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Expatriate in Kuala Lumpur – a woman's walkabout – Elizabeth Goodhue

When you leave you must remember to come back for the others. A circle, understand? You will always be Esperanza. You will always be Mango Street. You can’t erase what you know. You can’t forget who you are. – Sandra Cisneros

My Second Passage to India


peacock-in-indiaAsk me

People like to compare places. Would you say that India is like Vietnam, Cambodia, Malaysia, Mexico, the U.S.? How does one compare India to anything? India is India. Ask me a question that lets me pour some of India into your soul. Ask me about the contrasts of color, people, nature, plastic and poverty, but don’t ask me to compare. boys-on-the-road

Ask me about the woman on her way to Sri Lanka who would “never go to India; where men grab at the women and rob them blind. Where danger lurks behind every corner.” How do people get through life thinking that way? I forget that some people think I am a brave and gallant traveler who hopped on a plane to Mexico three years ago to find “home” but has yet to return to the comforts of New England. I am not brave, spirited yes, but I associate bravery with gallantry, valor, and nerve, not with the hapless delving into other worlds that I do.

A different approach

Delving was not my approach to this trip to India. The man with whom I went to the Everest Base Camp (not to be confused with summiting Mt. Everest) encouraged me several times to join the Happy Hiker India trip. At first, I was reluctant, I am not a group person, as Ganesan would be the first to point out. It turns me inside out to be in a group. conoor-traffic-monkey-2After three or four pushes from Ganesan, I relented and joined the 27-member tour of Southern India. Since it was with the Happy Hikers, I trusted it would be something that it didn’t turn out to be, but that doesn’t mean that it was not a splendid experience. Despite the fact that the cluster of women on the trip whose priority was shopping drove the trip, I managed, as usual, to hop off the bus and explore the nooks and crannies of India, while others pursued their interests.

Mudumalai National Park

We bounced about in a government jeep early one morning. The forest shared the blue hue so familiar to me from new England hikes in the winter minus the cold. The shopping women in the back were so loud that the driver had to remind them that we were scaring the animals away.

As we inched through the forest sanctuary, part of me yearned to be walking in this emptiness, but I appreciated that I could be there at all. Although I get down on India’s lack of infrastructure when it comes to hiding the trash as well as we Americans do, India’s efforts to preserve the wildlife there touched me. My thoughts were rewarded when we saw an elephant taking its morning drink in a shallow pond at the base of a ravine.Elephant Seeing an elephant in the wild is an honor, and on this trip, I was granted that honor several times. This elephant was undisturbed, peaceful, and graceful. The scene was so still, and I could imagine this animal’s solitary life as he swayed out of the pond and into the manicured landscape, which reminded me of the woods I used to tromp through growing up in New York.

Elephants in India

20170128_180504All of the elephants that I have seen up until now have been captive. Hindus revere Ganesh, the elephant god who removes obstacles and carries the attributes of strength, honor, stability and tenacity. Most of the captive elephants that I have seen lumber through India’s crazy streets carrying barefoot men or stay chained by one leg to a post at the bottom of a temple’s 700 steps eating bananas or wads of rice shoved into their mouths by their owners. elelisa cropped

On my trip to Northern India last year, Dolores and I rode two elephants who had been rescued from the circus. The story went something like this. Years ago, royalty owned a herd of elephants. A caste cared for the elephants from generation to generation. But when the dynasty dissolved, the elephants were sold into labor and circus acts where their keepers brutally abused them until someone called a halt to elephants in the circus. When the elephants were released, there was no question that they return to the next generation of royal elephant keepers.

A Cultural Safari

After the morning safari, three of us we took off from our place on the edge of the reserve to walk into the town of Masinagudi. We passed by washerwomen and fishermen at the riverbank and never-ending piles of plastic that continue to swallow India. 20170129_10260820170129_102705

Hope your road is a long one.

May there be many summer mornings when,

with what pleasure, what joy,

you enter harbors you’re seeing for the first time;

may you stop at Phoenician trading stations

to buy fine things,

mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,

sensual perfume of every kind—

as many sensual perfumes as you can;

and may you visit many Egyptian cities

to learn and go on learning from their scholars.

20170129_112307Masinagudi’s small main street had its version of “pearls, corals, ebony and sensual perfumes” with its goat’s heads at the butcher shop gazing beyond the long line of chicken butchers on the other side of the street. 20170129_114803Women in bright saris women waited in line while the butcher pulled one live chicken after the other from its cage and de-limbed it on a runny red slab of wood. Men carried away livers and legs, but the women stuffed the live chickens in their bags for later execution.

20170129_112612We wandered up a hill off of the main drag of the town to find India in its vibrant pink, purple, turquoise, and striking white houses, amidst white-toothed children as curious about us as we were of them.  We bought a bunch of bananas and discovered that cows, dogs, monkeys, and birds eat them skin and all20170129_11215020170129_113550

Seeing women in their brilliant saris, the men in their lungi and the openness of the poverty that surrounds them baffles me. Living this way, and smells that curl my nostril hairs is understandable on a certain level. This is their normal. It is the contrast that astounds me: the brilliance of the people, their clothing, and their smiles. I am the anomaly for them, wandering through their village with my Samsung while the men, women, and children stare at my long, white, uncovered limbs and titter behind polite hands.20170129_110935

Hiding Poverty in America 20170128_072214

20170129_111023 20170129_111555 20170129_111804India doesn’t hide its poverty and its pollution the way that Americans do. I know we have the same amount of plastic, maybe less poverty, but it’s still there hiding behind the dumpsters, or in those secret landfills where They take our non-recyclables and nuclear waste. We Americans just take better care to filter it, which has its merits. Our infrastructure provides our country with a means to deposit its waste, finish its roads, and clean its public toilets, but that is not to say that it doesn’t exist. woman-and-daughter1

The rawness and honesty in India give me a realistic sense of the state of the world. India opens my eyes wide open to humanity, which is glorious and colorful, wretched and raw. India is loud and chaotic, soft and spiritual, ancient and wise.india-fish-man-and-motorcycle

The Tea Nest

We non-shoppers left the Tea Nest in Conoor reluctantly after a peaceful night on a tea plantation. We had spent the short evening before meandering through the tea plantation as the sun set. We twisted our way through the paths that the tea pickers make as they pluck one ripe tea leaf after the next and deposit them into their white burlap bags. We came upon a group of pickers – all women – weighing their day’s labor. Then they broke camp and left where they would start again in the morning.20170130_165544 20170130_165556 20170130_165622 20170130_165635

We continued upward until we reached the top of the endless rows of tea, and bought tea and eucalyptus oil at a tea stand on the roadside. Meanwhile, I had to spend this time finding discrete places to take care of my India belly. Indian food is rich and eating it night after night takes its toll. I learned that sticking to veggie fried rice has its merits.

Despite my stomach, wandering back through the tea plantation we came upon several bisons on our path. tea-bison 20170130_175149We were not quite sure how they would feel about us, so we dodged them by taking a narrow path to the road where we met up with another bison. These animals are giants with threatening horns, but they seem more concerned with the grass on the roadside than they did with us. Two schoolboys returning home seemed relaxed enough about the bison, so we let it lumber past without consequence. bison

All the places I will go

As I strongly consider leaving Asia this June, I can’t believe how unaware I was of how other people live, how ignorant and shallow my perspective of the world was before I came here. Raised in an isolated and privileged world of country clubs and private schools, the closest I got to India was through Burnett, Kipling, and later, E.M. Forester. I, like these British authors, was captivated by India. Now their influence is buried behind the mask of what India truly is. Shrouded in the myths of religion and the past, poverty, food and color, India is a sensory experience that hopefully will stay with me if I return to New England. 20170130_174809

Since I left Mexico, my adventures have taken on a different flavor and mood. I am not charging forth as much. Instead, I am absorbing the world in a way that I never have before. India has left me full of wonder for a second time.

mudhumalai-sanctuary9I think of all of the places that I have not been – the Middle East, Russia, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, South America, Africa, and the bits and pieces that I have missed on my travels—knowing that I have only scratched the surface of the world.

 

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bird-of-paradise

Attention Span: Technology – Friend Or Foe?


Want to know whether technology helps or harms your learners’ Attention Span? Check about Attention Span and whether technology is your friend or foe.

Source: Attention Span: Technology – Friend Or Foe?

Choice


Then she mentioned that her son and daughter-in-law were not sure if they were going to keep the baby. They were weighing their options. They hadn’t made the choice.

Source: Choice

The Winnowing Fan dilemma


Being an expatriate is my normal.

I have a feeling that I have always been one, even in my own country. It is my normal to feel like a foreigner. Being an American in Asia or Mexico makes my foreignness more obvious, because of the language and the color of my skin. Living in New England makes it easy to hide the foreigner in me.

How small is America?

Living and traveling in Southeast Asia, makes me realize how small America is. While you, we, are grappling with the election of our new president (He Who Shall Not Be Named), he is a passing fancy here. Here in Malaysia, America is no big deal. When locals ask me where I live, I usually say on the New York side or the opposite side from California. Sometimes, I just say I live near Canada. Most of the time people just cannot imagine where that might be.

I’ll admit that as an American I always felt privileged, maybe a step above the rest of the world. Living among expatriates in Kuala Lumpur has made me realize that I am not. Nor am I the center of the universe, which may seem obvious to you, but it took me a while to realize that.

Missing

Still, I find myself missing my country. The regularity of starting my car on a cold winter day. Wondering whether I will make it out of the driveway if I get enough traction as I charge our of the garage full bore. I miss going to Twelve Pine for a latte. I miss crashing around the woods with Beth. I miss lunch at Plowshare Farm. I miss clipping on my cross country skis and skiing out of my basement door in a raging snowstorm.

Do I want to come back?

I miss the normalcy of my New England life. The question is can I sustain the personal and emotional growth that I have gained in the past two and a half years, or would I slither back into my old skin again.

Do I want to come back?

Yes. I want to come back and live in a room with a kitchen, a bed, and a bathroom. I want to live in the woods, off the grid and write.

Can I come back?

I certainly have taken risks before. I am capable of doing anything. But I’ll need a car. I’ll need to pay first and last month’s rent. Oh and I’ll need a job. Isn’t it funny how leaving the country was so easy, so dynamic, unpredictable and challenging, but grappling with a possible return stops me dead in my tracks? All of my protectors leap out at me and yell be careful, it’s not the way you think it is, you will fall into a rut again, you can’t teach, you can’t earn a living writing, you will end up right where you started two and a half years ago. But I can keep them at bay. I have taken to propping those voices on my shoulder and telling them to settle down and watch me take care of myself.

Plant the oar

I finally get it when Tiresias gives Odysseus the oar and tells him that after he returns to Ithaka he will have to go somewhere far away and plant the oar in a place where no one has ever seen one before. It’s because Odysseus is not that person anymore. He made it back to Ithaka a different man, and Ithaka was not the same either. Plant the oar, plant your old self somewhere far away and your return will be complete.

So I can go back. I can take my oar with me. And after I have settled into my life there, I can pick up my oar and take it to say, Louisiana or Kansas, and plant it there. Because home is in my heart. I know that it is not in Peterborough, Katonah, or Kuala Lumpur.

It sounds so simple.

Why is it so hard?

 

 

 

Acclimatizing


Acclimatizing in Dingboche (October 5, 2016)

We hiked through thin air and dense fog. Intermittently, the sun pushed the clouds away to reveal a majestic mountain peak for a fleeting moment. Everything inside of me was breathing  — my stomach, my eyes, the blood in my head. We climbed to 5,100 meters taking baby steps up the mountain with little oxygen.

When we returned to the tea house, I just lay back in the sun and let it burn my headache away to a dull functional throb. The cure for an altitude headache is to lie in the sun and wind until it dissipates. It may take 2 cups of masala tea, two pieces of buttered toast as well. Tomorrow 5,100 meters.

Feeling the Altitude in Second-person (October 6, 2016)

As you approach your final destination, your head starts to throb, and you place one foot in front of the other with every effort you can – baby stepping it but slower. Then you go inside and you’re not sure what to do, so you take ibuprofen and sit outside to will away the headache. Then you can stumble back inside and sit still, still, still and close your eyes willing the oxygen back into your blood.

You go to take a piss in a hole in the ground that smells like everyone-who-has-passed-through-here’s piss, and you can’t squat because your knees are too stiff. Your piss hits everything but the hole, mostly your shoes and socks. Since your ass is so high in the air, your piss starts to trickle down your thermal underwear. You decide that today will be the day that you throw away the underwear that you have been wearing since Namche Bazar where you had your last shower and changed your first pair.

You get your sleeping bag and wrap your damp, sweaty and piss-laden body in it as if it might actually help get you warm. You force yourself to order potato soup because if you have another cup of garlic soup you will die. You realize that the grey liquid floating in the bowl in front of you is garlic broth with some uncooked potatoes in the bottom, and you cannot eat it because as the oxygen tries to creep back into your bloodstream, it makes you want to vomit everything else out of your system.

You lean your head back against the window and fold into a semiconscious state. You open one eye and it doesn’t seem so bad, and by the time you open the other you start to hear someone talking about horses, so you join in realizing that you can talk now and it makes you feel better.

You realize that the sky is blue and if you go outside you might catch a glimpse of a towering mountain peak. But that would mean putting on your shoes, which are all the way on the floor near your feet. You remind yourself that you should drink water by the liter-full, but you pack is over there and you cannot ask anyone to bring it to you because they cannot move either. So you do it, you drag your soggy backpack toward you and perch it on the bench closest to the light and take a sip, then rest.

While doing this you hear some American-sounding English on your left and you just have to invite in that sweet sound with more conversation even if it is about sports. Four pm is the magic hour for the yak dung fire to be lit. You get that delicious Mad River Glen after-ski glow when your itchy wool hat can come off and you actually considering peeling your socks off your puckered white feet.

This is the time of the day, when people sit around, talk, play cards, which vary internationally with clubs called crosses and the queen of spades the black bitch.

October 9, 2016 (Sunday) Lobuche to Everest Base Camp

After we sent two of our team off in a helicopter with AMS, I took our team leader aside and told him that I could not make it to base camp. I could walk a little way, but then I needed a day before we moved on to the base camp. He seemed fine with that, and I knew that Danya, who was more sick than I was, was relieved. When we reached Gorak Shep (5,140 meters/16,863), I was clear about not making the now two-hour trek to base camp. I was so sick at this point I did not care. Since there was no sun, my sun treatment was no longer a remedy. It was not hard for our team leader to convince me to make the two-hour trek to base camp. After all, I had come that far…

Making it to Everest Base Camp

The highlight of the Everest Base Camp was a little pink bird that did not want to fly. He was more beautiful and peaceful than the gigantic cairn where people took turns taking selfies and group photos for Facebook. I felt little pride or sense of accomplishment. My anticlimax was heightened by the realization that I had to make a two-hour trek back to Gorak Shep. I do not know why I thought there would be a teahouse waiting for us at base camp. We slogged our way back for two hours.

That night when I drew a thick blanket over my sleeping bag and tried to keep the blood pulsing in my temples at bay I prayed, which is not what I do. I took the only prayer I know (the serenity prayer) and I repeated it to the rhythm of my pounding head.

Why?

By the time we reached the town below Gorak Shep, I looked at Danya and said, let’s ask for a helicopter. At this point, I was vomiting and walking at a snail’s pace. I wanted the relief of lying in the hospital, breathing thick air and pumping IV fluids into my veins until I felt better again.

I baby-stepped it to the next stop repeating the serenity prayer the entire way. I do not think that I was accepting the things that I could not change, and at that point, courage was not a part of my vocabulary, and I had left my wisdom with the pink bird at Base Camp or somewhere before.

Irony

The great irony – you knew it was coming didn’t you – was that we did the trek so quickly that we finished three days early. Our leader had followed a typical regimen for acclimatization, one that would fit most hikers. For some reason, it did not fit Danya and me. For the first time in my life, I was asking someone to slow down. For the first time in my life, I was the last one in line because I couldn’t move any faster.

This irony was a good lesson for me. Should we have gone slower? Maybe, maybe not. Altitude sickness is not something anyone can control or predict, it just happens. Two out of the six of us who started the trek showed no signs of it at all. They could have gone faster or slower and gotten altitude sickness, but they didn’t.

In the midst of feeling so horrible I wrote, adventures should be fun, not so ridiculously challenging that they make you sick. Trekking to Everest Base Camp challenged me beyond my capacity. It taught me how very small I am in this universe of glaciers, and rivers that start as tiny rivulets from a leaking glacier and turn into raging rivers to be crossed by swaying suspension bridges.

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Namaste


Last Day of the Everest Base Camp Trail Trek

I lost my group. As we left the double suspension bridge, double suspension.jpgwe took a different path simply because it went down. The idea of going up was not something any one of us was willing to do if we had a choice. Peri had gone ahead at his steadfast pace. Ganesan and I were staying with Danya who was sick with fever, vomiting, and delirium. I went ahead to relieve myself after a yak team passed by us and that was the last I saw of my group for most of that day.

 

yaks-on-suspension-bridgeThe trail was empty, which is unheard of especially this far down when the faint-of-heart have not yet given up. I ran into one more yak team and their driver, which did not surprise me because I was walking in a mire of Yak shit. I ran into an Australian coming from Lukla, so I knew I would eventually end up in the right place.

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The trail was beautiful and woodsy, interrupted by waterfalls flowing through it. At the next suspension bridge, I looked down the way that I should have come – a bright, sunny, flat trail that ran along the river. This was not the first time that I had opted for the more challenging path in my life. Perry was not there, so I assumed that I must have fallen quite far behind due to my detour, which seemed much longer than the pleasant river stroll, which I could have opted for. I waited at the bridge for about 20 minutes to confirm my conclusion.

river-from-bridge

 

I happened upon a town five minutes from the bridge and peered into every tea house and café along the way to find my compadres. Then I stopped to take some tea on a wall outside of a little hovel where a woman and her daughter said they would deliver some tea. It was so warm and sunny there that I forgot to think of the yaks.

 

yaks-drinking-teaYaks have the right of way – always. When a team of them approached me while I sat on the wall drinking milk tea, I dodged into the doorway so as not to be pushed off of my perch. The head yak stopped to take a lick out of the sugar bowl next to my tea. I threw an almond at it to get it to move on without much effect. With a whistle from his master, the yak moved on without getting a sweet taste of my tea.

us

I still had a residual fear that my group would be angry with me for dashing ahead if I was ahead, so I started telling people if they saw an Indian man and woman in green coats walking along, they should say that the American was ahead of them.

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High-end toilet

The more I thought about it, I realized that there was no way that Danya could have gotten that far ahead of me in her condition, so I took a pit stop, ordered some potatoes and two cups of tea and waited. I took note of where I was: Solukhumba – Riverview Lodge. And waited. And waited for two hours before I saw Perry’s green jacket and Ganesan’s orange pants bobbing down the trail.

prayer-rocks2

We put Danya on a horse to Lukla and continued well behind her on foot.

Bouncing from Namche Bazar to Lukla

2016-10-07-09-18-53It felt good to breath more easily with each meter that I descended. I danced across suspension bridges without trepidation, managed to piss without hitting my shoes or socks, made way for yaks and porters. I experienced my journey in reverse.

rhododenron-path

My favorite parts of the trek were below the tree line in the Rhododendron Forest where I could peek through the trees and the clouds to see Everest once on the way up and once on the way down. On the way down, the sky was the most brilliant and clear than it had been on the whole trip. When we got to Tengboche, the sky blew open and free of clouds. I could see the monastery where we had attended a prayer and tea drinking ceremony in a thick fog on our way up. I could see the bakery where we had eaten some of the best apple pie that I have ever tasted. AND I could see Everest in all of its majesty. Everest is almighty because it is Everest, but I found its sister and brother mountains to be just as spectacular. The unpredictable cloud cover made the mountains grander because I never knew if, or when, they would reveal themselves. When they did they were awe-inspiring.

While I danced down the mountain as people trudged up, I understood the lightness I had seen in people coming down as I had trudged toward base camp. Now I weaved among the yaks knowingly. I plunged through their dung and felt charged by my ever-increasing supply of oxygen.

The end

Have I changed? Of course. Would I ever do it again? NEVER – well, probably never.

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The third world continues to overwhelm me, but it is easier to digest in the mountains where beautiful people move in sync with the earth using every resource they can find — the river to wash their clothes, grass to cover the fertile soil, yak dung for warmth, tourists for profit.

laundry

Men work as porters bearing weight that exceeds their body weight. Women run tea houses. They also take the time to plant colorful gardens with marigolds and bright red flowers that peer over the stone walls that line the trail. The poverty is clean and quiet, unseemly and home grown. It is a subsistence lifestyle.

red-flowers

In Kathmandu, women and children buzz recklessly in dusty clouds on motorbikes tooting their horns at nothing, cows amble through the city not knowing which trash heap to lick. At the temple beggars with amputated everything lie twitching in the sun, and I wonder who placed them there so strategically. The beauty of a temple turns into a scam. I didn’t notice any prayer flags flapping in Kathmandu. Is there nothing to pray for in this wretched contrast to where I have been?img_3808

I wonder what the great Buddha thinks. The same Buddha whose eyes scan the peaks of the Himalayas from pale stone shrines along the Everest Base Camp trail watching people from all over the world make their pilgrimage to the great mother mountain.

what-would-buddah-think

Namaste.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Looking down on the world


Tuesday, October 3 (Tengboche)

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Rhododendron Forest

The trail started in a rhododendron forest. It continued through pine forests down, down, down to the Dudh Kosi River. We crossed the river on another suspension bridge swaying to the rhythm of the wind. Lunch was in a small paddock/café.img_4002

 

Yaks and horses wandered through the village with or without burdens to bear. People from all over the world floated by – spirits of adventure from Dana Hall, Harvard, Nepal, Iran, Seattle, France, the UK, Belgium, Australia and mostly Germany. I shared a way too salty ball of Yak cheese with an Iranian man and promptly chucked the remains of it down the cliff when he wasn’t looking. We were all hearty souls on the same path.

 

The porters can carry up to 80 kilos – burdens that weigh far more than they do. They trek in anything from crocs and flip flops to worn out sneakers and hiking shoes. Their dark brown feet are black around the edges, cracked and hardened by miles of treading this path to Everest. It reminds me of a grand pilgrimage.

Stately Menimg_3971

The yak is a stately man. He looks outwards from each eye. His horns curl upward and back non-threateningly. His hooves splay with each step it takes on the hard rock. His shepherds threaten a beating with a light rope that never strikes. They drive their yaks with their voices and the yaks listen. People move aside as a team of yaks pushes up a mountain at the same delicate pace. They walk together through the street – splayed feet and eyes—not seeing but feeling the steps below them. Bells crafted for making music swing beneath their necks from far away at night.

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4,000 Meter Break at the Shomare Hilltop Lodge – October 4

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The silence is complete with only the soft sizzling of our lunch over a yak dung fire. The woman running this lodge is the widow of a Sherpa who died when so many others did in 1996. My silence is inspired by the awe that I hold for this land. aweWe all agree that if I take off my shoes, the smell will ruin the perfection of this quiet rest, so I park them outside to wait for me there.

The tourists who did not make it to Everest Base Campimg_4024

 

One half a million people make the pilgrimage to Everest Base Camp every year. Chinese tourists with tripods and selfie sticks busy themselves and their photographic impressions and Facebook status. Meanwhile, they are surrounded by a thundering river, its waves sucked under and over under and over, carving its way from Mt. Everest and Island Peak.

 

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A Nepalese man sings a song with a broad smile. The sun gives way to fog and the tree line disappears outside of the rhododendron forest where strings of moss hang lazily from bloomless, yellow-leaved branches.

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View from the Rhododendron forest

The pressure in my ears tightens as we climb higher and I carry a dull headache with me for the remainder of the trip, especially at night when my brain, craving oxygen, pulses to the point of pushing me to pray, which is not something I do, but the repetition of the serenity prayer soothes the blood path and diverts my attention elsewhere. At this point, we are inching up the trail in a shuffle.

 

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Yak dung patties

 

Yaks mew in unison with the bells clanging beneath their necks. Stacks of white rock dropped by the glacier splatter the landscape. Tidy rock walls contain the yaks who do not have the luxury of grazing that day. The yak pens are clear of their dung, which is collected and dried by women wearing yellow rubber gloves. They slap the dung into patties for burning or plugging holes in their stone structures to keep the wind out.

Is living on the subsistence level a hardship, or do we who have everything look down on a good life that has less?

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Reggae, Yaks, and a Japanese Hotel


2016 Meters

Why am I listening to Pink Floyd’s The Wall at 2016 meters in Phakding, Nepal? I am five baby hands away from Mount Everest on the map. People with souls burrowed deep in their black brown eyes flow by to the tune of Pink Floyd and Bob Marley. My companions chatter in and out of Malay and English. I sit nestled in the Himalayas, a baby cries in the silence between the next 60’s hit song. Children with smooth dark skin covered with bright red patches of weathered skin hold hands and skitter along the cobbled path. I can imagine growing up here where there are no cars and the silence is as deep as the river carved under mountains 5,000 meters high smeared with snow – towering nodules amongst swirling clouds.img_3922
This morning I spotted the Himalayas through the spinning propellers of our tiny plane as we rose to 3,600 meters.  Antoine de Saint-Exupery in Wind, Sand, and Stars writes about how when you fly you see a part of the world that no one else gets a chance to see – the land that can only be seen from a birds’ eye view.

3,440 meters

We threaded our way through town in a light rain, four fluorescent figures cloaked in Gortex. We crisscrossed the Milky River twice on wire suspension bridges, marching across canyons on air. The sweet smell of balsam and other evergreens clinging to the cliffs at 3,440 meters reminded me of home. The path is a well-worn stream of yaks, tourists, and porters stretching in front of me for as far as I can see, which would be the next destination, Panboche. On this day, it pleased me to know that I would be able to tread this path again on the way back to gain a new perspective on the majesty of the world.

The next suspension bridge that we came to hung over another one about 30 feet below. Another 100 feet below that the river merged with the Khumbu Glacier. Frayed prayer flags flew perpendicular in the wind as my steps floated with the bounce of everyone else’s step. Suspended, I wanted to capture everything around me in one breath.

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Porters, permanently stooped by loads twice their weight, sidled their way through German and Chinese tourists. They carry smooth wooden stools to prop under their butts when they need a quick rest without having to release their carefully balanced load. There is a code on the trail that those who make it all the way learn quickly: always make way for the porters out of sheer respect; move to the inside of the trail when a yak train approaches you for they too have heavy burdens to bear and little sense of doing anything else than moving forward. Young porters take on the stooped posture of their grandfathers, but you can still see the younger boys looking on with respect as their older brothers and fathers bear extreme weight for 20 dollars a day.img_3852

These heavy loads propel beasts and men forward. The yak’s feet flex with each careful step they take. Porters take sure-footed steps in flip flops, crocks, knock off hiking boots or sneakers.

The Yaks are the only traffic in town. They take the stairs like retired ballet dancers with heavy bells clanking beneath the necks. We walked up the stone path out of town at seven in the morning over-dressed in thermal underwear, which I promptly removed. A woman was sending her naks (female yaks) out to pasture. When she left them alone to make the rest of the trek up the hill, they took to nibbling the plant life on their own with little encouragement from a swinging rope and an occasional pebble missile aimed at their back end.

Waiting for the Mountain above Namche Bazar

To acclimatize, we walked up to 3,860 meters to catch a glimpse of Everest. These tall mountains are finicky about when they want to peek out from the clouds. The more you wait, the less likely they are to pop out for a moment. I feared that if I went to the toilet, I would lose the chance to see the mountain.

blue-bellsThe trees got low and sparse leaving room for bluebells and fire red leaf flowers to grown. The snow-capped mountains seemed to get bigger and higher with every step that we took. Occasionally, a gust of wind revealed a rock-faced mountain so high that it was hard to tell whether or not is was a part of the sky itself. The sky was true azure and the quiet was as soft as the air was fresh. I felt the steady nature essence that never ceases to center me — so close to the mountains and sky that I could touch them if I stretched my soul far enough. My lungs burst wide open to let the hollow space inside of me leak out slowly while the clouds brushed up the mountainside.

We headed to 3,800 meters to a Japanese hotel with a view of Everest if it felt like revealing itself. Everyone waited for a peek at the infamous mountain. Some people got impatient and left, others just left. I propped my feet on the rocks, and drank in the sun. What was out there behind the clouds was so vast and beyond me that I did not really care if I saw the mountain or not. There is something intriguing about the idea of these magic monsters hiding behind the clouds as you tromp along. Sometimes the snow on the mountain and the clouds merge and you have to look hard to confirm whether or not you really saw that mountain. I was grateful that the mountains revealed themselves to me as slowly as they did.

Flying to Lukla


The shopping tripimg_3809

When we were in Katmandu there was no way to avoid buying our supplies for the trip. All I needed was a sleeping bag, thermal underwear, gloves, a hat, a warm coat, and wind pants to complete my inventory. Aside from some socks, underwear, two t-shirts and a toothbrush, that is all anyone needs to trek the full length of the Everest Base Camp trail.

Shopping should never last more than two hours. You go into one or two stores, buy what you need and leave. I don’t squabble and bargain, I just take what I get with whatever reasonable price I can.  When it comes to camping equipment, I know what I need, and I managed to make my purchases for about 100 USD in about a half an hour. Some people look at shopping as a hobby or a passion. They love it and do it whenever they can. Some people love to shop – I like it about as much as a serving of lima beans that my mother used to force me to eat.

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Bull by the river

The group I was with had a different definition of shopping. Since I was determined to hone my team player skills, I stuck with them as they spent four hours going from shop to shop to get the best price for all of the items they could have bought in the first store.

I like efficiency. Going to five or six shops and bantering over the price of the same items when you can do that in one shop doesn’t make sense to me. I was proud of my patience as I stumbled from one small shop to the next in a torrential rain storm.

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The Kathmandu and Lukla Airports

I like third world cities about as much as I like shopping and lima beans, so it was a relief to find myself at the airport early the next morning. From what I could decipher we were going to be waiting for a while. I held twin babies, conversed with people from all over the world and soaked in the scene. I chatted with two bright Nepalese boys on their way home from boarding school for the holidays.

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Hiking gear clogged the crowded floor and provided people with backrests, people who shared the same anticipation as I did. Finally, we got the signal to go. Everything we owned, including our bodies, was weighed. Then we stepped over the baggage scale, grabbed our stuff, and made our way to waiting room two – a holding tank of eager trekkers and people journeying home.

A man sat next to me and proceeded to yell into his cell phone so loudly that I wanted to burst out laughing. I looked across the way at an Israeli man who was raising his eyebrows and grinning at the whole affair. His name was Elbenar and I quickly joined him and his girlfriend Noah. I would continue to bump into them over the course of the trek.

img_3915Then 16 of us were loaded onto a tin bus and driven out to the runway where several two prop planes waited. “Twenty minutes,” the lady in charge told us, “stay on the bus.” It wasn’t Malaysian heat, but it was pretty close. Soon we managed to leak off the bus like fried eggs eager to hop into the frying pan. I quickly found a place to pee amidst some broken down airplanes, and this would probably be my most luxurious toilet experience over the course of my journey.

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On the plane, I sat across from two Nepalese girls of about six or seven years of age traveling alone, both of whom were delighted to cash in on the sweets that were passed out along with the cotton they gave us to stuff in our ears.

 

 

img_3916There were two Germans sporting bow ties. One wore wool-blend stretchy light blue pants held up high above his waist with suspenders and a matching coat. The other sported a wool scarf. I break into a sweat simply describing them. I pegged them for teachers. I ran into them later on the trail at one of the earlier stops, I am not sure they had any idea what they were getting themselves int.img_3931

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img_3922The flight was  very Antoine de Saint-Exupery if you have ever read Wind Sand and Stars. The airstrip at Lukla is 450 meters long and 20 meters wide, ending with a large stone wall and a chain link fence. We landed on the steep uphill runway and halted within two meters of this wall, which probably would not have done much to stop us.

We started hiking immediately from the airport. We wound our way through Lukla, the starting point of the cobblestone base camp trail past Starbucks. Within a few hours, we arrived at our first tea-house where we would spend one night.

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