We continued along our trekking route, and at some point Heebeom and her guide veered off in a different direction, pursuing the ABC trek route. I learned more about Mane as we spent more time together on the trail.
He was just a few years younger than I, but our paths in life were very different. His mother died when he was five, followed by his father several years later. Mane was raised by relatives but they had no money to send him to school, so he received no formal education. When he was old enough to accept responsibility, he tended the cows in his village. Then, when he was in his late teens, some friends with more education and connections helped him get a job as a porter serving international tourists on various Himalayan trekking routes.
He worked as a porter for about five years, at times carrying over 45 kg (100 pounds) over the steep mountain trails, for several hours each day. He eventually became certified as a guide, and had been working in this capacity for 22 years. During the worst of the Maoist conflict, for six years he worked as a cook on trekking expeditions in Ladakh, India, for several months of each year.
With no family support to rely on, in a society in which arranged marriages were the norm, he found his own wife and married her. Since he was Gurung and she was from the Mustang area, they spoke different native languages, but as they both spoke Nepali, that was their common language.
It was clear to me that Mane couldn’t read in any language, though he made efforts to feign literacy. He never directly admitted it, but one time I overheard a laborious phone conversation he was having with a colleague, in which he was trying to convey a telephone number and other details, after which he said, “Very difficult — he cannot read either.”
He and his wife had three children: a girl, 19, and two boys, 17 and 13. He explained that he had saved no money over the years, as he spent every extra rupee on his children’s education, including two years of English-medium secondary education in a boarding school for his two older children. He did this because, “No read — very difficult.”
He reported all his children were fluent and literate in Nepali, Hindi, and English; that his daughter had completed two years of post-secondary education and he hoped his sons would do the same.
So despite having no formal education and not being literate, by the most important measures this was a very successful man. I sincerely told him I was impressed with his accomplishments and in his modest way he acknowledged his satisfaction with what he had accomplished thus far.