I had the distinct pleasure and disgust this weekend to watch the multi BAFTA / AACTA award-winning Netflix documentary “Sherpa” this weekend! – The true story following New Zealand Tour guide Russell Brice and Sherpa Phurba Tashi during the period of the 2014 disaster leading to the loss of 16 Sherpa’s.
Having previously watched a number of documentaries around climbers, mountaineering and various other films including Everest, K2 and Meru. I was keen to see this documentary and to learn more of the Nepalese people, the sacred origins of the rock and how they had been depicted throughout the film.
And whilst there is some great cinematography, and incredible views, it became quickly and abundantly apparent of the disparity between the story of the Nepalese Sherpa, and the blatant selfishness, arrogant, ignorance of the white middle class “Guest” who claims to have ‘trained for months’ to be worked with hot towels and waited on with Tea/Coffee whilst the Sherpa is paid a pittance to work through the night carrying their every luxury across moving ice rivers to each stage of their resting area prior to being led to ‘their’ summit!
This was a beautiful yet tragic, terrifying, and revealing documentary that shows the undeniable differences in values and attitudes between the Nepalese culture and beliefs and the west’s insatiable desire for thrill, adventure, and self-glorification at any cost.
At one point (less than a week) after 16 Sherpa’s are killed whilst transporting masses of equipment, including flatscreen TV’s, books and bookcases, heaters, marquees, etc through the night from ‘BaseCamp 1’ to ‘BaseCamp 2’ ahead of the fee-paying westerns rising to hot towels and coffee in bed, ready to be led from 1 to the other. The Sherpa’s finally determine ‘enough is enough’. They have been persecuted for generations by westerners seeing them as slaves to command at their beck and call. And the loss of so many of their family, friends, colleagues, with such little regard shown by the tourists, pushes them over the edge.
A meeting is called, and they determine only if they stand in solidarity and refuse to climb will both the tourists and the government listen to their plea for better conditions, better wages, and compensation. They refuse to ‘walk over the dead’ of whom have just perilously lost their lives before them, and instead state ‘out of respect for them and their families, they will forgo any further earnings that year and return home’.
Instead of acknowledgement and support, or any offer of compensation, an American lawyer, annoyed because the expedition cannot go ahead, calls the Sherpa climbers “terrorists” and wonders why their “owners” don’t get rid of the ones who don’t want to climb out of respect of the 16 deaths. And whilst privately Brice suggests to the Sherpa’s he is there to support them, and ‘respects their wishes’. When confronted by the “devastation” of not being able to climb up a hill! rather than stand up and defend his employee’s right to Health and Safety, Equality, Fair pay, he joins his fee-paying western clients saying they are militant trouble makers, that should be punished.
It’s a really well-made film, that depicts the stark contrast between western and Nepalese morals and values. With the Sherpa, one of the Tibetan ethnic groups native to the most mountainous regions of Nepal, Tingri County, and the Himalayas. And their 3000+ heritage of culture, Gods, and traditions. And how, like their ancestors of high altitude farmers, have transitioned to the perilous, subservience of the middle-class western tourist who calls themselves ‘mountaineers’ and yet hasn’t got the first clue about the hardship of high altitude mountaineering, because of their ongoing demands and expectations of all the creator comforts of a 5* hotel, at 22,000 feet above sea level!
My questions to you on reading this, are:
- Have you watched the film? And what did you take from this?
- If you haven’t, will you? Based on what I have shared?
- Whether you have or not, What are you going to DO TODAY in regards to this?
Where does your moral compass point these days? What are you doing to WEAR your values with pride? How do you reflect these. in all you do? and what do others know of what you stand for?
Now is NOT the time to say, it’s nothing to do with me. NOW is the time to self-examine who we are, what. we do, whom we do it with and the impact it has in our community, our profession our world.