I am most grateful for my trip to Nepal last year. It was one of the greater learning experiences of the year, and I want to share with you my stories and what I learned.
To begin, all the work and nearly all the people we help are in Dang. I travelled halfway around the world but missed the Dang valley by something like 200 miles. It felt like the equivalent of driving to work but never getting out of your car once you reached the parking lot. That was a poor decision. There were many people who wanted to see me, and I wanted to see them. I had to get information regarding the status of our school construction projects and the status of teacher training without firsthand experience. Instead, I had to look at drawings and listen to third party accounts and stories to best determine what project to support this year. We got a list of 5 projects, and I will discuss those in the next blog. Last week, we funded another part of the school construction to make the top floor of the new school safe for the children. Since I didn’t go there, I don’t have any school pictures to show you. Bummer.
Each time I visit Nepal, I will make it a priority to travel to Dang to check our work there and hear from the residents. Call that learning #1.
The second obstacle was equally as big. I lead a group up to Everest base camp, and they were not prepared for the experience, including the Nepali cohort from Dang. I did it under the auspices of another company, and it was treated by the participants more like a retail transaction than an act of ministry. I didn’t feel empowered to hold people accountable for their lack of preparation and experience, since they were not “my people” or “my customers,” in modern terminology. None of them had paid me any money to be there, and they had expectations I could never get my head around. Before the trip started, I wrote in my journal which participants should take a Kathmandu Valley tour and not board the plane for Himalaya. Everyone on my list, both American and Nepali, fell short, and I missed by three. All of them were upset in their own way, and as I replay the events, I should have told them to stay in Kathmandu….that was my gut, and I didn’t follow it. That will certainly not happen again.
But great good came from that experience! It helped me construct a better format for future trips to make them successful for everyone who has met expectations, and I will have individual and personal phone calls with every person who goes on these trips to better set the stage. I will also be quick to refund participants all of their money in exchange to tell them to try again when they have made the sacrifice to be ready. I learned that suggesting that they watch someone else’s YouTube video is not the way to set expectations. I also decided to vary the level of difficulty and variety by rotating among 4 regions of Nepal, coming back to Everest every 4th year. I have thought out the 2021 and 2022 treks, and I have some good ideas on 2023 already in my head. We will be going to the Mustang region and Humla/Jumla region in 2021 and 2022, respectively.
Third, I contracted Dengue fever; that was bad luck that I never thought would happen to me! I knew before we left there was an epidemic of Dengue occurring in that part of the world. I didn’t think it would knock me down, considering how fit I was and how many times I had trekked in the Himalaya. It was not my first or second time on that trail, either. I didn’t know how quickly it would debilitate me, for if I did, I would have taken better precautions. Once Dengue symptoms overcame me, I was powerless to walk without real pain and needed a helicopter evac. It was my first time in a helicopter, and the views of the Himalaya at sunset were beautiful, but all I wanted was to get down in elevation and heal. At first, I thought I had acute mountain sickness (AMS), as many of my symptoms overlapped what I would see in someone with AMS. It wasn’t AMS, and it required a blood test to confirm the diagnosis of Dengue. Once diagnosed, I boarded a flight hours later to get access to US medical care. Once I landed, I had to get my blood tested daily, and I was nearly a useless member of society for two weeks. As such, I have scheduled the next trip during a time of the year when the risk of Dengue is greatly reduced.
Even though I had lots of experience and preparation for what was my 5th Himalayan Trek, I had my worst outcome and left Nepal in poor condition.
The lesson here is how to prevent it from happening again. I have taken all these learnings into consideration with my next trip.
This November, I will take no more than 8 people to the Annapurna Sanctuary to trek to Annapurna Base Camp. This is well outside of Dengue season. It is also fewer people. Annapurna isn’t as full of high-altitude experiences as Everest region, so the fitness requirements are reduced. We will also visit the Dang valley during Tihar, my favorite Nepali holiday, and everyone will get to participate in a great holiday festival that they will remember the rest of their lives.
This trip will be cheaper than last year’s trip, as there is no third party involved, and we won’t be staying in high cost hotels the first few nights. I am using some of the same porters, again, and I will be bringing my own camera and not counting on sharing photos with someone else. I am looking forward to going back. Consider joining me. Two spots are accounted for; that leaves 6 sports left.
Here is a link to that trip, for those of you who are interested. I will have an informational session in late March, to help everyone getter a more complete idea of what the experience will be like. Stay tuned.
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