It is inspiring to see a community manage to deal so effectively with disaster. I look up to the Sherpas, and admire the Nepali people for their strength of spirit and of holding together, a trait we have lost in the West.
The Nepali attitude of Ke garné? (What to do?) is often given a negative fatalistic interpretation, but it holds a real inspirational lesson for me. There is nothing we can do to stop an earthquake, but we have to deal with it. That is precisely what Nepalis did – they coped brilliantly. They did not wait for help but started rebuilding themselves, and are still doing so.
As a survivor of the 2015 earthquake myself, this is also what I personally learned from Nepalis four years ago: the ability to cope and move on. Too often, ‘hope’ means delegating to others what in fact you can still begin to do yourself. It is a bit like that in mountaineering. Although we rely on our high-altitude workers, we nonetheless have to set one foot in front of the other ourselves.
We non-professional expedition members are not as strong as the locals. So, climbing Chomolungma is kind of like a bit of heaven and hell together, to paraphrase William Blake. But isn’t that what life is anyway?
Being back here in the Khumbu is like returning to heaven, so beautiful and sublime is the environment, the friendliness of the locals. But it has also about suffering, exhaustion and danger. Four years after 2015, I feel an additional danger this year: I am more aware of what can happen naturally to all who live in this stunningly beautiful land. To be able to share that risk, I think, makes me a little more of a Nepali.
Soon, I hope to make it to 8,850m and kiss the forehead of Jomo Myo Langsangma, as my friend Lhakpa Norbu Sherpa wishes I will. If that happens, I will dedicate the achievement to what I care most about: mero biralo, mero ama, ra mero Nepal.
Damien Francois is a climber and author of The Holy Mountains of Nepal. He lives in Eupen in Belgium with his cat, and his mother down the street, and is at Everest Base Camp this spring for his 19th expedition in Nepal.