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On the way back to Kathmandu

Tak­ing Care of Our Staff

Head­ing up a trip means not only car­ing for 8 – 18 clients but also keep­ing an eye on 15 – 80 Nepali staff. At lunch I looked over to see Mani, one of our won­der­ful sher­pa client escorts, scratch­ing his stom­ach. Then I saw him do it again…and some­thing looked wrong to me. I called over in Nepali, Why are you scratch­ing there? Do you have a wound?” Mani has a fan­tas­tic smile – a smile every group notices and loves – but this time his grin was sheep­ish as he nod­ded yes.”


I walked over and asked to see it, so he raised his shirt for 1.5 sec­onds to reveal a 5″ patch of scaly pso­ri­at­ic skin – and scratched again. Stop scratch­ing. Let me see that.” Sure enough, that does not look good. Our trip depends on the health of our Nepali staff. In addi­tion to always bring­ing some tasty snacks to keep them hap­py, I keep an eye on every­one’s health – espe­cial­ly because I know that Nepali men are unlike­ly to even men­tion any kind of health issue. They don’t com­plain, and they also don’t want to take any chance of being sent down and los­ing work. 

Me: How long have you had that?

Mani: Two to three months

Me: It itches?

Mani: YES!

Me: Did you go to the doctor?

Mani: Yes.

Me: What did he say?

Mani: It’s an ear.

Me: An ear?

Mani: An ear.

Me, con­fused: An ear??

Mani: An ear.

Some­one else: A snake. 

Me: Oh…nag (a snake), not nak (an ear). Okay.

Me again: A snake?? (still confused)

Mani: Yes.

Some­one else: Who did you show it to?

Mani: The shaman.

Me: Ohh­hh. Now I under­stand. The shaman said it was a snake spirit?

Mani, grow­ing more sheep­ish: Yes.

Me: Has it gone away? 

Mani: No.

Me: You need to go to the local hos­pi­tal and ask them.

Oth­ers: Yes, you need to go to the hospital.

Mani: I did.

Oth­ers: What did they say?

Mani: They gave me some med­i­cine cream.

Me: Did you use it?

Mani: Yes. Then I lost it.

So it goes in Nepal. Dawa and I dic­tate his future course of action because he’s only 20, and we’re respon­si­ble for him:

1. No scratch­ing – it will spread.

2. This is hydro­cor­ti­sone cream – use it 3 times a day.

3. Day after tomor­row when we reach Luk­la, you go to the local hos­pi­tal for a pro­fes­sion­al opinion.

4. When you have a prob­lem, don’t hide it. We car­ry all this med­i­cine for ANY prob­lems, for our Nepali staff too. You’ve been car­ry­ing a full first aid kit for 10 days – let’s use it. You are a sher­pa (high­er up on the team hier­ar­chy). You have to set an exam­ple. If you don’t tell us when there is a prob­lem, a porter cer­tain­ly won’t tell us. Got it? 

Mani under­stands – and so do the rest of the team who have heard it all and seen us give him the medicine. 

Me: Any­body else have a prob­lem they haven’t told me about?

Some­one: Yes, sister.

Me: Real­ly? What is it?

Some­one: This guy just spilled hot oil on his foot at lunch and has a burn with blisters.…

Me: What???

And so it goes.…I’m not a doc­tor, but I play one on the trail. Or maybe I play moth­er, because for the next three days I’m reg­u­lar­ly ask­ing, Did you use the med­i­cine?”, Is it still itch­ing?”, Have those blis­ters opened up? Try not to break them…” 

Leav­ing base camp

Descend­ing in one day what took us three to climb, we re-cross 3 small bridges, 2 large glac­i­ers, and 1 rock­slide until we are skip­ping over stones on the broad and windy plain of Pheriche. At 14,000 ft., breath­ing comes eas­i­ly now, appetites have returned, and sleep is sol­id. Back in a hab­it­able, if not quite hos­pitable, landscape.

Towards Pheriche

Pang­boche Vil­lage and Monastery

Pang­boche is home to a 600-year-old monastery (the first in the Khum­bu Val­ley). Built around a rock where a famous lama once med­i­tat­ed, the dim inte­ri­or is filled with old stat­ues, crum­bling relics, wrath­ful deities behind locked doors, and the exag­ger­at­ed faces of carved masks used in rit­u­al sum­mer dances.

Monastery inte­ri­or. Blan­dine Fay­olle photo

Men from this vil­lage, as from all in the area, are leav­ing their homes and fam­i­lies for the start of climb­ing sea­son. It’s not sur­pris­ing that we find three old lamas con­duct­ing a short cer­e­mo­ny for pro­tec­tion in this dan­ger­ous work. No one starts a jour­ney or under­takes a risky ven­ture in Nepal with­out a bless­ing first. Near­ly every Sher­pa going high on the moun­tain will pay for a cer­e­mo­ny at their home monastery in addi­tion to the bless­ing the lamas will con­duct for each and every group at base camp.

Pang­boche lama