Friday, May 13, 2016

It's a big, complicated world, especially for women

A few years ago, I had the privilege of joining in an all-women's trekking trip in Nepal. We didn't go any higher than 12,700 feet or climb any mountain. But we did walk in the Sherpa region of the Khumbu Valley just below Mount Everest. It was high enough and rough enough to give me great respect for and considerable trepidation about those high places.

Our leader was Lhakpa Diki Sherpa pictured here. She was obviously a very esteemed athlete, the Nepalese women's mountain running champion. She had represented her country in several European races. We naturally gasped in her wake, though she simply led us carefully and competently. It was hard to suss out just what her relationship was to the porters and other guides (male) with the group. She was shy when speaking perfectly adequate English.

Her ambition, if something better didn't come along as a consequence of her athletic prowess, was to go to the capital in Kathmandu and study bookkeeping/accounting so she could always have a job. It seemed a small bore ambition for such an exceptional woman, but it was what she could see ahead.

I thought about Lhapka Diki when I read the extraordinary story in Outside of the first Nepalese woman to summit Everest and make it down alive. Lhakpa Sherpa (Sherpa names are limited) went back and climbed the big rock five more times. Yet today, she's an obscure in-home health care worker and 7-Eleven cashier in Hartford, Connecticut, raising her two children as a single woman.

Notions about women's roles, the strange and often ugly conjunction between Sherpa talent for heights and Western mountaineers who depend on the Sherpas, the Nepalese culture, and global migration make Lhakpa Sherpa's story a window on our times. Highly recommended.

When I travel, I try to remember that I am not culturally equipped to see the whole of what is going on. My interaction with Lhakpa Diki was of that sort.


Hattie said...

One of my close friends is married to a Nepalese. He is exceptionally energetic and runs an import business and is very well integrated into American life. His sister came over to the U.S. to help with my friend's twin sons, but she only stayed a few months, having found herself a better job with some prospects.
My friend's husband remarked that this young woman was getting like all the Nepalese girls-spoiled and not wanting to do her family duty any more. This is the push-back from a man who is married to a very "liberated" American woman. She says they treat her over there like a witch with superpowers, not like a "real" woman.
I've only known Nepalese of the merchant class, and they are primarily interested in money and goods.

janinsanfran said...

Fascinating, Hattie. The Sherpas seemed constitutionally warm and generous -- and very aware that they are taken advantage of, which they are. The latter reality includes by the Nepali majority who are Hindus, while the Sherpas are Tibetan Buddhists.

Hattie said...

The person and family I am talking about are Sherpas. My friend met him on a trek, where he was a guide.

Brandon said...

This story just showed up on Longreads, which I follow on FB. I was going to share it with you then I remembered you've just discussed it here.

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