April 6, 2009
I just returned from my meeting at the Ministry of Tourism, and I thought I should share the experience with you. When Dawa Steven Shepa, the Managing Director of Asian Trekking, asked me to serve as the 2009 Eco Everest Expedition Leader, he told me I would need to attend a “briefing” at the Ministry of Tourism, Mountaineering Section, on April 6. I said I would attend the meeting, thinking that I was going to sit in a large room with other Expedition Leaders and hear a lecture about Mt. Everest and the requirements placed on climbing teams by the government.
At 4 pm, Kaju, who works for Asian Trekking, picked me up at the Yak & Yeti Hotel to drive me to the Ministry for my briefing. At the last minute, I remembered to bring my reading glasses. Kaju is a small, slightly built man who wears a constant smile on his face and, as far as I can tell, has never had a bad day. As we drive into the parking lot of the Ministry, he handed me a sheet of paper that is full of statistics about the mountain, the team and our equipment, including (i) the names and nationalities of the 14 team members, (ii) the altitude of the 4 camps on Mt. Everest in meters, (iii) the quantity of kerosene in litres, (iv) the number of oxygen bottles we will have with us on the mountain, (v) the names of the Sirdars, (vi) the number of high altitude Sherpas, Base Camp cooks and porters who will support the team, (vii) how many days we will be on the mountain and (viii) the number of days we will spend on the total expedition “Kathmandu to Kathmandu.” Kaju said “here, study this paper. They will ask you these questions in the briefing room, and I can’t help with the answers.” I sat there stunned and speechless.
I graduated from law school in 1967. Yet, every now and then, I will have a dream that I am going into a final exam totally unprepared because I mixed up the exam dates and did not properly study. Today, I lived that nightmare. I looked over at Kaju and said “you mean this ‘briefing’ is a meeting between a Ministry official and me to ask questions about our expedition?” He answered “no it is a meeting between 3 Ministry officials and you to ask about the expedition.” Now my heart was really racing as I envisioned myself failing the test and having the permit yanked for the entire team. As we got out of the car and headed into the briefing room, I thanked God I remembered to bring my reading glasses and I studied the paper intensely, trying my best to memorize the statistics. We entered the room as I was still reading the paper. We sat down, and I placed the paper in front of me, thinking that I can refer to the information on the paper if I am asked a question and my 67-year old memory bank fails me. But, then the unthinkable occurred: Kaju took the paper from me, and I was left totally naked.
So, there we sat in the briefing room, waiting for the briefing to start. Three Ministry officials filed into the room and sat across the table from us. One of them, the oldest of the bunch, is a senior officer and is second in command at the Ministry of Tourism. They appeared friendly enough in demeanor, which put me at ease, and I put on my best game face, trying to appear relaxed and confident. They fired away their questions, and I answered correctly, helped by Kaju’s cheat sheet and my two previous trips to Nepal. Then, the unthinkable occurred, what I had been dreading since I learned that this was not the briefing I was anticipating: the senior officer asked me how many liters of cooking oil will we have at Base Camp. This was not on Kaju’s cheat sheet, and I didn’t even know how much a liter is, much less how many liters of cooking oil we will be bringing to Base Camp. As I sat there pondering this question, with a deer in the headlights expression on my face, time stood still, and the room strangely got smaller and smaller as the 3 Ministry officials and Kaju stared at me, waiting for my answer. Finally, I remembered the cheat sheet listed 100 liters of kerosene and 200 liters of some other gas, so I blurted out 150 liters as my answer. Bingo, I hit the target, they scribbled down my answer and moved on to the next question.
The entire meeting lasted about 1/2-hour, and I passed with flying colors. The Ministry officials were particularly interested that our team is so international in make-up, with members from Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark, Austria, India and America. They advised me that they typically discourage these multi-national teams because the teams from the different countries often fight with each other. However, they were not concerned with our team because Asian Trekking, a Nepalese company, has such a good reputation. They joked with me about the fact the age range on our team is 19 (an Indian woman) to 67.
After the briefing concluded, they all stood up, clapped and wished us well on the mountain. I was given a really beautiful book on Nepal, which I will take with me on the mountain. The permit is really cool since it is on parchment paper and lists my name at the top as “Expedition Leader,” followed by the names of the 13 other team members, including an internationally known mountaineer and one fellow who was featured on the Discovery Channel program on the North side of Everest last year.
All-in-all and exciting and good day.
We leave for Lukla tomorrow.