Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Nepal 2012 So Wealthy

On several occasions in Nepal, I heard "you people are so wealthy". My first instinct was to deny it, as none of our team would consider themself wealthy. But of course our thinking was based on our standards, and not on Nepalese standards.  
We are so wealthy, by Nepalese standards.

Many times I saw Nepalese porters, struggling with loads up to 100 Kgs (220 pounds), wearing flip-flops or cheap canvas runners, and earning less for their day than the minimum hourly wage in our country. The average annual income in Nepal is about $450 ... our boots cost more than that!   We are so wealthy.

Milan and Anil Kulung portered with us to Island Peak Base camp.  The temperature was -15 C (5F), and I wore a down coat over a down jacket. Anil arrived with no hat, thin T-shirts, and a nylon windbreaker jacket.
I asked him several times, in both English and Nepalese, but he insisted 'no cold ... no cold'.  
But he must have been cold, so we lent him a jacket, and I gave him a toque. That night, Anil brought the toque back to me. Initially I thought there was confusion about me giving him the toque or loaning him the toque. With Ganesh interpreting, it became clear that Anil could not accept a gift of such large value. I tried to convince him that I wanted him to have the toque. "You must be cold" and "I have two toques here, and I am happy to give you one" and "We need your help to climb Island Peak, and we want you to be healthy" and "I would be honored if you would keep this toque".
He just shook his head and declined. I finally said, "No worries, I have another six toques at home". Ganesh and Anil exchanged words in Nepalese, then Anil took the toque. Ganesh then turned to me and said
"You people are so wealthy - you have one head, but you own many toques".
I was taken aback, then humbled by these simple, yet profound words. To Anil, the toque respresented a full day's wages, and I had many toques.   We are so wealthy.

Many 'foreign guests' fulfill their bucket-list-goal of reaching Everest Base Camp  or climbing Everest or another mountain nearby.  Once the goal is achieved, some people 'check the item off their list', and want an instant exit back to their home. The cost of a helicopter flight is about $15,000 ... a lifetime of income for the average Nepalese!    We are so wealthy!

Of course none of our team took a helicopter out. We chose to enjoy the moment, stay immersed in the adventure, and extend the experience by walking two days back to Lukla.
Our guides were reluctant to talk about it, but did quietly acknowledge that they quickly distinguish between the 'check-list guests' and those guests who are genuinely in Nepal for the rich experiences with the people and the country of Nepal.

What is a Toque?
Apparently this is a Canadian word.  Urban Dictionary says a 
toque is ...
a knitted hat that one would wear during the winter - the ultimate in high Canadian fashion.

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