On She Goes

Mom, Nepal, and I: Adventure Trekking for a View of Mount Everest

Claiming space in the outdoors as we hiked to Namche Bazaar.

Christina Djossa
Christina Djossa
August 22, 2017
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Before I moved to Kathmandu, Nepal, I would never have imagined that I would travel to Annapurna Base Camp. I never envisioned myself on an adventure to Langtang National Park to see red pandas and share a warm slice of apple pie with British trekkers at 13,350 feet above sea level. As a Black woman who grew up in Long Island, New York, I rarely saw myself represented in trekking culture. The shows and news I consumed stereotypically featured white men summiting Everest. Though I understood the fraught history around these inaccurate stereotypes, I was being told that the outdoors—a place I longed to be—was not reserved for Black women. If I had not been living in Nepal, I would have squawked at the idea of trekking and walking uphill for eight hours. But seeing breathtaking snowcapped mountains after a tough uphill climb is worth the effort because of the camaraderie among trekkers, the rare wildlife, and the opportunity to experience local culture. So when my mother booked her ticket to Nepal, I absolutely had to share my newfound love for trekking with her.

Our guide Dawa, me, and mom. 
photo by Christina Djossa

I planned a mother-daughter trek to Namche Bazaar, a bustling hillside town in Solukhumbu District, because we wanted to see Mount Everest from Namche Bazaar viewpoint. The more I researched, the more my excitement grew. I pictured my mother and me drinking Nepali tea while watching the sunrise over Everest, or eating dal bhaat, a traditional Nepali dish with steamed rice, curry, lentil soup, and greens, around a lodge fire. The mountains would surely bring us closer.

I was being told that the outdoors—a place I longed to be—was not reserved for Black women.

On a chilly spring day, we arrived in Lukla, the starting point for Everest treks.  Immediately upon entering Lukla, we noticed locals staring when they saw us. I blamed my mother’s trekking outfit, which resembled Joseph’s amazing Technicolor dreamcoat. The outfit was perfected with a black ushanka hat that resembled Tina Turner’s hair during her 1985 Private Dancer tour. I stood out just as much; decked out in black quick-dry clothes, I looked ready for a Nike commercial. Our outfits were hard to miss, but our Blackness was harder to ignore.

On the way to Everest viewpoint.
photo by Christina Djossa

Over five days, we saw rugged hills, cascading waterfalls, and grazing yaks as we trekked higher into the mountains. At times, the steep inclines challenged us mentally, especially my mother. Every 50 feet, my mom asked our guide Dawa and me why we were paying for torture. Pushed to exhaustion on the second day, my mother wanted to quit and take a helicopter back to Lukla. The hefty $650 price tag and a pep talk from the son of Tenzing Norgay, the first Sherpa to reach the summit of Everest, dissuaded her. We found reprieve at lodges, where we rested, listened to Dawa’s stories about his time as a Buddhist monk, and discussed topics like climate change with trekkers over fried rice. Despite our struggles, we were rewarded with a closer connection to the outdoors and to ourselves.

My mom and I felt we were no longer just foreign women of color, but also rounded individuals who deserved to be outdoors.

As we climbed to higher altitudes, we garnered more stares from locals while we walked through different towns. I overheard murmurs of “kali,” a term used to refer to dark-skinned women. Living in Kathmandu and traveling to remote villages taught me that such comments were generally made out of curiosity and were a common local reaction to interacting with Black people for the first time. But we still felt out of place and different from the norm in a space teeming with foreign trekkers, which at times made it an isolating experience.

Buddhist writing on a rock.
photo by Christina Djossa

What helped us overcome those feelings and establish belonging was conversation. Using Nepali, English, and hand gestures, I built a small rapport with people. I asked porters walking to Lukla about their hometown and debated with guides traveling with organized groups about the best momos, Nepali dumplings. Through conversations with lodge owners and townspeople we met as we passed through towns, we learned about each other, which led to greater mutual understanding. My mom and I felt we were no longer just foreign women of color, but also rounded individuals who deserved to be outdoors.

We did, however, have infuriating encounters, like when an American male trekker thought it was funny to touch my mom’s hair. To our surprise and pleasure, the outrage and callouts from trekkers and guides was swift. In that moment, we felt more comfortable existing in the trekking space because people believed our existence mattered too.

Checking out the view of Everest.
photo by Christina Djossa

On the last day, I met a Black woman with scruffy microbraids. She mentioned that she was trekking to Everest Base Camp with her mother. To see someone similar to myself exploring without concern for others’ opinions gave me hope that I would see more Black women summiting Everest, and hopefully, finding their place in the outdoors. Though my mother swore off trekking, I realized that I wanted more, and so I put Gokyo on my trekking bucket list. As we drank tea and hugged near the lodge fireplace during that final day of our five-day trek, we admired photos of our journey and noticed something: we created the representation we needed.