Today I bore witness to a truly incredible sight: love in its most formidable and unconditional state. A fundamental response to survival that left me astounded and quite honestly purely dumbfounded. On one level, I felt extremely guilty for having captured this on video, yet in the same breath I felt a responsibility to share what I saw with all of you.
As I was crossing the Tibetan (Chinese) border, preparing to enter Nepal after an extremely arduous climb, I noticed a dozen Nepali women swarm our transport truck, each determined to carry two to three pieces of our equipment and supplies across the famous Friendship Bridge. These women were temporarily permitted to cross the border from Nepal into Tibet (China) for the purpose of carrying our expedition's gear across the border. Now, if you're unfamiliar with this process as most are, please allow me to explain.
When undertaking an expedition up an 8,000 metre mountain, one hires an expedition company that arranges all of the logistics, food, supplies, tents, tables, chairs, generators, solar panels, cooking staff, Sherpas, porters, etc... This generally costs tens of thousands of dollars. When climbing in Tibet (China), as opposed to Nepal, the vehicle transporting all of the equipment drives from Kathmandu to the border, at which point all of the gear is deposited on the side of road just shy of the border. It's a rather shocking experience to then watch dozens of women line up and nearly battle for the opportunity to transport our equipment.
Imagine strapping a propane tank and a 40 pound duffle bag to your head by way of a burlap strap and hauling the weight on your back up a hill at 8,000 feet above sea level, across a bridge, through a customs line-up, across an international border and up another hill for the equivalent of $6.00 CAD. Would you do it? Now ask yourself... Could you do it?
Now... Imagine this. Imagine you have an infant strapped to the front of your chest. Specifically, your son or daughter that you have recently given birth to. In order to feed your newly born child, you must strap a duffle bag and over 30 pounds of equipment to your head and carry it across an international border for the equivalent of $6.00. Would you do it?
When I saw this woman, my heart sunk into my toes. Was I the only one who noticed this woman wearing little more than flip flops on her feet while travelling with her child and moving our gear across the border? I felt the need to put a stop to it, but soon realized the whole system was on auto-pilot and this woman needed the work to feed her family. I followed her and photographed her with my iPhone all the way to the drop off point.
As all of this was occurring, I couldn't help but think of women back home. I wondered what you might think if you saw this sight with your own eyes? I wondered whether you would stop to help or whether you'd be so in shock that you wouldn't know what to do? I know I was.
Seeing the world and witnessing these kinds of challenges that people are faced with everyday change us on a very fundamental level. At first we feel sorry for these women. We assume instantly that they are suffering. Shortly thereafter, the compassion and empathy that we all have in our hearts is unleashed and all we want to do is help. The truth is that for these women, it is their everyday reality and they feel blessed to have an opportunity to work and earn money to feed the mouths of their children and families.
This woman today will forever remain a hero in my mind and in my heart for a very long time. I sought her out and handed her 1,000 Nepalese Rupees for having taken her picture in order to share it with all of you. When I handed her the money, all I asked for in return was for her name. "Susmita," she replied. And she timidly bowed her head and walked away.
What I ask is not that you feel sorry for Susmita, but rather than you are inspired by her strength, humbled by her reality and that you take a moment to appreciate all that you have.
Just imagine how different life could be?
Please pass this blog on to any women you feel may be uplifted by Susmita's story.
Follow Elia Saikaly on Twitter: www.twitter.com/eliasaikaly