Traveling is to learn that other people in other places are as precious as people you see every day. No, I've never climbed Mt. Everest, but I have trekked in Solo Kumbu, the Sherpa state in Nepal which includes Everest and the biggest mountains. Thirteen Sherpas died last week preparing the mountain for rich people who want something to brag about and can afford the climb. Many, many Sherpas have died on Everest -as far back as the '30 when George Mallory was trying to climb the north (Chinese) face of the mountain. Eight Sherpas died on one of his attempts. He had with him a truly kind and noble companion (and I'm very sorry I've forgotten his name) who said after that accident that he was sorry he hadn't died so that they would know that their lives are not cheaper than that of the men who employed them. I don't think any of the potential climbers today have such feelings (not that I actually know; but I'm a cynic about very rich people -- and I've read a lot about the climbers).
By the way Sherpa is the name of the people who live in that area. They migrated from the Kham area of Tibet many, many generations ago. They have adapted to the height with changes in their breathing and their blood's composition. They are very strong people who carry loads half again their own weight up mountain trails. During the two treks I made in the Himalayas the Sherpas were good natured, very professional, thoughtful, kind. I thought they were beautiful. I remember, frivolously, but sweetly, having a shampoo at our camp when a Sherpa poured heated water over my head as I stood near a washing bowl. I did not ask him to, I could have wet and rinsed my own hair, but he did it with a smile. A small thing, a kindness.
At Thengboche monastery, which was our goal, the oldest woman had a small stroke, not serious enough to need air evac. She was hearty woman who probably weight about 175. Two young Sherpas carried her the next day, piggy-back, about six hours of walking, taking turns. The young men probably weighted less than 120 themselves. At day's end we reached Namche Bazzar where regular plane service was available to Kathmandu. They did not complain, it was part of their job.
This was a heroic event I witnessed. I know that the Sherpas who work on Mt. Everest do much more demanding and heroic work to make the trails safe for the pampered climbers. When one has seen a group of people at close hand, recognized personal quirks and talked about families, disasters, be it the deaths on Everest, or stories of war in other countries, the pain is as deep as if it were people who lived in the same town as you. Well, for some of us -- quite a few I think -- although, as said before, I am cynical about the rich who are accustomed to having others do the hard work and take the economic difference as their right. Sherpa means hero to me.
The mid-70s are a surprise! Part of me remains in the 50s -- age, I mean, not decade of 20th century. It's a joy ride, new experiences land in my lap and I've become a better quilter, poet, writer than I expected. It's a rich life for a person never rich financially. Hey, this is what the mid-70s are like!