The world stands aside to let anyone pass who knows where he is going.
-David Starr Jordan
Pasang Bombu Sherpa was Lopsang’s taxi driver the summer we all met. Pasang drove him everywhere. His taxi was a maroon Ford Taurus. It was his second Taurus in two months. He’d bought both Fords with cash. The first Taurus was totaled by a drunk driver who ran a stop sign and T-boned Pasang. Because Pasang was new to this country, just learning to speak English, and carrying minimum insurance, he lost fourteen grand in the first deal. No problem. He took on two additional jobs and had another Taurus in a month. Welcome to America.
Pasang is the hardest working man I know. But then all the Sherpa are the hardest working men I know.
One night, just when I was getting close to feeling financially stable from teaching, and coaching, I got a late night phone call from Pasang. He said hello and asked me how I was, but before I could return the greeting, Pasang began to wail.
At first I couldn’t figure out what was going on, but after about twenty seconds I concluded that he was crying. The wail got louder and was almost a scream when suddenly he sputtered that his mom was dead: she had fallen from a ladder and died. He had only found out that day. There was no way to get to Nepal in time see her before they disposed of her body. He hadn’t seen her in two years. He was drowning in sorrow.
A few months later, Pasang asked me if I could loan him a thousand dollars so he could go home to help his father. Within a short time he left for Nepal. Two years later, when he called from Katmandu and told me he could repay me, I told him to give the money to Lopsang’s widow.
As the years went by, Pasang became a wealthy business man in Katmandu and when things began to go awry for me — as they often did back then — Pasang was always there holding out his hand, letting me know I didn’t need to worry; he would take care of me.
When I went to Nepal to trek and climb, he was my guide. Because his business brings employment to so many Sherpa from the Everest region, we were treated like royalty. Pasang gave me the trip of a lifetime, sharing his homeland, the fabled mountain world I’d read about since I was a child. Throughout our journey, the locals treated me like a brother. I was amazed. Apparently, to be seen in the company of Pasang Bambu meant that I had to be someone very special.
It was on that trip, while sitting in a Tea House in Thame, that Pasang shared the story of how he got to this moment. When he was nine years old, he was living in a stone hut and his father wanted him to go to work as a load carrying porter to help out the family. This could have amounted to a life sentence of packing loads, living like a beast of burden. Pasang knew he was meant for something else. He was an intelligent boy, had met visitors from other countries, and knew there was another way. He pleaded with his father, but the man would not hear it.
Left with no choice, Pasang ran away from home — barefoot and penniless — to Katmandu, some seventy miles away. There, he lived in the streets for a month, until an uncle came, took him back home, and presented his case to his father. Pasang’s father, who had finally grasped the boy’s sincerity, told him that if he could earn scholarship money each year to pay for his schooling, he was free to go. And so Pasang went off to the Sir Edmund Hillary school in a village many miles from home (his village has no school to this day) and received an education. He won scholarships to a university in Katmandu, and eventually came to the U.S. on a scholarship from the University of Washington.
As he told his story, we were sitting in a remote village where people were eating potatoes for every meal, where there was no paper or pencils for the kids. As we huddled around a small iron stove that used dried Yak dung for fuel, a little girl came in the room. I pulled out a pencil I’d been packing and gave it to her, along with a piece of paper. She immediately began to draw on the paper, keeping one eye on her drawings and one eye on me. This little person from a village on the other side of the world had connected with me. When I walked out of the room, her eyes followed my every move.
Pasang told me later that education means everything to these people, but there is no one to teach them, no schools in the village where the young kids can learn, and no supplies to write or read with. I thought of the public schools back home in America, where kids sleep through class or complain how bored they are. With a sense of warmth and gratitude, I studied Pasang’s face, this self-made man from a barefoot village who has never stopped helping everyone he can. What drives such a man to be good? What gives a man the courage to walk away from his father’s chains, or a family’s cycle, or a tradition of misery? How could Pasang have known at age nine that he needed to leave home so he could one day come back and help his people?