What does a look in the eye mean? We have been at Base Camp for four days now and I have gotten to know the local Tibetans fairly well by now. There is the quiet yak herder who looks you in the eye hoping to sell his knife or yak collar. The young girl who is famously shy and avoids the camera. The little one who joyfully plays jump rope with us and then the others.
What do they think when they look in my eyes? Their expressions are mostly the same but when they smile the sunshine breaks loose. Their eyes brighten and you can feel the connection. But when they point to their mouth with a cupped hand, my heart melts. I walked over to their tent yesterday and saw a slaughtered sheep outside the door. Yes, they eat and have plenty so why do they ask us for more? Perhaps a silly question.
After a hike, a young girl followed me to the dining tent. She looked me in the eye and said nothing. No gestures. No expression. There is a sanding order not to give them anything. I glanced around to look for more eyes. I reached in my pack and took out the apple I had packed for lunch. One more glance around. I put a single finger to my lips and looked her in the eye. She acknowledged the deal with a slight smile. I turned my back and held the apple behind me. In a whoosh, the apple and my little friend were gone.
What does the old lady think when you look her in the eye? The man with broken teeth? The young girl with the easy smile? How long will their nomadic life last? When will “civilization” take their land and their way of life? Do they beg because they need or because they have been rewarded? Is our presence part of the solution or part of the problem?
Even when a deal is not sealed, I like to interact with my Tibetans. I ask him what the knife handle is made of? What is her name? How old is he? They say something to me and we both nod in agreement not sure of the question or the answer. Then we both look away at the far away snow covered mountains and stand in silence. Communication without the words. A look in the eyes. A simple smile.
What will they remember about the strange visitors? That we slipped them an apple, played a game of jump rope or cat's cradle? Or perhaps that we smiled back.
Advanced Base camp is established. The entire team moves tomorrow. Today we took a walk a quarter of the way there. It was snowing on Shisha Pangma. A small squall, nothing serious but there was a chill in the air. Or maybe it was my nervousness.
As I write this, three of my friends walk by looking at me typing on my computer. What strange people these visitors are. Yet they smile at me. Perhaps in anticipation or maybe just to say hello.
One of the mothers stands and knits a sheep wool sock for her small daughter. Her dark skin and jet back hair a sharp contrast to the bright red strings in her braided hair. As I ask her what she is knitting she points to her own socks and smiles that smile. Her eyes give away her mission. She is just stopping by to say hello.
Please remember, Memories are Everything