Why am I here?
It is 6 am now. I have not slept. My breathing is not improving. I am waiting for the first break of light. Bending to put on my shoes is exhausting. I put on one shoe. Sit upright. Take a deep breath. And put the other. I go to the dining hall. It is dark and cold. I go back to my room and put on another layer and my down jacket. Then back to the dining room.
Outside the ground is frigid with fresh snow. Last night revelers are still asleep.
I wait for Dawa to wake up. I am alone in the dining room. My arms are folded tight. My head is down. My eyes are closed. And my breathing is shallow. I take long strong breaths in. And out.
It is now 6:45. Dawa walks in. How’s your breathing. He asks. so so. I say. Did you sleep well. I did not sleep at all. I say. That is not good. Sleep is important for today’s acclimatizing. He says. What would you like for breakfast. I tell him that I am not hungry. Just coffee. Food is important too. He says.
To please Dawa, I order an omelette with veggies. Hoping a little protein would help. A frittata arrives and I begin to pick at it. I finish half. I am a little nauseous. Another bite and I may lose the first half too. I drink strong coffee with sugar. Hoping the caffeine can excite my body.
Dawa is sitting next to me. He tries to console me. What would you like to do? He asks. I want to finish the journey. I tell him. You mean the trek to Base Camp? He asks. Yes, the trek. He takes a long pause. He takes his cap off and rubs his head exposing a gray temple. He waits another moment and places the cap back on. What brings you here? Why are you here? He asks. I am not sure. I say. We both sit in silence.
The other guests are making their way to the dining room. One worker is cleaning out the stove in the center of the room. He places a big plastic pan underneath the stove and scrapes out last night’s ashes. He dumps a large bucket of yak dung. Pours kerosene and throws a match inside. The flames rise. He closes the lid.
The Austrian woman walks in. She is as chipper as a chipmunk. She clearly slept well. A large bandana is holding her gray hair. How are you feeling. She asks chipperly. I am feeling better. I lie. I don’t want to start a conversation or get unsolicited advice. Her guide is following her. He asks her what she wants for breakfast. Soup. She say. I need something warm. She adds.
It is now 7:30. Dawa suggests to step outside. Get some fresh air. The snow had already started to melt. The peaks around me are lit up with the sunlight. The closer mountains are pushing back at the sun and slowly giving in. I am happy that I am still able to see beauty. But my breathing is not improving.
I am walking around the perimeter of the tea house. I am pondering. Thinking. Dawa’s question lingers. Why am I here? What brings me here?
The sun is now warming my face and the potato fields below. The ice is beginning to melt. Thin sheets of snow are sliding off the pink roof. The air is now still. It feels a lot warmer than just moments ago.
I go back inside and Dawa is sipping black tea. The sunlight and the yak dung stove are making the dining hall less frigid. What should I do? I ask. I cannot tell you what to do. He says. I am here to support you. And guide you when necessary. I cannot tell you what to do. He repeats. Your breathing is of concern. Your lack of sleep and appetite is of concern. But ultimately it’s your decision.
I am walking back to my room. My bag is already packed. I had plenty of time to do that throughout the night. I head back to the dining room. Dawa is in the same spot I left him. Can I get some black tea. I ask. He quickly gets me a cup. Places it gently next to me along with a sugar bowl. I thank him. He sits back across the table. I put two spoons of sugar and stir it slowly. I watch the steam dancing with the sun rays. Dawa is checking his cell phone. I look around the room. The Nepali group is heading out. The Austrians are making plans with their guide. I take a sip of the tea. I am calm. I take another.
Dawa and I are the only ones in the dining room. I am still enjoying my tea. He picks up his head from his cell phone. So what have you decided. He asks.