Even though I am a Sherpa I had never been to Khumbu, the land of my parents. I am 16 years old, but hadn't yet discovered the 'Sherpa' in me.
We flew Yeti Airlines, owned by Ang Tsering Sherpa, to Lukla. Ang Tsering and my father had dreamed together of their future from the high pastures here. I was surprised by Lukla, my father's village. I was expecting a medieval settlement, but Lukla turned out to be a bustling, modern town with a busy airport and the gleaming summit of Karyolung peering down on it.
The trek was for Jeffrey Kottler and his team, who were here on a project to empower Nepali girls. We began in Ghat, where the uncle who named me, Pasang Sherpa, came from. He and my father AD Sherpa accompanied me, as did my cousin Dawa Chiri, an artist lama.
My father, who loved the yaks he tended here when he was my age, was nervous that we didn't know what to do when we encountered yaks. He told me and my sister Heyshe that when you pass yaks, you have to be sure you are on the 'mountain' side of the the trail.
At Ghat, my father was to give six scholarships on behalf of his company, Friends In High Places, to help Jeffrey's program. I was stunned by the patience with which the students had waited for us all morning because of our delayed flight. They were all clad in Sherpa dress, and held khatas. There was confusion about whether I was a foreigner or a Sherpa. I felt as confused as they did about my identity.
Jeffrey surprised me by saying that I had to give a short speech. Stage fright. Trembling, thanking my education and being emotional, all at the same time, I said that my experiences so far had been great and that one day I would come back to help the land of my forebears. I got applause, and a thumbs up from my father. What touched me even more were the elder women saying 'ningjay' ('how affectionate' or 'what love'). Despite living in Kathmandu my whole life, I now felt hardwired into this community. We belonged to each other instantly.
Uncle Pasang had tried to make sure that our journey was comfortable. But all along the trail, I was sad to see children working. It was a feeling deeper than 'sad'. A combination of emotions, guilt for my own pampered life, my clothes and shoes, but also a surprise at seeing how happy and content the children were with whatever little they had.
He is in Grade 7, and will have to move down to Khumjung next year to continue high school. Looking at Lakpa and his radiant smile made me happy for him that despite having to juggle school and work he behaved as if he didn't have a care in the world. My life is a thousand times easier, I don't have to work at all, my school is right next to my house. We are both Sherpas and Nepalis, I have so much and he has so little. Yet, he has the gift of independence.
A tree's roots are in the earth, but its branches are all over. I love prayer flags, thankas, khatas, chortens, Lhosar, and Sherpa stew. The visit strengthened my roots a little, and told me that I must move on if only to come back again.
A Sherpa blessing:
"May you always walk gently
With your head amongst the stars and your feet firmly on the ground
And may the gods guide the steps you take."