Sunday, July 14, 2013

A Glimpse of My Journey to the Bottom of the Top of the World

My trek to the base camp of Mount Everest was a long, amazing, difficult, and un-matchable journey. I’ve been trying to figure out communicate it, and I’ve decided to share about the final climb of the trek, up a mountain called Kala Patthar.

On Kala Patthar, with
Everest behind me
Of the nine trekkers and two guides that comprised our original trekking group, only three of us ended up making it to the top: myself, fellow trekker and good friend Jerome, and our guide Buddhi. The others had either succumb to altitude sickness or were too exhausted or injured to make it up to this pinnacle of the trek. The top of Kala Patthar is 5,545 meters above sea level, where oxygen levels are at about 50% of what most of us are used to breathing. And I’ve got to say, it’s a hell of a task to accomplish before breakfast! But I’m proud to say, with the help of a handful of cashew nuts and the solidarity of Jerome and Buddhi, I did it. And it was one of the most satisfying things I’ve ever done.

To begin, I can’t say I was feeling all that motivated to hike up 300 vertical meters at 5:30 am on a dark, blustery, sub-zero morning...but heck, I had spent eight days getting to that spot, I might as well pull it together for the last few hours. So, I forced myself out of my sleeping bag into the cold stale air of my room, yanked on my trekking clothes and boots, and descended the steep stairs of our teahouse to meet the rest of my meager crew that was climbing to the top.

The three of us made the climb virtually alone because the vast majority of the other climbers who were summiting Kala Patthar that day had left an hour or so before us in order to see sunrise from the top. Climbing without much company forced me to look to myself for motivation, and gave me a real sense of independence and drive. Up there, listening to my breathing, my heartbeat, and the wind, I felt like the mountain was mine.

At sunrise I was halfway to the top, panting like a dog on a hot day, and sat down to take a rest. I was alone, having left my fellow trekkers a little ways behind me. The moment was complete zen. There I sat, on that cold rock, watching the sun rise over the peak of Mount Everest. Holy crap, I thought. I’m doing this. I’m here. That’s Mount Everest, and I’m finally here.

It was a tremendous moment, but I've got to confess, I was 75% ready to turn around and go back down just then. I saw the sun rise over the peak of Mt. Everest--this is far enough, isn't it? my inner voice was suggesting. My bones aching, my muscles oxygen-deprived, my head pounding, the bitter cold wind...these all seemed like great reasons to call it quits and turn right back around.

But when Jerome caught up with me on my cold rock, he saved me from making that mistake. “We’re here,” he said simply. “Might as well go to the top.” And so, after splitting a small palmful of cashew nuts that I thankfully had in my pack, we did.

It was very, very difficult. We were moving at a snails pace, and were completely out of breath, but the closer we got the more real it all became. The rest of the way, I just focused my eyes on the prize. One foot, then the other, one foot, then the other, I kept thinking to myself. Just keep moving.

Our awesome guide Buddhi and myself at the top
And then, there I was. I wasn’t on top of Mount Everest--not even close--but I felt like I was on top of the world. I was on top of the world! And since we had had a relatively late start, most of the other climbers had already begun their descent by the time we arrived. Thus, we were virtually alone on this breathtaking pinnacle of the trek. Looming above us was the dark, powerful summit of Mt. Everest, and in the valley below was the tremendous Khumbu glacier and the tiny yellow speckles that marked Base Camp, where we had gone the previous day. And spreading wide to the left and right was a panorama of the majestic Himalayas surrounding us. This, I thought. This is why I came.

Jerome and myself celebrating and savoring our accomplishment

Monday, July 8, 2013

It's Why I Do This

Today, in my 6th grade science class, we were talking about ways humans hurt the environment. I had expected to cover six things, but ended up only covering two, because my students are AWESOME. We began by talking about garbage and landfills. What do you do with your trash? What happens to it after it’s thrown in the trashcan? I was keeping it pretty basic, as I have to since I teach the kids in English, and most of them speak it only very basically. But despite the language barrier I was soon being bombarded by a ton of absolutely wonderful questions about trash:

How long does trash last in a landfill? How long does metal last? How about wood? Plastic? Well, why does plastic last so long, and metal and wood don’t? What about when we burn trash? What happens then? What about the trash in the ocean? How long does that last?

Wow, amazing! The conversation we had was a mix of Thai and English (“Tenglish”), leaning towards the Thai side, with my co-teacher helping out a lot with that part.

When the questions seemed to be exhausted, we moved on to our next topic: air pollution. Again, I kept the language very basic, but the kids’ interests seemed to be insatiable. More awesome questions:

Why is driving bad? What comes out of cars? Why is CO2 so bad? What is ozone? Why are there holes in the ozone later? Where are the holes? If the hole is above Antarctica, why is it still so cold there?

Wow! More great questions! We spent the whole period in a wonderful Tenglish conversation about what humans do to hurt the environment, why those things are bad, and what we can do to make a difference. And what great questions!

This is one of my favorite things of teaching: exploring a subject that is relevant and interesting, and totally deviating from the lesson plan to make room for student interest and enthusiasm about learning. Ahh, what a wonderful feeling.

And as the lesson was wrapping up, one of my students nearly made me tear up. I was collecting the students’ papers so they wouldn’t lose them for the next class, and a student said, with a furrowed brow and a concerned but hopeful look on his face, “Miss Eliza, I want to save the Earth.” I melted.