There is an old Native American saying which says it is wise to reserve judgment of a person until you walk a mile in their moccasins. I reckon there is a lot of truth in this as we can never truly know what feelings and hurt other people are experiencing, especially when they behave in ways that we don’t feel are right or appropriate. Perhaps if we took time to understand all the life experiences which have made a person who they are then we wouldn’t be so quick to judge, criticise and condemn. But I also believe putting yourself in another person’s shoes is a worthwhile exercise in a more general sense too. I recently interviewed a Sherpa for a piece which ran in the Daily Mail.
The story was of how he had struck up an amazing friendship with a Scottish woman he had saved from drowning in a furious Himalayan river more than 15 years ago. Their families have now become as one and they all live together in a lovely house in Moffat where Dawa, the Sherpa, is honing his huge talent for horticulture by building Europe’s first Sherpa garden. Sitting next to the open fire in the ever so slightly faded elegance of the family home, I enjoy immensely the time I spent talking to Dawa.But I came away realising how little I had know of the lives of the Nepalese Sherpas. Like most people I knew Sherpas are an amazingly strong and resilient Himalayan people who are at home in the world’s tallest mountains.I have often heard of how they make a living from acting as guides and porters to the multitude of westerners who love to go there to climb or trek.I had no idea though of the abject poverty many of them are born into.Dawa never had any education, had an arranged marriage and was born into a family of 12 children who all lived in a one roomed house with other extended family members.He lost five of his brothers and sister before their time, to disease which probably could have been treated if they had been able to afford hospital fees, and two of his own daughters when they were just toddlers.
Despite all that when the widow of one of his brothers remarried – an necessity for widows in Nepal – and her new husband was happy to accept her young sons but not her baby daughter, Dawa stepped in and adopted the child.Tragic family histories like this are the norm.To act as a guide or porter is the only way to make money – they can survive as subsistence farmers but that doesn’t make them any cash for medical bills or schooling.Incredibly Dawa’s uncle has summated Everest 21 times in his life, 15 without oxygen.His cousin holds the world record for the fastest ascent – 10 hours and 56 minutes.Dawa himself has been to the summit twice, as well as the peaks of just about every other Himalayan mountain.Most Westerners would find it hard to imagine climbing Everest once, but those who dream of it seem to be driven to conquer the world’s highest peak.We are all aware of how many climbers die in the attempt, but do we know how many Sherpas die?I don’t know the figures but after having spoken to Dawa I know it is far higher than the number of climbers.And that the financial remuneration to the families of those who die is sparse.It is no wonder then that when Dawa got a chance to come and study in Scotland, while also escaping the Maoist uprising, he grabbed it with both hands.Unsurprisingly though he misses trekking in the mountains and having spent a few hours seeing the world through his eyes I now feel as if I miss them too.Perhaps one day I will get a chance to see them and when I do I hope I will be with someone as grounded and yet spiritual as Dawa.
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