It’s actually legally inaccurate to refer somebody as an illegal, because to be in this country without papers is a civil offense not a criminal one.
…As I stand here right now, there are tens of thousands of students across America who are here without papers, and I would hate to think that they’re sitting in their classrooms listening to us talk about them and internalizing the word ‘illegal’…
It’s incredibly dehumanizing and pejorative, and comes with it so many connotations - negative, all of them. That we’re criminals. That we’re not supposed to be within even the block that you live in or the school that you go to.
Actions are illegal - never people. And something is terribly wrong when we refer to people as illegal."
"Companies get confused. When they start getting bigger they want to replicate their initial success. And a lot of them think, well somehow there is some magic in the process of how that success was created, so they start to try to institutionalize process across the company. And before very long people get very confused that the process is the content."
"Like many others who had only followed Iraq’s recent history on television or newspapers, my family and friends feared for my safety. But in the words of one of the TEDx speakers: “If you come with good intentions to do good, you will be welcomed as one of their own.” Her insight was indeed true as together, we made the impossible, possible. A galvanising force, bringing TEDx to Baghdad demonstrated beyond a doubt that infinite possibilities can be achieved when the Iraqi diaspora re-engages with the people of the country. By spurning preconceived notions of pessimism and fear, we were able to forge an unequivocal bond of solidarity and instill a sense of hope and promise in the lives of those we met on the ground."
"I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story. From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Attila and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn’t quite make out. I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn’t make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet."
It all starts with a flight into the mountains. Lukla airport sits on the edge of a cliff with a runway that appears too short to be real. If the clouds come in, the pilots navigate using a Garmin GPS, which turns bright red for incoming mountains (center of photo).
Lukla is where nearly all trekkers and climbers begin their ascent to Mount Everest. The town seemingly exists solely to support the tiny airport. Because flights into the mountains can be unpredictable (some days the visibility is so low no planes can land), guesthouses, restaurants and a few bars serve those temporarily stranded or waiting to depart back to Kathmandu the next morning.
Shortly after arriving in Lukla we made our way down into the valley, spending the first night at a teahouse in Phakding. Bridges crossed glacial waters flowing as fast rivers between steep cliffs and idyllic views. It should have been an easy and calm start to our adventure. But one of our Nepali guides was accosted and punched by a Maoist, who was upset because our group was not employing or giving bribes to the Maoists in the area. Although political tensions have dissipated since Nepal’s King gave up his power, situations like this are not uncommon. What ensued was hours of tense debate, with our British leader Valerie and 4 Nepalese guides and porters arguing about why we would not support the Maoists. Nepali police were on hand to keep the peace. The photo below was taken in a town called Bhaktapur outside Kathmandu, remnants of Maoist propaganda.
The first (and arguably only) major waypoint on the journey is a village called Namche Bazaar, which resides at around 12,000 feet. It basically forms a horseshoe on the side of a hill and is famous for its markets — both a weekly Saturday market and daily Tibetan market. Smaller than I had imagined, it’s here where you should eat meat for the last time and pick up any items you may have forgotten to bring from home. Namche also has the last decent Internet connection on the trail up to Everest. Our guide Hari snapped this shot of me upon arrival.
Many groups heading up the mountain stay an extra night in Namche Bazaar to acclimatize, but we continued climbing the next day to a town called Khumjung, where we visited a school established by Edmund Hillary, before dropping back down in elevation to Kanjoma, which consists of a couple teahouses overlooking the valley. Along the way we stopped at a monastery to see the famed Yeti skull. It was this day we began to see the stark beauty of the Himalaya appear all around us.
After Kanjoma, we had a long, steep climb up to Tengboche. 3 of our group were not doing well and took horses up the mountain. I hooked up a mini-speaker to my iPod and let the music push me forward; I was feeling really great. I woke for sunrise the next morning and glimpsed Everest for the first time, as the valley slowly lit up in the crisp morning air.
From Tengboche we climbed to Dingboche through a brief snowstorm. Something I ate was not agreeing with me, but thankfully we had an acclimatization day in Dingboche, so I could relax and get my health back. A few antibiotics did the trick and by the time we left Dingboche I was feeling great. The trail out of Dingboche was breathtaking. Surrounded by Himalayan peaks and above the tree line, it felt like completely different world.
Following a brief stop at what may be the most disgusting toilet in the world, we had a very steep climb to a plateau with memorials for those who lost their lives on Everest. Although we had yet to see the mountain up close, its impact was already affecting our emotions. I took the following photo at the memorial site.
Our next stop was Lobuche, which is tiny and very, very cold. Our leader Valerie, who had summited Everest in 2009 and lost the toes on her left foot in the process, was not a fan of Lobuche. She told us about the rumored ghost who chokes people at night - although having trouble breathing is probably simply a sign of the altitude. It was here we crossed the 16,000 feet mark. The stars were beautiful and the night absolutely freezing.
The final waypoint before Everest Base Camp is Gorak Shep at 17,000 feet. It has the highest Internet cafe in the world, although it’s slow to the point of unusable. Almost immediately after arrival we began our ascent of Kala Pattar, which stands across the valley from Everest and offers the best views of the mountain. It was a long slong up and dangerously windy up top, but the view did not disappoint. This was at 18,500 feet.
What looks to be a cloud behind the black Everest rock below is not: snow is blowing off the peak at around 100 miles per hour. Climbers won’t begin their summit push until the jet stream rises higher.
The next day we continued our trek down the Khumbu Glacier towards Base Camp. From atop Kala Pattar, it seems so close. In reality, it’s a good four hour hike along questionably stable rock that covers the ice. I was awestruck by Base Camp once it came into view. Tents scattered on the rocky landscape, it was unlike anything I’ve ever seen. It felt like being on the moon. Yet despite the harsh surroundings, Base Camp was filled with energy as climbers prepared and waited for the 3 week window in which they could attempt to stand on the highest point in the world. It was a mini-city that exists for only two months each year.
Our tents were perched right on the edge of the Ice Fall, the most dangerous part of climbing Mount Everest. The picture below doesn’t do justice to how immense the Ice Fall really is; if you look closely, you can see climbers in the center. It’s a daunting 12-hour trek through the Ice Fall up to Camp One, crossing 300-foot deep crevasses on precarious ladders. You can only hope an avalanche doesn’t come down before you reach the next camp. We witnessed about two avalanches each day, but none directly hitting the Ice Fall.
This photo I snapped of Graham does a good job at emphasizing what it feels like being in the Ice Fall - and we only went a little ways out. To go further requires proper ropes, crampons and a permit that costs around $10,000. Maybe next time.
On our second day, a storm rolled in, completely obscuring the surrounding mountains and leaving a beautiful white covering over Base Camp. A snowstorm in April is pretty uncommon, but the Sherpas say the weather becomes stranger every year. Part of me was hoping we’d be trapped for a few days, but it let up after dumping about six inches. Sleeping in a tent at Base Camp was quite cold at below -10C, but the snow added a nice layer of insulation that night.
The next day, on the way out of the valley, I took this picture. The snow had completely changed the landscape.
It was an incredibly lucky experience to spend time at Everest Base Camp, interacting with the summiting teams and getting a feel for what it’s really like. I only wish I could have stayed longer. Most people never go past here, a rock that sits a good 45 minutes away from the tents, which reads “5634m”. Our group, all from the UK but Galen and me, was wonderful and I am honored I got to spend nearly three weeks with them.
As is tradition for those going up to Everest, we left a Yeti foot at the Rum Doodle restaurant in Kathmandu memorializing our expedition.