Saturday, August 29, 2015

Friends in Hushe

From Skardu we drove to Hushe where my friend Rasool lives.  Rasool has been cooking and taking good care of us on all my trips to the Pakistan Karakoram for the past 28 years.

I first met Rasool in 1987 on an expedition to K2 where he was working for us as a cook.   One evening our porters gathered in a big circle singing and dancing to the beat of hands pounding on five gallon plastic kerosene jugs.  Rasool got up and moved to the center of the circle and began to dance.  He was small and wiry and had already lost the hair on top of his rounded head and wore a close cropped beard.  His dancing told a story about a devious woman who was trying to lure a young man into her bed.  Rasool propped small sticks between his nose and lips to create a fiendish look and dressed up to impersonate a woman with a head covering and tin cups placed strategically under his shirt to simulate breasts. As his dance progressed Rasool spun and flailed his arms wildly and worked himself into a frenzy.  Eventually he reached a point of total exhaustion and he collapsed on the ground completely oblivious to everyone and everything around him.

It turned out that in addition to being a good entertainer he was a pretty good cook.  These attributes led me to hire him again.  By the time we were together again on our 2015 trip to the Nangma Valley, Rasool and I had been on ten expeditions together.  He and his family have really become part of my larger family.

Together with Rasool in 2015 in the Nangma Valley

Hushe is a beautiful village and sits at over 10,000 feet in elevation in a tight rocky and dry valley with a great view of the south side of Masherbrum (25,659 feet high).  It has a short growing season in the summer for the crops that are irrigated by glacier fed streams flowing out of the mountains.  In the winter it doesn't get a lot of sun and is bitterly cold.

Masherbrum above the village of Hushe
Life in the village is hard and my relationship with Rasool has included helping his family with various health and education issues.  Although things have gotten much better, these services in Hushe are poor.  For example, before she died in 2010, Rasool's wife Bedruma had delivered eight children, of which only four survived through infancy.
On an expedition in 1992 Rasool was supposed to meet us in Skardu, but he didn't show so I went to Hushe to find out what was wrong.  He was there with his family heartbroken over the recent death of one of his children - an eight month old baby boy.  Since I had come all the way to Hushe looking for him, Rasool insisted on coming with us to cook.  In Skardu there was access to health care, so during the expedition we came up with a plan to help Rasool and Bedruma by encouraging and offering to pay for them to spend a year there after their next child was born.  All this came to fruition and their son Fida Ali was born and is now about 21.  Fida Ali helped us out on our 2015 expedition to K6 and Changi Tower as a porter on the way into base camp and organized all our porters on the way out from base camp.
Fida Ali and Rasool in Hushe in 2015
Rasool brought along his son-in law Nadeem to serve as the assistant cook on our expedition.  Rasool is getting older and we wanted to have a younger helper to do the heavy work.  Nadeem's father died when he was around 9 or 10 and his mother remarried a man in the village who didn't want her to bring her children into his household.  So Nadeem was raised by his grandparents.  He didn't have the opportunity to attend school in the village because he had to work to support his younger siblings so they could go to school.  I had worked with Nadeem before and he is a very hard, honest, and sincere worker.  He and Rasool have a great working relationship and we were fortunate to have both of them along as our kitchen staff. 

Rasool's daughter Sultanbe with her husband Nadeem and their boys Hasanan Ali and Kashanan Ali

  Late one night in 2010 Rasool called me in Seattle from Skardu crying.  He told me that his wife Bedruma had died.  I found out later it was from cancer and it seemed that treatment was not available to these villagers so she had died quietly at home.  At the time I had been focused on a climbing objective in the Eastern Karakoram on the other side of the Line of Control in Kashmir in India so I hadn't been to Pakistan for a while.  We kept in touch through friends and I could sense that after Bedruma's death he was lonely.
 A few years later I learned that Rasool was remarried to a much younger woman from the village.  At first I felt that it was inappropriate for a sixty-something man to get married to a woman the age of his older daughters - especially because he now has two small children with her the age of his grandchildren.  But I realized after visiting him in Hushe this time and meeting Amina, that I was applying my Western cultural norms to life in Hushe.  I don't know enough about the demographics or lives of women in the village to comment on what was most likely an arranged marriage.  I do know that Rasool is grateful for the company and is good to Amina, his other children have accepted her, and talking about Bedruma still brings him to tears - he still misses her deeply.

Rasool and his wife Amina

Fida Ali is now a father as well.  His older daughter is named Bedruma after his mother and while we were on our expedition his wife gave birth to another daughter.  There are two doulas in the village now to help the women with their pregnancies and birth which has significantly improved infant survival for the parents of Fida's generation.
Fida Ali with his daughter Bedruma
Rasool and I have been through a lot together over the years and his lively willingness to help us in any way he can has been a significant contribution to any success we have had climbing here.  I'm grateful that my old friend has a beautiful family to nurture him as he now becomes "appo" (a respected elder).

Rasool with his young son Rosi

My next post will be about our walk to base camp. 

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