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:
After my epic blister hike of Saturday, I wanted to be more pragmatic about my preparation going forward. I decided I needed to know everything about this trek I was embarking on and in doing so, better plan the remaining 8 1/2 months of training to get there. By reading the Mountain Madness itinerary, and another base camp trek blog I searched out, I was able to analyze the trip and thus get a clearer picture of what I was in for. I would actually be hiking about 80 miles with 12 days of actual hiking going on. There are two days of rest built-in, but from what I gather, rest means hiking. The only difference is, you are not making progress toward the destination, just going up and down to acclimatize. I would be breathing at altitudes that ranged from 73% Oxygen, (known as O’s for the lingo savvy) down to about 50% O’s. See. I am savvy. Here is what I found:
Day 1: Descend 650 feet, breath 73% O’s, travel 3 miles.
Day 2: Ascend 2600 feet, breath 64% O’s, travel 6 miles
Day 3: Ascend 1587, breath 60% O’s, travel 6 miles.
Day 4: Ascend 1363 feet, breath 57% O’s, travel 5 miles.
Day 5: Ascend 2200 feet, breath 53% O’s, travel 4.5 miles.
Day 6: Ascend 850 feet, breath 52% O’s, travel 10 miles.
Day 7: Ascend 1500 feet, descend 1500 feet, breath 50% O’s.
Day 8: Ascend 575 feet, travel 3.2 miles.
Day 9: Descend 575 feet travel 3.2 miles.
Day 10: Descend 2400 feet.
Day 11: Descend 3300 feet.
Day 12: Descend 1950 feet, travel 9 miles.
I still have some research to find some info to fill in toward the end of the return, but clearly, this is going to be a knee crushing, leg whipping, lung busting adventure!