Archive for the Willy Category

Video and Trip Report

Posted in Willy on September 26, 2011 by charakusa 2011

Here is the trip report that I submitted to the AAC.

“When I have reached the coldest and most awesome summit…

Posted in Willy on August 10, 2011 by charakusa 2011

…my heart closes like a nocturnal flower.”

-Pablo Neruda

Ben leading the first pitch

Posted in Willy on August 8, 2011 by charakusa 2011


Views from the wall

Posted in Willy on August 2, 2011 by charakusa 2011

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More photos

Posted in Willy on July 26, 2011 by charakusa 2011

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A few words from George Mallory:

“We shall not bring back a single bit of gold or silver, not a gem, nor any coal or iron. We shall not find a single foot of earth that can be planted with crops to raise food. It’s no use. So, if you cannot understand that there is something in [humans] which responds to the challenge of this mountain and goes out to meet it, that the struggle is the struggle of life itself upward and forever upward, then you won’t see why we go. What we get from this adventure is just sheer joy. And joy is, after all, the end of life. We do not live to eat and make money. We eat and make money to be able to enjoy life. That is what life means and what life is for.”


Posted in Willy on July 23, 2011 by charakusa 2011

We are all healthy and happy back in Skardu.  We did not summit Nafees’ Cap but put in a good effort — first a nine-day attempt, and then a three-day attempt.  There are many stories and images yet to come, but these will have to suffice for now:

Full team in Skardu

Posted in Willy on June 19, 2011 by charakusa 2011

Josh has arrived.  Our bags are packed.  The ceremonial ‘Hunza water’ has been poured, toasted, and swallowed.  As we prepare for tomorrow’s Jeep ride to Hushe and the walk that will begin from there, I remember a few lines from a crazy old Chinese mountain poet:

Once at Cold Mountain, troubles cease –
No more tangled, hung up mind.
I idly scribble poems on the rock cliff,
Taking whatever comes, like a drifting boat.

-Han Shan
(translation by Gary Snyder)

Please may you consider for your due respect.

Posted in Willy on June 18, 2011 by charakusa 2011

In between managing pre-expedition logistics like buying spare parts for our 10-kg two-burner stove and arranging for the two goats that we will be bringing to base camp, I’ve also been scratching my head and thinking about what we might un-creatively call ‘gender norms’ in this society.  I’ve been working for about eight months on a research project about girls’ education in rural Pakistan, and at some point in the future I am expected to turn in a long paper on said topic, but ultimately I am most comfortable identifying myself not as a ‘researcher’ so much as a person hanging out with other people and trying to make some sense of their world(s).  (Citation to the late Clifford Geertz, the American anthropologist who famously defined ethnography as the practice of ‘deep hanging out.’)

My observations in schools, households, and everyday interactions over the past week have given me a sense that Skardu– like many semi-urban areas in this part of the world– is changing very rapidly.  Informal interviews with mothers, fathers, teachers, and school administrators have indicated dramatic changes in social norms regarding whether or not girls should go to school, get a job, choose their spouse, or inherit property. These changes are both similar and different to what I observed during a recent month of ‘deep hanging out’ in southern Pakistan.  It is difficult to determine whether girls’ education is a cause or effect of such changes — it is likely both– but either way, it is undoubtedly bound up in them.  Yet it would be dangerously naive and arrogant to think or hope that increasing girls’ education in areas like this will somehow lead towards a future that perfectly matches our own biased conceptions of ‘gender equality’ or ‘women’s empowerment.’

There has been so much written and said about the veil (or hijab or dupatta) in Islamic culture that I need not introduce the topic any further than to mention that many Americans still assume it is some symbol of women’s oppression or marginalization in this context.  The same can be said for the general practice of maintaining physical separation between men and women who are not related: outsiders might tend to think this separation is a symbol and agent of women’s subordination.  The photo and video shown above suggest a different perspective, and challenge us to think harder about how to give ‘due respect’ to different norms while still remaining committed to our own (inevitably biased) ideals about what kind of world we should work to create.

Welcome to Beautiful Baltistan

Posted in Willy on June 15, 2011 by charakusa 2011



Posted in Willy on June 13, 2011 by charakusa 2011

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There are big mountains here, and fruit trees, and wheat fields, and a common hospitality unlike what a foreigner might find in the United States.  Today I visited three households to talk to parents about their daughters’ education, and each of my hosts served me tea, biscuits, and fresh-picked mulberries and cherries.  One also served a full-fledged lunch of rice and chicken curry and curd and lassi, and followed it up with butter tea– a flavor reminding me that this region shares much more with Tibet and Ladakh than national or religious differences might suggest.  But of course the hospitality I describe is more than a matter of food and drink; it is an entire attitude perhaps best captured by the oft-heard phrase, “You are our guest; it is our honor to serve you.”  Again and again, I’ve wondered how I can repay such generosity.  One recent attempt backfired pretty hard, but that’s a different story.

The photos above give a taste of this place, but of course only the smallest taste.  During several conversations today, I wished I could record what I was hearing and post it on this blog, because it was generally along the lines of “Islam is a religion of peace, and the people who do violent things are not true Muslims.”  Three people– a young female teacher, an older male headmaster, and a student’s father– specifically asked me to go home and share this point with Americans.  Yet when I asked if I could make a video of them so they could speak for themselves, they shied away– understandably– and thus, like so much else, what remains is just my own paltry retelling.