Saturday, April 19, 2014

Trekking on a Road of Corpses

Only a few days ago, 16 everest mountain guides, popularly known as "Sherpas" died while helping foreign climbers summit Everest.

The guides were Nepalis, primarily of Nepali-Tibetan ethnic groups that live in the mountainous border between Tibet and Nepal and which has fluctuated between the two.  "Sherpa" itself is the name of one, specific, Nepali group of Tibetan descent, which was appropriated by mountain climbers who decided to call the entire occupation of being a low-paid, high risk, servant by the name of an ethnic group.  I have a lot to say about this, but I don't think right now is the time.

Although there were actual Sherpas among the dead, it was very hard to find this out, because almost no article in the international media actually listed the names of the sixteen victims who were killed in an avalanche while being underpaid to help wealthy foreigners "test their limits" or "find themselves" or "gain spiritual achievement" or just for fun.  I just found one international news source that has listed the names. Whenever a foreign climber dies, we see their name, hometown, photo and probably a list of survivorss.  But when, in a single day, 16 of the people who made it possible for every single foreign climber to reach the top of Everest, hardly a name is mentioned, much less their hometown, tribe, or family.  There could have been Sherpas, Tamangs, Tibetans, and Gurungs. There most definitely were fathers, brothers, sons and husbands, none of whom were named by most media outlets.  All of my Sherpa friends over the age of 40 have school mates who have died carting some other person's goods up everest.

Thanks to the (primarily western) thirst for conquering Everest, we have created an economy whereby it is possible, and even encouraged, to buy human lives.

The job of the "Sherpas" is to carry all the gear, go ahead of the climbers and prepare camp for them, prepare food, and clear the way. They take the hard work and the most dangerous job so that the foreign climbers can reach base camp in time for a hot meal and a cozy tent, and from there just climb to the top with no other responsibilities, take a photo at the summit, dump their trash on a sacred mountain, and declare that they and they alone, by their own power summited the highest mountain in the world. They can get their adrenaline high! But the real risk and effort came from many other people.

This article takes a close look at the value of a Sherpa life, working to survive, in comparison to that of the foreigners climbing for glory.

So to all of you foreign climbers on Everest, who donate to Sherpa schools along the way and give pens to little children, just remember: You are not a savior.  You are not a hero.  You, who probably sign petitions against human trafficking, are purchasing human lives. Because when you pay the pittance of a salary so that "Sherpa" servants will do all the hard work for you, you are paying for the right to risk their lives for your ego.  Their family will get roughly $11,000 for their death from insurance that they themselves must pay.  And you can go home and tell the story of how disappointed you were not to summit Everest.  

In Memory of Mingma Nuru Sherpa, Dorji Sherpa, Ang Tshiri Sherpa, Nima Sherpa, Phurba Ongyal Sherpa, Lakpa Tenjing Sherpa, Chhiring Ongchu Sherpa, Dorjee Khatri, Then Dorjee Sherpa, Phur Temba Sherpa, Pasang Karma Sherpa and Asman Tamang.  With great concern and hope for the missing: Tenzing Chottar Sherpa, Ankaji Sherpa, Pem Tenji Sherpa and Ash Bahadur Gurung.

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