Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Climbing Everest – Photo Feature

Climbing Everest - 2011 Spring
Photos By : Karna Tamang

Most of my friends are aware with KB's recent Everest climb which almost ended in fatal accident due to his client's short availability of time to complete the expedition.  Normally an expedition to Mt. Everest ends in 50 days to 70 days maximum.  But KB and his client's schedule was less than a month.  KB of course reached the base camp much earlier than his client but his client's schedule was too short, too quick and too dangerous as he arrived in Kathmandu 2nd of May, Reached the base camp 12 of May, and reached the summit on 19th May!  As his fingers were frost bitten he reached back home in Europe before May 25.  So they completed the expedition in less than half the time as everybody else does.  

Here are some of the select pictures KB was taking while he had spare time and opportunity to look around
Everest Base Camp Spring 2011 Welcomed 250+ Foreign Climbers and over 500 of Their Support Staff
Mt. Everest As Seen From Camp II

A Sherpa With Supplies Approaching Camp - IV

Approaching Camp - IV, Notice the Caravan of the Climbers
Crossing Hillary Step Below the Summit
Summit of the Mt. Everest
Frost Bitten Hand - Jan Karnogurusky (KB's Client) at  Base Camp
KB and Some other Sherpas Pulling Out a Fallen Sherpa From a Crevasse Near Camp II
At the End of the Season - Look at the Garbage Collected by a Campaign 'Save Mt. Everest-2011'

Sunday, June 19, 2011

My Early School Life

An Experience of Studying in Government School in Nepal

As a matter of fact Nepal is one of the poorest countries in the world which is clearly visible in the daily life of Nepali people including the educational facilities provided to its' people.  So it's not surprising even today that we read the news of some schools in remote places having unbelievably poor facilities.  My school in Kamalakhoj 'Ladavir Secondary School' was one of such schools of those days that it could be showcased as one of the poorly managed institutions.  Even though compared to rugged Solukhumbu plain land of Kamalakhoj is considered as less remote, but the school we had there in Kamalakhoj was much poorer than the one we had back in Solukhumbu.  The school had to serve as regional secondary school for whole of Kamalakhoj valley resulting it to be one of the most crowded school of the entire district. For grades one to three we didn’t have separate class rooms for a long time. There was a rich man known as land lord of the area who was also the head of the school management committee had let school use one of his cow sheds as class rooms and certainly the kids of lower grades were to use those sheds as their learning place.  We had to go early enough to be able to remove cow dung before the classes would start.  We also had to prepare our own seats to sit upon which used to be rice straw or other dry objects.  To avoid the smell and labour to clean the shed sometimes we used to study under a tree near the school. 

After a few years, we got a new school building with big play ground.  However by the time number of students was already unmanageable.  We didn't have section or sub section in the classes.  All the students admitted would be accepted would be taught in one single class room.  To have around 80 students in a class was common and some of them would end up standing against the wall while studying as there wouldn't be enough benches.  There were many regions to drop off from the school and one of the unseen reasons was not to be able to find a place to sit in the class rooms because the seat would be taken either by strong and bully students or the ones who come way too early. 

Extracurricular activities were virtually not in existence.  There would be one volleyball court for entire school which would be taken by senior, better and strong students.  There were no any other kinds of sport activities for the students.  Likewise, there was no library, toilet or emergency first aid support available.  One can imagine the teaching quality would be in such situations.  Teachers certainly wouldn't be able to pay attention to the needy students. He could only satisfy the one who are on the first few rows in the class room.  I studied 10 years in the same school yet I was not noticed by any teachers as who I am and where do I come from.  To be known by teachers either one had to be extraordinarily good in education or sports or from rich families or notoriously wicked. 

Substantial number of students would come from poor families without adequate educational materials such as pens, pencils, books or some other things and instead of finding solution teachers would punish them.  Even though I wouldn't consider  myself as from extreme poor family, I had gone through extreme need of educational materials because like many other families I also had to make optimum use of the educational materials.  For example, my grandfather would buy new exercise book only after once I show him that it's all written from page one to end.  On most occasions there would be only one item bought for writing purpose either  a pen or a pencil and if that’s lost by some reason it would take lot of effort to persuade him  to make him buy new one.  This was because we didn't have any source of cash income so we wouldn't have even small amount of money to buy things we wanted and that was the case of most of the families as most of them were from farmer families.

It can sound surprising how students still would be able to get the education then?  Well in our village's case we used to depend on senior students. Especially my uncles (father's cousins) were economically not in such desperate condition.  They had big family.  So in the evening all students from the village would gather at their house to study. So it would be like another school class in their house.  We used to study sharing each other's books, notes and ideas to complete the homework or other extra studies.  We didn't have electricity so we used to share a kerosene lit lamp for the light.   

In the early days, there were no periodical tests in the school. All we had was annual test.  After annual test teachers would announce result of the exam saying, "well this year all of you kids passed this grade and upgraded to other one." Then there would be big applause back. Our school was also notoriously known as one of the corrupt schools. Poorly performing students would be promoted to higher grades as students would have to pay higher fee in the higher classes. The reason of taking too many students in admission was also connected to money issue because that would generate ‘more income' to the school. 

The poor performance of the school would be reflected in the school leaving certificate exam (known as SLC) which would be under taken by national board and most students from our school would be failed or would receive lower rank. In order to pass the SLC exam students, teachers and parents would join hand to cheat in the exam.  Even in Nepali language it's called 'cheat' to find the answers by cheating.  The act of cheating had different forms from hiding whole course book, guide book or notes inside the under wears to hide them in the toilet and use them while there is chance to use the toilet.  Rich parents usually would provide ‘expenditure’ to the teachers who help cheating to their kids. 

Organized cheating in the school exams especially in the SLC is still very common in the government run secondary schools.  In fact government has recently issued a rule considering cheating in the exam as crime and those who are involved would be sent to jail!  Last SLC exam held few months back, draw attention while teachers, students and parents were arrested due to cheat scandal in various parts of the country.   

Well, when I appeared in the SLC exam it was in 1991.  Even though I was not good I was above average in most subjects so I never cheated on the exams.  However, I did sneak few clues from the friends to complete my mathematic paper as I was so bad on math.  Students who pass SLC are graded first division, second division and third division possibly equivalent to A, B and C in the USA or other countries.  I had secured second division, good enough to claim I was not that bad! 

After SLC, I had returned home along with my grandfather in Solukhumbu before coming to Kathmandu for further study. I have explained my early college days on the opening post of this blog.  I will bring the second part of the student life in the university on coming posts; till then all the best to you all.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Best Grandfather in the World - II

As I had stated earlier, this is the second part of the story why my grandfather was so special for me.  One of the very touching experiences with him was his devotion to educate me.  One day, only he and I were at our house back in Solukhumbu and he was trying hard to teach Nepali numbers 1-100.  We were trying to copy the letters printed on the pages of the book possibly someone earlier must have taught us that's the number from 1-100 in that particular page.  Suddenly a vendor selling cloths came to our courtyard where we were and my grandfather asked him to help us and in return he might buy the cloth.  He certainly taught us and he had long chat with my grandpa afterward. 
rare pictures of our village students in late 80s found at one of my relatives album; I'm 4th from right on the back row.
After I was admitted in to the school, he continuously supported me to go to school despite extreme financial problems.  Those days the schooling was not free, we had to buy books, pay yearly entry fees and my grandfather used to mange those expenses by borrowing or selling something he had in possession.  Luckily, there was no dress code in the school so we wouldn't have to buy any particular type of cloth. My grandfather sometimes used to buy very cheap kind of cloths for him and he would try to give better ones to me.  Every year we had to buy new books for new grade and he would manage that by buying secondhand books from senior students. Sometimes I used to end up borrowing exercise books with my friends.  

May be not as much as in Solukhumbu but in Kamalakhoj also many students would run away from school seeking jobs as child labor in rich people's homes.  Many would flee in India without notice to their parents.  Sometimes village boys as young as 12 years would flee from the village to unknown destinations. Many of them would end up in India where Nepalese servants are considered as honest and hard working.  Stories of those who returned from such venture would be thrilling to hear as how they were able to find a job, make some money and watch Bollywood movies, so and so.  So younger people with desperate family conditions or those who couldn't do well in school would be tempted to go away.  My grandfather was aware of such situation so he would always tell me not to run away like that. 

He used to tell inspiring stories especially of Hindu epics such as Mahabharata and Ramayana.  Because he had some Brahmin friends he used to listen in their recitations of those books and he used to tell me in Rhymes.  Besides that he used to tell many stories and folklores to me.  In return he used to ask me to read stories from my course books!  It was fun and sometimes very emotional to share stories back and forth but that was also one of the ways we learned each other and we became closer to each other not only as grandfather and grandson but as friends and as guru and student too. 

Because we couldn't buy land in prime location, our house and land were located in the outskirt of the village where poorer people used to live.  Our neighbours were ethnic group called Mushahar literally meaning mouse eaters.  Mushahars are considered as one of the unknown and much backward communities.  There were about 10 families of Mushahars who didn't have their own land so they used to live in public land where they used to have small hut for shelter.  My grandfather used to help them giving away extra foods or anything we might not use.  Also he used to tell them to send their children to school.   Actually, those who went school used to come learn with me. All Mushahar kids were my friends, I used to go play with them the moment grandfather was not paying attention! They were also considered as untouchable according to the Hindu tradition so kids from higher caste or richer family wouldn't go play with them. Thus they would be so happy when they had chance to spend time with me.  I used to speak their language fluently.  Seeing all these, sometimes my friends from the main village used to feel uncomfortable because they thought it's not good to play with those poor and untouchable kids. 
Mushahar girls in work, found on the internet.
Since it's hard to comprise all experiences with my grandfather in one post, I would like to end the part two of the story here. I will bring more of the wonderful memoirs with him in other posts in different topics.  Till then have a great reading and hope to read your comments on the facebook, e-mail or on the blog itself. 

Friday, June 10, 2011

The Best Grandfather in the World – part I

This is possibly the most valuable moment of writing for me because the story I am going to share here is about my grandfather – the most adorable person of my life.  I have told pieces of the story to most of my trekking friends / clients in the off trekking chats because it comes to discussion when they ask about my family background, study and career.  While sharing the stories about him, each time I have found myself in difficulty to hide the sorrow and tears within me. However it's always the moment of pleasure at least to recall his love, kindness and guidance which have brought me to this moment. So I always feel pleased, proud and fortunate to have him as my guardian and equally pleased to share the story about him through this blog.  

Grandpa's only faded picture re skateched by a painter
When I was 6 years or so, my parents and grandfather wanted me to take to the village school which is situated in about half hour's walk.  One day, my father went to the school and brought the course book of grade one.  Grade one is still the beginning of the schooling in the government schools especially in the remote areas. There is no grades such as nursery or kindergarten for younger or beginner students.  My early learning of alphabet started with punishment which was by my father. If I was unable to write down or memorize the alphabets he would grab my hair from the back and knock down to the ground or against the piece of wood board where we used to write down by a piece of home made chalk.  I used to cry a lot and I didn't want to go to school because he used to say, 'if you didn't memorize all these I will ask the master (teacher) to come and punish you.'  So like many other children I developed fear or phobia of avoid going school. 

found on the internet
One day my grandfather came down from summer pasture situated up high in the mountains and I cried on his lap saying 'please take me with you.  I want to read with you but I never want to go to school and learn with teachers.'  Then next day my father sent me with grandfather to the summer pasture which was one day's walk in the altitude of around 9000ft where my grandfather used to live all summer.  We had lots of cows, few buffalos, sheep, goats and oxen.  We also had our own land there. Along with me, one of my cousins also was there who used to help look after the animal.  We had temporary animal hut (Goth Nep.) and one corner of the goth was to sleep three of us.  My grandfather was unable to write the alphabet but he was able to say it. So we used to memorize the alphabet and try to match it on the book by counting i.e. the first letter grandpa pronounce must be the first letter printed on the page and it looks like this or that.  Among the animal herders some of them were senior students or ex students of the village school, so grandfather used to ask them to teach me and my cousin.  That's how we learned basic alphabet and some numbers to write, read and we memorized all of them. I only remember once my grandfather punishing me for not reading well; otherwise he never hit me due to not reading or writing.  I think we had completed about the level of nursery or similar just by listening grandfather or with some help of neighbor cow herder. 

More fun than reading or writing of course were to wonder around the hill, make noises, make ski of a tree bark and ski down the hill and end up with wound or cloth being torn everywhere.  So we used to get punished for such behavior rather than for studying.  We used to cause lots of trouble by spelling the milk or stealing the butter or not looking after the baby cow or buffalo while he would go far away to look after animal or to bring firewood or fresh grasses.   
Tradition of taking animal in the pastures is still alive in our area. This is seen in 2009 when I went to my village.

All of the fun of herding animal ended with summer when we returned home with animals as the winter would be harsh in the mountains. That became the last summer that my grandfather took animals up high.  After returning home, he decided to migrate to other district where his younger brother used to live. Later I learned from him that he felt so lonely due to grandmother's death ( couple of years back) so he decided to move to other place. My father didn't want to leave the village but both father and mother agreed to send me with grandfather to this new place.  By that time I think I was seven and my grandfather was 70.  My father helped us to reach this new place called Kamalakhoj of southern Nepal which was almost one week's walk as there was no road in those days.  In Kamalakhoj, my grandfather's younger brother who had moved there  much earlier were well settled and his sons and daughters (my uncles / aunts as we call for father's cousins) were attending the school.  Because my grandfather and father were well prepared, they managed to buy land and construct a small hut for two of us to live and work on.  Then my father returned to Solukhumbu.  

Not much later, I was admitted to the school which was a regional secondary school for whole district and it was at least one and half hours walk from our home.  I had pleaded my grandfather not to send me to the school but one of my uncles said he will take care and ask the teacher not to punish me.  I was convinced to attend the school only if he could keep me with him all day.  So the first day in the school, he admitted me on grade one but he kept me with him all day at his class (grade 9).  Next day, he said, 'look did you see teachers hitting anyone? so now you must stay at your class not at mine.'  This is how my schooling and wonderful life with my grandfather commenced.  Of course I missed my family especially my mom but my grandfather always cared me with much love and kindness so I was not that sad missing rest of the family. 

Further about grandfather to be continued in next post…
So far it's been fantastic to read your comments both published in the blog or sent to my mailbox. I appreciate your response and kindness to read this blog which have been inspiration to write more.  Till next time all the best

Friday, June 3, 2011

From Scratch to Summit

From Scratch to Summit
Story of Nepali Climbing Guide KB Tamang

KB (right) with Ganga probably first shot of them

I have mentioned on the earlier posts of this blog how I ended up in the job of trekking staff and how excited it was to be able to go back home with the earnings of those early treks with the gifts to the family members.  Besides the visible gifts of sweets or some money, I had brought the invisible gift especially to my younger brothers and sister which was ‘a message of importance of the education.' These days one don’t need to be a brilliant leader or educationist to explain the importance of education, it’s generally understood by every citizen of 20th or 21st century, but this is not the same case in the remote villages of Nepal like ours.  

Most of the village kids of my village (Lumsa, in Solukhumbu) used to go to school but they would end up their study by early secondary level or at around crossing the primary level.  When I used to go home and see my younger brothers Dhan (DB), Karna (KB), Ganga and sister Pema, first thing I would ask was about their schooling.  My father used to say ‘you got educated; you utilize your education,  they will be fine with some education; why you need a lot of education to live in this village?’  and I used to confront with him about such thoughts he had.  It was not only my father but many fathers of the villages used to think same way! So not to blame him but it seems like that’s how much they can think about the education -so this is not to blame poor father :) .   

Ganga, Pema, Mom, Fathr and Myself (our back yard at Lumsa)
Despite my mere voice to educate younger members in the family, due to economic and family situations, DB had to leave school.  He went to Lukla (Khumbu) seeking job as a trekking porter as many youths do from our area (Solu) and that’s the beginning point for them to be in trekking industry.  I was disappointed and I had asked DB to come to Kathmandu where we could possibly explore better job in same field.  Once DB came in Kathmandu, we both started to work as trekking porters or whatever kind of job we would find in trekking trips.  We two used to discuss hours and hours sometime almost all night about our dreams and goals.  One day, we decided to go back home and we thought to buy gifts!  Because our village is at 2500mtr over 8000ft it’s quite cold during the winter.  So we thought cloths would be better.  But because the family is big, we had to buy many gifts.  So we end up buying cheap cloths found on the street carts sold by vendors.   Once we reached back home and distributed gifts of cloths to our brother and sister our mom said to our father– 'Now may be the kids can have new cloths not patched and torn'.  In Those days my mom and grand mom used to fix the cloths by stitching lots of patches on the torn section especially on the butt, knees and elbows.  Because our village school didn’t have dress code then, students could go school with such clothing.  I still remember the gifts I and DB shopped in Kathmandu were worn by KB and Ganga for many years (see the picture).

Let me make the story shorter and jump to recent situations why KB and other students couldn’t complete schooling in the village.  Nepal got the serious political trouble of armed conflict initiated by hardliner communists known as Maoists since 1996 or so and it started to spread from western Nepal to all over the country slowly but strongly.  Maoists’ ‘People’s war’ eventually arrived in eastern Nepal and among first villages where Maoists took shelter for their political and armed activities were including Lumsa.  First day how Maoist entered our village is recalled by some students– without any pre-information Maoist  armed force had surrounded the school, and their leader lectured about what’s Maoism and what was the armed movement all about and students and teachers were asked to join them or support them.  From the next day, students who had connection in Kathmandu and in other towns left the villages and went there fearing they will be taken away for people’s war.  Among the remaining students senior graded ones (8-9-10 grades) were chosen for political assembly organized by Maoists at some unknown location and they were forced to be part of the assembly.  Those forcefully taken by Maoists included KB which I only discovered later because of the lack of communication.  After this incident the school was virtually not functioning especially the senior grade students were not able to come to school.  Due to this chaos KB couldn’t complete his secondary level (grade 10 is the final grade in our village school) final studies.   

Karna alone seen by other's camera just below the summit '09
We managed to bring KB, followed by Ganga and Pema to Kathmandu for the safety of family but in Kathmandu also he couldn’t rejoin the school as the curriculum of the course is different and also may be he 'lost the interest' of study. That’s how second brother of mine after DB couldn’t further higher education dreamed by me and family.  So Karna also fell in to the bottom of the trekking industry ending up to work as trekking porter.  Well now we got three Tamang boys working in trekking, by then I was able to work at Himalayan High Treks of which most of these blog readers must be clients.  No matter what level of education (or no education at all) one has from  Solukhumbu including my village work in trekking industry.  Because the most sought mountain and trekking destination of Everest falls in this district of Solukhumbu it's very common to be in tourism industry.  But there was difference hidden within me that I or my family should go further than just being lower level workers.  However it became very hard to be different especially because DB and KB both couldn't achieve higher education. 

Then we figured out some other ways to enhance skills in trekking industry.  In Nepal, trekking is also an integral part of mountaineering.  If someone has skill of climbing he secures more opportunity of work than a regular trekking guide.  Similarly Nepal's trekking industry since the beginning of year 2000 started to became more competitive with more knowledgeable guides coming in to the job.  So studying some English and learning climbing were chosen for both DB and KB.  Other trekking workers of our village (generally speaking) used to go back home as soon as trekking season is over.  Next trekking season they would come for work as usual. But KB and DB started to go climbing training, practice and learn some English.  So soon they both were able to communicate at least basic level of English.  DB was able to find few trips as guide and he was able to go to the USA because of his labor to learn new things.  It was not exactly same time when they two went to language school or climbing school but that's what they did in a row. 

Summit of Everest 2009, 20th May
KB had completed his basic mountaineering training in 2004 and I was able to find a job for him as a climbing Sherpa at least for one or two climbs every trekking season to the small peaks.  What I learned after one of his early climbing trips is that he managed to take a client to the summit of Island Peak (6140mtr / over 20,000ft) in the situation that most of other climbers were backing off due to difficulty of weather and so forth.  This was his first example that he has the ability and passion to become a good mountaineer.  However, because both the trekking agency I own in Kathmandu and my friend owns in the USA didn't have climbing clients, we couldn't make use of his abilities.  And he couldn't get jobs easily because he is not a Sherpa by birth (born in Sherpa ethnic group).  As mountaineering industry still is ruled by Sherpas (Sherpa ethnic group of Solukhumbu area Nepal), sherpas get job more easily than people from non-sherpa tribe. 
However since he did complete the basic mountaineering course, he got at least one or two climbing trips to small peaks (also known as trekking peaks) every tourist season.   

As the matter of fact, playing world cup or Olympic could be a dream of a player similar is climbing Everest for a mountaineer.  Apart from that, guiding or working in bigger peaks for tourist climbers are much beneficial for local climbing guides.  Working on bigger Expedition is when the climbing sherpas or guides make some money.  So obviously Karna was requesting to senior Sherpas and guides to take him as a climbing Sherpa to bigger expeditions.  But as mentioned earlier, it was hard to find him such job despite he is as capable as or may be better than any other climbing guides.  Meanwhile, a ray of hope came for KB in the year 2009 spring when one of our common friends happened to have connection to a socio-political organization who wanted to take the logo of the organization to the summit of the Everest.  Because he knew Karna as a potential candidate to whom he could make work more than to a senior climbers by paying less, Karna was chosen among 3 members to the expedition team after much request.  However, the chance of him being left back prevailed till last minute due to his serious sickness just about 10 days before the team to leave for Expedition.  He was unable to attend the last minute briefings and meetings with the organization's representatives.  I had to lie my friend that he is just resting, but Karna was admitted to a hospital due to sever typhoid fever.  The day to leave Lukla by flight Karna managed himself to come along. He was carrying heavy duty drug for typhoid for another month from the day he was released from the hospital.  I had told him not to climb but to stay at base camp or lower camps as once he is in the work he is still eligible to get the pay and there are other sherpas to support anyway.  You can read more detail story of how he managed to be on the top of Everest at  on that expedition but it was just unbelievable news when I heard from the Everest that he reached the summit despite the sickness and further complication caused by the team leader as he was left at camp 4 (8000mtr /24000ft) by rest of the team to look after another fellow climber who was weak.  He had assisted primary help to the fellow man and he followed the route alone all the way to the summit from camp 4.  It was an amazing achievement.   

As most friends of mine know KB climbed Everest second time this year May 19, 2011 in same heroic way it makes me and my family feel so proud not only because he climbed the highest peak in the world but also for the achievement he accomplished despite the obstacles he and we as a family had to face. I will try to post his recent climbing experience and story in the coming posts (hopefully).  So please wait for that. Meanwhile, I hope I didn't make you bore by this long story…. ALL THE BEST readers!