Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Nima, a Sherpa in Connecticut, by Elizabeth Fuller

Elizabeth Fuller's Nima, A Sherpa in Connecticut is a role reversal story for all you Everest climbers out there. Nima Dorje (at the age of 16!) was an Icefall Porter during Chris Bonington's successful 1975 Everest Southwest Face expedition. Afterward, in addition to portering for other big mountain expeditions, he served as an assistant guide for Bobby Chettri's Mountain Travel company in Kathmandu, where he meets Elizabeth Fuller. Nima was responsible for Fuller's and her husband, John's, daily care during their trek from Kathmandu to Thyangboche Monestary and back to Lukla. The couple was impressed by Nima's work ethic, his charitableness, and his friendliness despite the fact that he was slowly dying of tuberculosis at the age of eighteen. After their trek, the couple arranges to bring Nima to the United States to receive the intensive medical care he would need to survive.

It takes the Fullers six months to manage all the red tape and get Nima on a plane to the US. When he arrives, he is but a shadow of his former self, having dropped to 84 pounds and looking close to death. They arrange for his immediate medical care, and within six weeks he is well enough to take up a carpentry apprenticeship. He is still on the mend, and they supervise his health and recovery for the six month stay allowed by his visa. Additionally, the couple enrolls Nima in a nighttime English language program and provide him medical training before he returns to Nepal.

Nima is in for a culture shock as he adjusts to the comfortable living in Weston, Connecticut. He is introduced to a number of Western experiences normally taken for granted, such as television, retail shopping, and electric appliances. He also assumes many of his own traditions are practiced in the United States, such as Buddhism, homesteading, and polyandry. The cultural exchange makes for an overall entertaining story.

The storyline is a mix of past and present, with the tales of the Fuller's trek and Nima's experiences in Weston intertwined. I found it ironic that the couple traveled to Nepal to write a book, without success, but Elizabeth Fuller found material to write when they brought a bit of Nepal into their lives back home. Upon his return, Nima is promoted to a trekking sirdar, and he uses the money he earned and his skills as a carpentry apprentice to build his family a tea house in his home village.

1 comment:

  1. In Bonington's "Everest: The Hard Way," Nima Dorje is listed as an Icefall Porter on page 196. His age is listed as 21, still the youngest on the expedition. I suppose someone lied to get him the job?