A year ago this week, I was making my final preparations to depart on the most epic adventure of my lifetime. I was excited and scared all at the same time, but two years of preparations were going to come down to what would happen when my plane touched down in Kahtmandu. You can read about the daily adnventures of the trip on all the previous blog posts, but one of the chapters is just finishing up, all these months later.
One night after a long day of trekking, we were just finishing our evening. The stove in the center of the room had at last been lit, and we were regaining much wanted warmth from the yak dung fire. Our Mountain Madness staff all came in…the porters, the kitchen staff, the sherpas and the yak herders. Each one of them assembled with us, all smiling at us even after they had worked a long hard day in addition to the trek in order to make our trip comfortable. Deana Zebaldo, our Guide, interpreted while each one of them introduced himself to us, told about his job responsibilities on the trek and then a little personal information. It was mezmerizing to hear these men speak of their lives in Nepal and their families. Most were farmers the bulk of the year, but worked in the trekking industry to try to get a leg up for their families. Getting a leg up meant taking an English class, getting more lumber for the building of your home, or paying for school for your children.
I was a slow trekker. Real slow. As a result, I was the last in my group and therefore always had a sherpa with me. Most days that Sherpa was Mane. a 24 year old man who was unmarried and lived in a house three days trek out of Lukla. He told us that one of the reasons he was working as a sherpa was because he was a member ofhe Untouchable caste. Because of this, when the power company was running power into his village, his family along with five other familes, were left out. However, due to changeing attitudes in the region, they can now get the power company to bring the power in, but it would be costly for them. At the time I heard this, I thought it was awful and figured it was simply cost prohibitive. I asked Deana how much it was going to take for them to get the power put in. She told me she would find out. I figured it was a massive amount of money. Not knowing much about the existing infrastructer, and knowing that anything that was going to be brought in to the village was going to have to be flown in to Lukla and then walked by porter for three days into his village, it was not going to be cheep.
A couple of more days passed with me bringing up the rear of the group. Each day, Mane was there with me, carrying my pack, stopping me to eat and drink…and always smiling.
Finally, Deana was able to determine how much Mane and the other villagers were going to have to come up with to get the power in. It was around $2,600 dollars…not much more than my plane ticket for the trek. But for him and the others, it was a huge amount of money. It wasn’t something they would be able to do that year…it was going to take several years to save up the money. And with the corruption in Nepal, the price would change as they got involved in the process.
On April 8, 2012, Mane delivered me safely to Mt. Everest Base Camp at 17,800 feet above sea level. I had fulfiled my goal and my dream. I would leave base camp rather abruptly, so the picture above is one of my last moments with Mane. Though I have never seen or spoken directly to him since, I feel like he is an adopted son. I began to think more and more of his lack of electricity and when I got home, many of the people following my trek expressed their gratitude and admiration for Mane too. I started a fund and within about a month, over 40 people contributed to his getting power. The outpouring was humbling. We got all the money together and wired it to Dawa, the Big Boss Sherpa who was also with us on the trek and who would walk three days to Mane’s village to get things started. He would also have to walk three days home and stay two nights each way in a tea house. That is life in the himalayas.
Back home in the USA we were all waiting with baited anticipation to see the final product. The Monsoon Season was long and rainy, so we waited. But then we heard that Mane was heading the project up and that it was underway! So we waited. Then we heard that the internet cafe was closed in Lukla and there was no service to get pictures out. So we waited. (There is no postal service in the Himalayas, it is all hand carried.)
Then I heard from Sagar through Deana. Sagar is the man who takes care of all the Mountain Mandess personel in Nepal. He also took good care of me in Kahtmandu after my evacuation. He sent the long awaited pictures of the lights burning bright in Mane’s house! And as the trekking season begins, Mane’s family is at home without him, with lights to sit in the evening and enjoy each other’s company. I will leave you with the pictures and the thought that how something that looks so easy and simple and small has changed 6 families lives high in the Himalayas of Nepal.
His name is Man Bahadur Bisworkarma. We call him Mani or Mane. He has worked this trekking season as a Sherpa for Mountain Madness, a trekking company out of Seattle. He lives in a village called Khorya in the Solokhumbu District of Nepal. I met him in Lukla when he was introduced to us among the other Sherpa that would be assisting us on our Everest Base Camp Trek.
One night we had the opportunity to spend time with the entire Mountain Madness staff. They introduced themselves and told us bits about their lives. By this time I had spent a lot of time with Mane. From the second day of the trek on, he assisted me to get to base camp. Carrying my pack. Encouraging me and always smiling that big smile. During this time of getting to know the staff, we learned that Mane is a member of a caste. That Caste is The Untouchables. Wikipedia tells us this about the Untouchables:
The Harijans or untouchables, the people outside the caste system, traditionally had the lowest social status. The untouchables lived in the periphery of the society, and handled what were seen as unpleasant or polluting jobs. They suffered from social segregation and restrictions, in addition to being poor generally. They were not allowed to worship in temples with others, nor draw water from the same wells as others. Persons of other castes would not interact with them. If somehow a member of another caste came into physical or social contact with an untouchable, he was defiled and had to bathe thoroughly to purge himself of the contagion. Social discrimination developed even among the untouchables; sub-castes among them, such as the Dhobi would not interact with lower-order Bhangis, who handled night-soil and were described as “outcastes even among outcastes.”
As a result, his family and five others were not included in receiving electrical power when power was brought to his village of Khorya.
Social norms are changing some in the region and now he and other untouchables are getting better treatment. But there are harsh consequences to having been shunned so long. One is that he and the other families would have to pay a premium to get the power company to bring them power now that it has already been brought to the village. In order to get it there will cost what is insurmountable for poor Nepalis villagers who are not educated and still struggle in the work force to get jobs.
Mane was with me every step of my trek. One day I tripped and as I was falling, he dove to catch me. Another he kept stopping me to get me to try to eat and drink. He smiled all the time and tried hard to speak as much English as he could to me. Those were longer days for him than any of the others because once I did get to our destination, he still had to jump in and assist with serving us our meals. He never got the afternoon rest and tea the others did because he was with me. Keeping me safe and walking.
Mane is a hard worker in a place where there is no shortage of hard work for low pay. We enjoy so much here and it is easy to take that for granted. He will go home at the end of trekking season and work the rest of the year trying to farm a few crops on his land, though there had been a difficult time over the last years getting much to grow. He will try to have enough money to go to Kathmandu and take an English course so that he will be able to advance in his Sherpa work. You see, he speaks very little English. In order to advance he will have to improve his English skills. That costs money.
Because of all Mani did for me, I would like to try to see what I can do to help him. We have had hard years here in the US with the economy as well. But If you have anything extra and are of a mind to help Mani and the other 5 families get the electricity they need just to do the basics, please consider donating. I have set up a donation site and anyone who wishes to donate can do so easily with just a
click. It is a secure site. Once we have the money in, it will go directly to Nepal so that the installation of the power to the Untouchables can be achieved. They will be more like the others in the village and will do the things we take for granted after dark…perhaps read, or stay up and talk without burning fuel for a light. The Donor page is right here.
Here is a picture of Mane’s house:
Today we got up early and prepared to depart base camp. I was feeling ok and had achieved a dream…but there is a long way to go. My feet were tingling and my right hand was real cold. It had escaped my sleeping bag during the night and my arm had gotten a bit icy. Nothing really more than like when you are a kid and play outside too long in the snow. But uncomfortable none the less.
Mani was already gone from camp, so Nadja and Kadji left with me ahead of the bunch. The plan for the trek today was to head for Peroche. But the Heli Pad was finished and we were all headed there first because we were told a Heli was coming in. Big excitement for Base Camp at 17,500 feet up! As we all
gathered and were told how far to stay back, I took a perch on Kadji’s back pack and was just right for the view. It was cold but as the sun came up over the high Himalaya‘s warmth immediately took over that feeling and it was quite comfortable sitting out on the glacier.
Soon we could hear the wafting of the Heli blades from far down the canyon. Everyone began to chatter to one another. The Heli came in, circled and went off. Then You could hear someone say..”no…..cannot go that fast….cannot go that fast…..”. Then the Heli came over again and made another circle and touched down. Everyone was covering their faces from the wash of the blades. The men jumped out and
took off some supplies and then gave a signal. Suddenly, Kadji grabbed one of my arms and Deana the other and lifted me from my comfortable spot. Mani had my duffel and my pack and they were both tossed into the Heli just ahead of me. Just that fast the door was closed behind me and I was lifting off in what was the first Medi-lift of the 2012 Everest Climbing Season. My whole team was below me waving as I was taken from my beloved Glacier.
You see, what I did not tell you was that I was so exhausted and so low on O2 when I had arrived the night before that Deana, my Mountain Madness Guide, had serious concerns about me. She gave me options about walking out much slower, as our pace was to pick up over the coming days, and I had no extra energy as it was. That would leave me alone in the mountains with a Sherpaat Tea Houses as my energy allowed. I would miss my international flight
and have little support going out. That seemed like a far less safe way home than to be shipped out via Heli. Very serious stuff up here in the Khumbu. I borrowed a phone and we called my Brother, Joe, to let him know what was going on. I ate soup. lots of soup. But still was not able to really eat anything else. The food was so good, too!
My roommate had laid out my bag and pad and pretty much everything was done for me. I spent the night listening to the ice crack and the avalanches and knowing tat in the morning I was leaving on a heli and would never see or feel any of this again. I fought the feeling of failure and knowing that some would look at this trip in that way. But they didn’t have boots on the ground, up and down the mountains. They did not have my dream so they cannot end my dream. I was cold at times and could not get real comfortable, but that did not dampen the truth. I DID IT!
As I looked at my team mates below and lifted off into the morning sky, I had tears rolling down my cheeks. I had not got to know them the way I would have liked. I was never with them during the long days to chat and joke and build the kind of camaraderie that they built together. And I could see it. I was not left out, it was just the way it was.
Soon I was at Lukla, where we had all been what seemed eons ago, though was only 8 days. I was confused since we were supposed to be going to Katmandu. But things are never that easy in Nepal. So I stood, feeling tired and weak, aside the heli pads at Lukla watching the planes come in and out of the scariest airport ever. No real protection between me and the planes and copters wondering what would happen next.
About two hours went by and the same copter that had brought me from the glacier whisked me up again and by gosh it was the ride of a lifetime! That copter hugged hills, buzzed roof tops and dodged weather over every hill and dale between Lukla and Katmandu. It was the longest roller coaster ride of my life and thrill does not begin to define it. After and hour or more of that I was at the big airport again in Katmandu and a tiny ambulance awaited my
arrival. Along with my Mountain Madness man who rode with me to the clinic. We headed through the crowded streets of Kathmandu and the tiny siren tweeting atop the capsule was barley even audible in the loud and busy city.
But alas, we arrived at the clinic and inside I went to undergo a barrage of testing. Blood samples were drawn and and ECG performed. Funny thing that ECG. Giant Frankenstein like clamps were attached to each ankle and wrist. Then funny little suction cups around my chest. The paper feeding through the machine sounded loud as a chain saw. I felt like the machinery was right out of the 50’s. (But I also felt awful and dirty having had no shower since Namche Bazaar.) The doctor ordered IV and some juice! So I lie in the bed in a funny little room that seemed to house two such beds with a separator curtain along with odds and ends of furniture from other parts of the facility. But it was clean and comfortable.
A nurse came to talk to me. She was a Sherpa woman. She went to school with Babu Chiri Sherpa‘s second eldest daughter. Her own father had died some years earlier leading men up Everest. It is common here if you are of the Sherpa people to have family on that mountain.
I spent the day sleeping the sleep you have when you are in a car. When the IV’s had run all of their healing juices into my veins they turned me loose. Sagar came and got me and followed my cab to the Yak and Yeti. I showered. Boy did I shower. I went and ate and came up to my room and went to bed. It was raining hard. There was lightning in the very skies I had just cone through a few hours before. I though of my friends in the mountains coming down and I was sad not to be with them. The rain beat down on the windows. and I smiled. I had done it. I had made it to Base Camp. I do not know all that it means to me yet, but I do know it means more than I can articulate here. Oh, and yeah. I am getting pictures in again. More later!