I went to NYC for a travel trade show. I was helping AC with his show booth for his climbing business. So it was a Sherpa weekend for me. It was also nine degrees when I arrived at Laguardia. Gambu fetched me from the airport but not in a cab, like I expected. He drives cabs as his day job, so I figured… but a sleek black SUV pulled up and I heard his deep tenor voice holler my name across two lanes of traffic. He took me back to his home in Queens. We marched over snow piles, up a half-dozen steps and paused at the wrought iron door with a Nepali scarf (khata) woven through it. As we entered the common staircase, he welcomed me to the Sherpa house. Inside were the doors to three stacked flats, each with a Buddhist door cloth covering the entrance. It was as though I has stepped into the highlands of Nepal. Three Sherpa families live here, including Gambu’s at the top. The owner is at the bottom. Spice and incense was faint in the hall. We dropped our shoes at the top of the stairs and went in. I met his fourteen year-old son, Pasang, and his roommate Lhakpa who was in the kitchen with a one-year-old baby on her hip.
Pasang served me Sherpa tea and Gambu took the baby to give Lhakpa time in the kitchen to herself. He walked her around the room speaking to her in Nepali, pausing at the shrine above the TV. He rattled a quick order and she responded by bowing her head to Buddha. She sat on my lap and studied my nail polish. She watched American cartoons on the iPhone while we talked. I love watching the family dynamic in a Sherpa household. Gambu’s wife is in Nepal with their daughter, but the two families shared routine like they were siblings. I peered in the kitchen when I heard a heavy cleaver falling on bone-in meat. Lhakpa was chopping pork for dinner and soaking lentils. Then Lhakpa’s husband, Lhakpa came home (don’t get confused, there are only so many Sherpa names, remember?) and Gambu introduced me. Lhakpa intercepted his baby from Gambu while Gambu made jokes about how husband and wife have the same name. I asked how everyone keeps them straight. Middle name, Gambu answered. Their middle names both begin with a D which makes it even more of a challenge. It’s endlessly entertaining, handling Sherpa names. I find myself asking about people not by their name, but by their name followed by a three sentence description. “How is Lhakpa?… your roommate with the baby… The husband.” “Oh, yeah, that Lhakpa,” comes the reply. It’s a fun dance. “Gambu, the musician in New York,” and so on.
After getting to know Lhakpa, the husband, (he drives a cab, too) we were ushered into the kitchen to dish up. A taste of Nepal with a warm family in a cozy Queens flat. Stories of the homeland and of family and music and travel bounced back and forth across a table of curry and lentil soup. “Have more,” Gambu said when my plate was half empty, “because you will make her more happy if you eat more,” he said pointing to Lhakpa who was feeding the baby.
Curried pork, lentil soup, rice and garlic baby bok choy
The TV news rumbled in the background and Pasang fiddled on his iPhone after pushing back from the table. “I adopted seven children this year in Nepal.” Gambu offered. I paused. Conversation with my Sherpa friends often ends up being an estimation with words, and a lot gets filled in with imagination. Rather than imagine, I like to ask for clarification. I didn’t believe that he had actually adopted seven children as his own just this year, so I asked for an explanation.
He takes the money from his music tours and scoops up street kids in Nepal between the ages of five and seven, then puts them in boarding schools. This year he pulled seven off the street. “It costs about $700 per month to feed, board and teach those seven.” He has several business associates that help him funnel the money to the kids and manage the organization in Nepal. He could tell I was in journalist mode and watched me feed off the story.
“Is this something of your own that you created, or did you find and join it?” He explained it was his own idea and his operation. Then he said, “There are 75 regions in Nepal. It is my dream one day to adopt children from all seventy-five regions. My dream. My wife is there now looking in on the children, she helps with that.”
I looked around the minimalist, tiny flat and absorbed that mentality for a moment. It’s one of the things I love about the people I’ve met in Nepal. They all seem to not only have an NGO they are involved with, but they actively administer the change that they want for their country. That’s such a wonderful mindset. You don’t need to have a lot in order to give a lot.