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March 2003:

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Mar. 23

Barry & Riley take a break    Photo by Erich Schlegel / The Dallas Morning NewsHello friends, family and TE'03 supporters! We are doing well and the team has arrived safely in Namche Bazaar. We'll have a couple of days of rest, exploration and acclimatization. As we settle into camp, we're doing laundry, relaxing, playing Frisbee.

Being a part of this expedition is a blessing in so many ways. The smiles as everyone sees and experiences this amazing place lets me know that no one regardless of their disability should be held back from achieving their dreams. We've had a few SAT phone transmission difficulties, but we're up and running now! Apologies for the delay in this posting. Cheers! Gary

TE '03 and CTD needs your continued support.

Questions / comments for the team

Slide show by Erich Schlegel / The Dallas Morning News

Kim has a captive audience with balloons      Photo by Erich Schlegel / The Dallas Morning NewsTravelers forge friendships at 8,900 feet
Trekkers from America find common ground with Sherpa villagers

By Lee Hancock / The Dallas Morning News

MONJU, Nepal – The village teacher watched, amazed, as Mark Gobble signed furiously to Pemba Dorjee Sherpa, the young man everyone in the village knew couldn't hear or speak.

As Pemba Dorjee's hands flew in response, his face beaming, the teacher turned, wide-eyed, to Christine Kane, Mr. Gobble's translator and teaching colleague at the Texas State School for the Deaf in Austin.

"He pointed to Mark and said, 'No talk! No talk!' " Ms. Kane said. "He pointed to Pemba and said, 'No talk, too! Same! Friends.' "

For both Austin residents, their unexpected encounter with the 20-year-old Sherpa man was among the most remarkable moments in a remarkable journey.

"It's funny because I did ask myself: Obviously, there should be a deaf Sherpa. ... But the thought of meeting someone, it's very doubtful," Mr. Gobble said. "Bottom line, I'm so happy this happened."

Mr. Gobble and Ms. Kane are traveling with a Texas-based group of people with disabilities, the Team Everest 03 Challenge Trek, that is going to Mount Everest base camp to call attention to the abilities and potential of people with physical limitations.

Pemba, Christine & Mark G.       Photo by Erich Schlegel / The Dallas Morning NewsThe group camped Saturday, its third day in the Himalayas, at the teahouse run by Pemba Dorjee's mother. When Mr. Gobble, 28, and Ms. Kane, 30, arrived, they were ushered into the teahouse and began communicating by signing.

Pemba Dorjee quizzed Mr. Gobble and explained that he'd been born deaf because his mother took medicine that damaged his ears in utero. After years at a boarding school in Katmandu, he said, he returned to his village to raise horses and marry a woman from nearby who could sign.

Ms. Kane translated, at times baffled by Pemba Dorjee's Nepalese sign language. But Mr. Gobble seemed to understand his Sherpa counterpart perfectly, his hands dancing and eyes sparkling as they conversed. At several points, he translated Nepalese sign to Ms. Kane, so she could translate it into English for a bilingual Sherpa to translate again into Sherpa speech.

"It feels good to be around someone who you can share something in common with," he said.

Pemba Dorjee also seemed elated, explaining that he was only one of three deaf Sherpas who could sign within several days' walk of his village, and even his mother only knows about 10 words in Nepalese sign.

He added that he'd only seen deaf trekkers twice before.

"It makes me feel so warm," Pemba Dorjee said, beaming. "It makes me smile that you're here."

Overwhelmed by visit

At mid-afternoon, he invited the two Austin teachers to his village, a tiny settlement at 8,900 feet on the edge of the Dudh Kosi river. He led them 15 minutes up a mountain trail and into the dark, smoky interior of a Sherpa house, explaining that one of its occupants was an elderly deaf Sherpa who had never had the chance to learn how to sign.

Ms. Kane said the old man, who lived in the house with his brother, sat smiling at the visitors, clearly unable to communicate even with Pemba Dorjee.

"Pemba, Mark and the man were sitting there, and Pemba was trying to explain that we're all deaf. We're the same," she said.

Mr. Gobble, whose parents and grandparents also are deaf, said he was overwhelmed. He said he'd heard stories about deaf people who were never taught any means of communication but had never imagined he would actually meet one.

"It just hits my heart," he said. "If someone had been able to sign with him when he was young, he would've been a completely different person, had a completely different life."

In an afternoon, he said, he'd seen the two poles of the deaf world: a young, competent man making a life for himself in a remote village in Nepal, and an older one, isolated and dependent with no means of communicating anything to the rest of the world.

"What's more sad is to know that all over the world, you can see that. If I see it here with one person, how many situations are there that I never do?"

Dr. Janis repairs boy's lip      Photo by Erich Schlegel / The Dallas Morning NewsTo the rescue

Challenge Trek members were settling into a lazy afternoon on Saturday, taking in the mountains, playing Frisbee and dozing.

Village children gathered at the edge of the group's tent camp, poking at dozing village dogs and giggling at the Westerners, calling out namaste! and the mantra chanted to trekkers passing through every village in the Himalayas: Pen? Candy? Bon-bon?

Then a boy watching the group's tent camp shrieked horribly. One of the dogs had turned on the boy, 9-year-old Pasang Tensing Sherpa, biting his lip in two and ripping a gash within an inch of the boy's right eye.

"Doctor! Doctor!" group members called, summoning Janis Tupesis, a Chicago physician who volunteered to provide medical care for the Everest 03 trek.

A sunroom of a nearby teahouse was soon transformed into an emergency room. Dozens of Sherpa men, women and children crowded outside to watch as Dr. Tupesis comforted the boy through a Sherpa translator. The doctor injected the boy with lidocaine and began stitching him up.

Outside, the boy's mother wrapped a piece of cloth around the dog's neck to strangle it and then wailed, "My only boy! He's my only son!"

She calmed and let the dog go when someone asked her to come see her son. The doctor repaired her son's lip and cheek with 10 stitches and the medical equivalent of super glue.

Janis       Photo by Erich Schlegel / The Dallas Morning News"Thank you, thank you," she said, draping silk scarves or katas – given by the region's Tibetan Buddhists as a sign of respect and thanks – around the necks of Dr. Tupesis and other Westerners.

Dr. Tupesis grabbed one of his sterile gloves and blew it up like a balloon, drawing a face on it and announcing, "See? Looks like a chicken!" to coax a smile out of the frightened boy.

Other Sherpas said the boy would've had to be carried at least three hours to the nearest hospital if the group had not set up camp in Monju that day. Traveling on foot on rough mountain trails is the only means of travel in the region, and Monju, like most villages in the high Himalayas, has no electricity, telephones or even rudimentary medical care.

By the afternoon's end, word of what the doctor had done for the boy had spread through Monju, and several more ailing Sherpas had appeared at the camp, asking for the doctor to take a look at bad teeth and injured eyes.

"We were in the right place at the right time," said trekker Chris Watkins. "Otherwise, what would they have done?"

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