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?
Me: Did you go to the doctor?
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)
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?
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.…
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.
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.