Pemba and the Founding of JOURNEYS
Our first acquaintance with Pemba on May 1, 1978, was the founding event of JOURNEYS. Just days before our meeting he was buried and nearly killed in an avalanche while assisting a high altitude climbing expedition in western Nepal. We had just arrived in Kathmandu with a trekking group for what we expected to be a one-time return visit to the country where Will had been a Peace Corps Volunteer and Joan an English language teacher. The leader we’d expected for our expedition was nowhere to be found. Will went searching for a replacement in the places in Kathmandu where mountaineers congregate and came upon a rapt group of climbing Sherpas in a crowded apartment listening to Pemba tell his tale of terror and near death. Will was impressed with Pemba’s manner and intelligence, and invited him to join our trek as sirdar (head guide). After surviving his ordeal, Pemba felt that a change of direction in his mountaineering career was appropriate. Pemba accepted and offered to be our cook as well. A relationship took hold during our 25 days on the trail, and so did a dream: We wondered if we might continue working together. We wondered if we could offer an alternative to large-group tourism, something more personal, more charitable, more locally inspired. We decided to start sister companies in Ann Arbor, Michigan and Kathmandu. And so began our 31 years of intertwined history. Pemba became our friend, our partner and our brother. He cared for many hundreds of our clients, and in the late 1990’s he was honored by his peers when he was elected president of TAAN, the Trekking Agents Association of Nepal.
Pemba’s Early Life
Pemba’s birthdate in the small Sherpa town of Thame on a trade route to Tibet and not far from Mt. Everest was unrecorded. Pemba’s father died before he was born and at about the age of 7, Pemba witnessed the death of his mother who fell down a steep slope while gathering fire wood. He then lived with his teen-aged sisters in deep poverty. with little food. He joined his first mountaineering expedition at age 12. He became a “kitchen boy” who could scamper quickly between camps to prepare food in advance of arriving mountaineers. His potential was noted by a Japanese leader who arranged for him to travel to Japan to learn cooking and language while working in a ski resort, providing him with ever more impressive credentials. He worked for climbing expeditions from many different countries, making good friendships with other climbing Sherpas and eventually meeting and marrying Anchi, the daughter of a prominent Sherpa family from Namche Bazar.
Pemba as Teacher
Pemba’s energy and optimism were boundless. He continually surprised us with new and creative schemes, facing the impossible with doggedness and creativity. He knew that you had to fail sometimes in order to win at all. He was an expert in applied Buddhism. He was deeply religious, though he had minimal schooling and no formal religious instruction. Kindness, compassion, and generosity were his natural gifts. He advised us on how to work with challenging people. He reminded us that the secrets of well-being are independent of material goods, wealth or formal education. In caste-conscious Nepal, the JOURNEYS office was a place where Nepalese of all backgrounds worked together without predjudicial concern. In slow times, Pemba supported his staff as best he could, and any staff member’s health or family problems were his, too. He believed all gifts of a sincere heart would eventually be returned in kind. As a true believer in karma, re-incarnation and respect for all living things, Pemba translated Buddhist theory into selfless action. In the time we knew him, he grew from knowing few words in English to communicating deeply moving insights which supplemented our graduate educations. We will continually strive to live the lessons he taught.
Pemba visited the United States many times, spending several summers with us in Ann Arbor and often visiting clients around the USA. He remembered and cherished every traveler, every group, every trek and everyone who befriended him in this country. Even in his final days, he amazed those at his bedside by recalling all the names in the photos and messages he received. Your friendships were his gifts. Pemba achieved the central goal of his life when he and Anchi were able to provide a US college education for each of their children – sons Pemba and Nawang and daughter Dawa. Pemba Jr. and Dawa live in Sonoma, California, and operate Taste of Himalaya, a restaurant started by the family. They’ll be opening a new restaurant soon in Sausalito. Nawang and his wife Wongmu, the daughter of a Nepalese Tibetan family, are settling in Kathmandu after living in Toronto, Canada. Nawang will be taking over responsibilities for JOURNEYS-NEPAL, bringing with him not only the education he received with his business degree but also impressive sensitivity and intelligence. These young adults understand their father’s legacy and they are determined to build upon it. If you wish to share your sentiments or thoughts with Pemba’s wife and children, Pemba Jr., Nawang and Dawa, you can post here or send an email message to email@example.com
Pemba would have reminded us that great pleasures can follow great losses. Life, human and otherwise, is not linear or terminal. We cannot stop the cycle. It does not end when we die. The goodness and meaning in Pemba’s life is reborn in our more learned and compassionate actions.
Pemba was devoted to helping poor children, to reforestation and to supporting education. Any gesture of charity or compassion in his name will be an honor to his memory. If you would like to contribute to the Pemba Tsering Sherpa Memorial Fund, instructions follow.