Eight days out on our trek. I begin with the personal, which always begins with us: lungs are sometimes struggling, mostly mine, but overall are well at 10,000 feet which we trekked, as we call it, up to from 7,000 feet, but the rest of the Nepalese call it walking and many do it in flip flops or crocs; bellies aching, from food, water or altitude, hard to tell (both of us); altitude migraines off and on (me, but doing much better); loss of appetite from sickness and altitude (both of us). Had our first good meal in a while after 4 days (sticking to boiled eggs and potatoes) and it stayed put. Played with village children at lunch. Gary showed them all of his tricks with coins, and I did finger games. It ensued in a “can you do this” in Nepali and English. Lots of laughter.
Pulling out of the sickness today…arriving here, in this here that I could not fathom in all of my poetic imagination, in this here that only walking reaches, walking over rocks, and down what appears to be drains, and up little mountain goat paths, walking through pine forests with pines 30 feet tall, walking past Buddhist stupas and Mani walls and rocks, chiseled with the sacred words in Tibet Om Mani Padme Hum and we pause, each time, and do the clockwise rounds, even though our young Nepali/Sherpa guides profess no Buddhist inclinations; walking past villages with no indoor plumbing or running water and villagers who tell me that the electricity and running outdoor spigot from the mountain streams bless their lives, walking and gathering blessings and expelling the ink of expectation that mark my footprints as I go.
My goodness, the West has sterilized us into frail specimens. Cannot drink the milk, even a drop in our tea. Cannot drink the water or even put it on our toothbrushes. Cannot eat fresh fruits or vegetables, and still we get sick and need more blankets and more heat (no one heats here even though it is 20-50 degrees; they make one small wood fire in our honor each evening filling the wood stove only once) and more hot water (no hot water comes from the faucets) and please are there more comforts…in a place of so little of more and so much more of what cannot be measured.
And the people, the landscape, the sun, the wind. The air is dry and full of stories and time. I have often said that Nantucket air is manna. This air here is not. It is more like poetry or a dance. It carries one far back in time, touching the feet of sacred storytellers on the way. It blesses, caresses, and caravans.
The sun, I turn my face to it and know it can touch my smallness and emptiness and lack. My brother told me about altitude and UV rays and I try to hear his voice over the voice of the gods while I lean against the many, many cut rocks of Junebesi, named so because June means moon and the moon came down and inscribed her image on a rock- letting the sun rearrange the substance of my soul. I do not have to ask.
Our young guide Tsering has fast become a trusted companion. His kindness, thoughtfulness and patience with us as we had to slow our pace has been beyond his training. He answers all my questions. Tsering was born in Kathmandu. Tsering would like to leave Nepal and live in the USA. He feels it is too hard here to make and save money. There are other problems.
His friend Passon has also joined us. Passon says he would not leave his country even if he could. He loves his motherland and wants to make it better. He is from a small village. He helps people, like with their farming or when they have troubles. He is 21 years old. He walks and walks. If we arrive at a village and his home village is 5 hours walk away, he goes home for the night. “See you in the morning” Tsering interprets for us. See you then Passon. Travel Safe. Supayatra.
Tserling and Passon are Sherpa. Both of their last names are Sherpa, as are the last names of all Sherpa people. Our trek takes us to Sherpa villages each day. Each day we climb higher. Each day we meet more of these generous, hard working, welcoming people who live and work largely without windows, on cement floors, single bulbs over their heads, scrubbing and hauling (sometimes over 60 pounds of supplies strapped to their backs up these mountain paths) and walking and walking and smiling and giving and visiting to drink refill after refill of Sherpa tea (milk, black tea, salt).
The Sherpa people came to Nepal in the 13th and 14th centuries from the Kham region of eastern Tibet. There are said to be around 155,000 Sherpa people in Nepal today with 3,000 in the USA, the largest population being in NYC. The Sherpa people have their own oral language. The monks are the only ones who write it out phonetically in Tibetan. Many of the young people are not carrying on the tradition of speaking the language when they leave the villages for the cities, which many do. Some worry that the language will die. It is not taught in the schools.
The Sherpa people also have specific Vajrayana Buddhist holidays, a tradition dress, way of marrying, naming their children, burying their dead and praying. I will get to all of this by the by.
We visited a Buddhist monastery above Junebesi. The only way there was, well, walking. Up, of course. There were Mani Walls and Mani Rocks lining the path as one approached the Monastery. The walls are man-made, small coffin like structures, 4’ by 25’ long lined with etched stone slabs that say Om Mani Padme Hum written in Tibetan. The Mani Rocks are huge rocks upon which is inscribed the same. One is supposed to walk clockwise around these structures, gently touching the words which purifies the self. Sometimes when the walking up is difficult and my lungs burn, I say Om Mani Padme Hum for each step and I arrive, by the by.
The many prayer flags fluttered in the wind that never stops as we approached the monastery. Prayer flags are as ubiquitous as telephone wires in the States. There are 5 colors representing the 5 elements to keep them in balance: blue for the sky, white for the air, red for fire, green for water and yellow for the earth. You know, there are no school or mass shootings in Nepal. Not only are guns illegal; maybe the elements are somewhat in balance too.
Though the Sherpa people are famous for being mountaineers and porters, and indeed some are quite skilled at this trade, they are a people of many trades, as is every people. They are teachers and masons and cooks and mothers and fathers and children and electricians, doctors and lawyers and monks, etc.
Of course, Sherpa people are also famous mountaineers and honor the mountains and water as having special, god-like qualities. They call Mt. Everest, the Mother of the World, and have names for other mountains as well. The first western man to climb Everest, Sir Edmund Hillary, did so with Tenszig Sherpa.
When we can see and feel and hear outside of our own consuming body systems, which grows more frequent, we are happy here, sitting beneath the Mother of the World, Mt. Everest, Chomolungma. She tells us new things each day, when we have the courage to listen. Sometimes we do. I will tell you more about her gifts another day.