Karma Sherpa lives in Sibuje, a small farming community at an altitude of over 8,000 ft. near the border of Everest Region and Makalu-Barun National Park, Nepal. The village is home to eight-teen families, which is an average sized Sherpa community. Most villagers are subsistence farmers, while a few work in tourism as guides and porters. Those who work in tourism travel to Kathmandu during the Spring and Fall (high tourism season) to look for work. They return in early summer to help plant crops and reap the harvest.
The village is a four-day walk from Lukla airport, which is where most tourists begin their trek toward Everest Base Camp and surrounding natural attractions. Very few tourists visit the village. There are no teahouses in the village (small lodges where tourists stay), nor is there infrastructure to support tourists, such as bathroom facilities, restaurants, or shops. The only structure in the village other than houses is a tiny monastery measuring 20ft. by 20ft. where a single widowed nun lives.
Villagers who wish to go to school walk about one full day to reach Karikhola School. The school is free, but villagers must pay for room and board during the week in order to attend. Students typically stay with local families, or in boarding houses. Because Sibuje’s economy is one of trade and subsistence farming, it is difficult for locals to afford to send their children to school. Family members who work in tourism outside the village are able to earn money that is used to send siblings and children to school.
Because the monsoon causes landslides along the steep mountainside en route to Sibuje, there has never been an attempt to construct a road to the village. The trail to the village is narrow, and ascends (and descends) several ridges more than 3,000 ft. high. Pack animals, such as mules, are used in the dry season, but during the rainy season from May to early September the trail is sometimes too dangerous even for these animals. Because of the difficulty of transporting building materials, the village has no electricity, sanitation, or plumbing. Water is gathered from a stream ¼ mile east of the village, while wood is cut locally for heating and cooking. Cutting the forest has made it necessary to travel greater distances to gather firewood, and the slopes surrounding the village are at risk of landslide as a result. In the winter, it takes as much as four hours a day to gather wood that is needed for heating and cooking for a single day.
To the north of Subuje sits Mera Peak, at 6,476 meters/21,247 ft. This mountain is sacred to the local people, and through snow and glacier melt provides water used for irrigation and drinking water. Mera Peak is also the highest trekking peak in Nepal. A trekking peak is a permit category, not an indicator of the difficulty of a climb. Trekking peaks have the cheapest permit fee, which makes them popular with climbers. Climbers headed for Mera Peak pass within a half-day’s walk of Sibuje village. For this reason, some Sibuje villagers work as porters for climbs of Mera Peak, since it is cheaper for agencies to hire these people than to pay for the transport costs of staff from other areas.
Karma hopes that he will be able to employ more people of his village in tourism. Already, those who have such employment are able to provide a monetary income for the family that is used to purchase clothing, education, and extra food rations in the event crops fail. Women and girls have minimal involvement in tourism at the moment, but this is improving in Sibuje due to development of a home-stay program. Cultural gender roles amongst Sherpas mean that child care and animal husbandry take-up a good deal of time for women, and make it difficult for them to leave the village. By bringing tourists to Sibuje, women are able to participate in the monetary economy without the need to leave their homes. Additionally, Karma hopes to begin employing women as guides through his company. He is already training his youngest sister so she will be ready when she turns 16.