times per week is my normal aerobic routine. Just to be sure, I asked at my annual physical exam. The doctor recommended a treadmill stress test, just to be absolutely certain I wouldn’t be a danger to myself or others, and I passed with flying colors. And I walk the dog two hours per day. He’s old and slow now, but at least I can get my brand-new (I’m going to REI to buy a pair as soon as I finish this questionnaire) hiking boots broken in that way. And maybe this will give me an excuse to visit my parents in Santa Fe (elev. 6000 ft.) during spring break, and go for some vigorous walks there. And of course I’m reading up (I AM a professor, you know) in travel guides, a beautiful National-Geographic coffee-table book about Kilimanjaro, and on the web. I’ll probably quiz my former student by email, too.

Q: What animal do you want to see on Safari?

A: Yes! Meaning: All of them. But if I had to choose a most-wanted, it would be a boringly familiar choice: elephants. Yes, I’ve seen them in zoos and circuses, and yes I know they can be dangerous in the wild, but they are somehow utterly fascinating to me for their physical grandeur, psychology and intellect, and family and social arrangements.

Q: Do you have any past experience with TDS? If yes, please explain.

A: Only as a donor. I wanted to go to Kilimanjaro with TDS a few years back, but couldn’t make it work schedule-wise, so I just sent a check. This year, I just felt I had to make it work.

Q: How important is reading and writing to you on a daily basis?

A: Well, at one level, it’s what I do every day as a professor to put food on the table. So I value it as a way to earn a living. On another level, it’s how I keep informed about the world around me – via the internet and (I know, what a dinosaur this shows me to be) printed newspapers and books – both to satisfy my curiosity and to get the information I need to navigate life and be an informed citizen of a democracy, and how I share relevant factual knowledge with others. But most fundamentally it’s been my portal to the world for a lifetime: a way to gain access to the world beyond my immediate sight and to communicate in thoughtful ways (I think writing gives us time to think more deeply about what we want to say, and gives us more time to edit and refine our thinking before we share it with others). Reading brings me the whole universe of human and natural-world information, as well as the deep intellectual and emotional experiences of fiction and poetry (I’m pretty wide-ranging in my tastes: I still love science/speculative fiction, popular fiction, and literary fiction from the ancients to the 21c.) Besides those instrumental values for reading and writing, I have to say that I also just enjoy reading and writing as pleasures in and of themselves. I don’t have a way to justify that for any skeptics out there, but it’s nevertheless a fact that I just plain enjoy writing and reading, in spite of Socrates’s complaint that by inventing writing the Egyptians destroyed our ability to memorize information. (Of course, I know of Socrates from reading his comments in one of Plato’s Dialogues! I can find out which Dialogue if that matters.)

Q: What is your favorite book?

A: Whichever one I read last. At the moment, that’s V.S. Naipaul’s A House for Mr. Biswas. It was a remarkably powerful account of a fictional but apparently much like Naipaul himself protagonist who was deeply human, utterly flawed, and perhaps not even very likeable. But the writing was so direct and so real that somehow Mohun Biswas demanded my sympathy even when he was behaving badly or making self-defeating decisions. And the book transported me to a new time and place – mid-20c. Trinidad – and into the lives of people unlike myself as they lived experiences I have never had. The obituaries of Naipaul said this was his best book, and I definitely found it to be a very rewarding read. I broadened my horizons and got a lot of direct pleasure from the story and characters. Actually, this is a book that will be a favorite for years to come, I think, even when other books become my most-recent reads.

In terms of what books do I tend to read and reread, number one is Homer’s Odyssey in the original (back when I could still read ancient Greek, Homer’s Doric Greek was my favorite dialect) and in translation. Every time a new translation comes out, I read it. And I have read Robert Fitzgerald’s translation a half-dozen times, including once during a “blue voyage” of Turkey’s Mediterranean coast – very near the places that are the settings for the poem’s events. Interestingly, one pretty good translation of the Odyssey is the one by T.E. Lawrence, also known as Lawrence of Arabia.

Q: What is your favorite memory from school?

A: That’s a hard one, just because there are so many good memories for me from many years of school (over 20 and counting, excluding my time on the teacher side of the room). I have been privileged to attend excellent schools from kindergarten through a Ph.D. Wonderful memories include brilliant lectures by teachers, interactions with teachers and schoolmates in classroom and non-classroom settings, and moments when teachers or classmates found something I said or did or wrote to be especially valuable or noteworthy. My time at high school was especially joyful for me, but the part that stands out is basically all of it. It was a residential school, so we were immersed in learning 24/7. Even leisure activities often involved our teachers, so we could learn from them (and from each other) in unstructured time as well as in the classroom.

I almost feel that by singling out particular memories or teachers I’d be unfairly ignoring others. So maybe I can highlight the pleasure of free reading time in school libraries. I love libraries as places to do research, but I also love just finding a secluded chair in a library where I can settle in with a book – maybe one I’ve brought with me, or have just sought out, or maybe one I’ve just happened across by accident (I have a thing for open-stacks libraries, even though I’m told they’re going the way of the dodo bird, at least in academia).

OK. Here’s a pair of favorite memories from a college seminar devoted to reading Homer (in Greek). One was when I went to class incompletely prepared, but somehow managed to deliver an excellent translation of a difficult passage on the spot. Another was a particularly good extended argument – this time I prepared scrupulously in advance – about the ethics of a particular passage in the Iliad.

Q: What about traveling to Tanzania are you most excited for? What are you most nervous about?

A: Most excited about – probably the mountain and the natural setting, just because that’s been on my mind for 50+ years. But I’m also very excited to contribute to the work of LCRC and TDS, and to experience the people and culture of Tanzania. I’m also really looking forward to seeing a new country – actually a whole new continent for me, since I’ve never been to any place in Africa before – and visiting my former student.

Most nervous: maybe the climb itself. I haven’t been camping for over 40 years, and I know that the high altitude is very challenging for even physically fit people. And of course there’s always the general nervousness of making a very long journey to a new and unfamiliar place: did I pack everything I’ll need? Am I going to be able to act appropriately? Will I get lost? Will I get some annoying travelers’ disease and be a nuisance to myself and the others? But all of this can be mitigated by preparation, and I know I’m traveling with an experienced and well prepared group!

Q: Why is it important that your friends, family, or acquaintances donate to your personal fundraising goal?

A: Because otherwise I’ll have to make up the difference myself! Seriously, this is an opportunity to share the joy as well as the material advantages of learning, with children who might otherwise have less access to that. I won’t say that this is the only place or the only cause in that place that deserves their support, but I certainly think that it is a good enough cause to be worth supporting. It promotes equality of opportunity, economic development, citizenship and democracy, and all the other personal and social benefits of an educated population. Plus, of course, it’s a chance to share with children the immediate and intrinsic joys of reading, writing, and learning that we enjoyed as children and continue to enjoy as adults. (As an aside, I did check it out with a former student, now a management consultant, because I know he was often critical of well-intentioned but unhelpful American charity efforts in Tanzania. He said this is legit, and I should do it.)

Q: Is there anything else you want TDS followers to know about you?

A: I am grateful to be in a position to participate in this program. It’s a great opportunity to help school-age children enjoy access to the privileges, economic advantages, and sheer joy of knowledge that come from education, reading, and writing. And it’s a great thrill to travel to Tanzania and the mountain. I really appreciate the many privileges that make it possible, and I hope I can contribute in whatever way to making similar privileges available to others.

One Response to Meet the Climbers – Jonathan Justice

  1. Please don’t injure my friend Jonathan during the trek up the mountain. It is refreshing to read his comments to the questions. I really hope that the trip up the mountain is everything that you hope it is. Also,I hope you enjoy your time with the children. As you point out, this is really why you are going there. Have fun my friend!!