The morning dawns with magnificence. Not a cloud in the sky. Warm sunshine is awakening the world. After breakfast we gather in a meadow behind the lodge for Tai Chi. It is the most spectacular location one could imagine. The entire Everest massif is fully visible to the North. There’s Everest, Nuptse, Lhotse and all the minor peaks and protrusions of this large hunk of stone. There is not a whisper of a cloud or a breeze to distort the view. Ama Dablam, our Mother’s Necklace, is proudly standing directly above us. “Minor” mountains whose names we always confuse complete the perimeter of guards that protect us.
After Tai Chi, I tell the group about my experience yesterday when I had to remind myself to remain in the moment and not to be thinking of this journey as being already over. There are still 2 days of hiking and many opportunities for adventure if we are open to what we will see and whom we will meet on the trail. I share a reflection from John O’Donohue entitled, “On Meeting a Stranger”.
That the unknown
And lead us
The familiar field
Blind with the weed
And the old walls
Every day we encounter strangers. Heck, we were all strangers to one another before this journey began. On the trail today we will meet strangers from all over the world. Some of the strangers will be people who live here in the mountains. Their dress, their manners, their speech will arouse our curiosity. Their smiles will make us feel welcome. We will also meet strangers from Europe, Asia, Australia and all around the world who are also journeying through the Himalayas on the same pathway that we travel. Each stranger is an opportunity for an interaction and perhaps a relationship. Here in the Himalaya, we are all united by a single word, “Namaste.”
“Namaste” is the greeting that we use to acknowledge another. It not only acknowledges the person we meet, it acknowledges the divine, the spirit, and the soul within the person we are meeting. It’s a gentle reminder to each of us that we are more than the flesh and bone that we see. The other wonderful thing about “Namaste” is that it momentarily makes all of us of the same race and culture. One doesn’t hear a lot of “hello”, “guten morgan”, “hola”, “bon jour”, etc. Everyone, regardless of national origin, greets a fellow traveller with “Namaste.” We are all of the Himalaya and we all recognize the greater being within each of us.
The journey to Namache provides us with very different topography. We are now back below the tree line. Here, the steep mountain walls of the Khumbu valley are covered with small trees. It’s hard to believe they can grow on such steep slopes. The lush green canyon is a stark contrast to all the brown-gray rock and snow that we have been viewing for the last week. Prayer flags, mani stones, and Buddhist stupas occasionally appear along the trail reminding us where we are and inviting us to be present in the moment.
I’m walking with Bikal, a 32 year-old caregiver from Des Moines. He’s originally from Nepal and he has served as our trip coordinator. Justin, a 28 year-old brain cancer survivor is also walking with us. As we come around a corner we see 4 young porters sitting on the trail taking a break. The baskets that they use to carry their loads are sitting on the ground beside them. 3 of them are smoking cigarettes. We decide to use the opportunity to do some “mission” work.
With Bikal as interpreter, we learn that the oldest of the four is 20 years old. The younger ones are all 15-16 years of age. This is there occupation – they carry supplies up and down the mountain. There life is tough but you would never know it by looking at their faces. They look like they are about 12 years old. They have sweet faces and beautiful teeth. With Bikal’s help we tell them about the health consequences of cigarette smoking. Paternalistically, I just want to hug ‘em, take them home and send them to college. Realistically, I want them to be as healthy as possible to continue to live as good a life as possible within the time and place they have been born. By the time we finish our discussion, two of the three boys have put out their cigarettes and have vowed to stop smoking. Our interaction with these four boys may not change the national statistics on lung cancer in Nepal, but maybe, just maybe, we may have made a difference in one young man’s life.
We settle in to our lodge in Namche. It’s the center of commerce for the Khumbu valley and there are lots of shops, pubs and internet cafes. As we descend the mountain, we are slowly being eased back into the diversions and distractions of modern life. We have one more day on the trail. Be Here Now.