The German woman who had leaned into our conversation about Linjon turned out to be quite a character herself. As we kept chatting, I became fascinated with her life story. This happened quite frequently while you were traveling, I was beginning to understand.
She was a diplomat — attached to the ambassador’s office in Kathmandu. Her daughter, on break from university, had joined her for a few weeks of holiday in Nepal. Being able to tour around amazing places and new cultures was just one of the perks of working in the foreign service.
“Well, really the only perk, if your job is like mine,” the diplomat told me as we hit the trail again. “Unfortunately, I spend most of my time working, and very little time to enjoy the country. My boss, on the other hand, he loves to trek. He is in Mustang right now I think, trekking.”
“Walk in for thirteen days, look at a damaged monastery, write a check, hike out for thirteen days, and call it work?” I joked.
She laughed, a wheezy exhalation as we made our way up some steps. “How did you know?!”
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“Being a diplomat doesn’t sound like a bad gig,” I said. “How do I get into this?”
“I’ve had some bad gigs,” the woman said. “It’s not always Nepal. Sometimes you are sent to the U.S.A.!” She gave me a wink as she said it. Her daughter, who had been silently trekking with us, chimed in: “Where there is nothing to eat but McDonalds!”
We spent a few happy minutes debating the relative strength or our nations. It kept our minds off the steep climb, as the trail wound its way up, up , and into the clouds laying low in the Annapurna Sanctuary.
As we ascended above 11,000 feet in elevation, the vegetation began slowly disappearing. Trees, forests and flowers gave way to boulder fields, towering cliffs, and roaring waterfalls and rivers. We were in the alpine.
The diplomat was moving very slowly, stopping to breathe every few hundred feet or so. We quickly fell to the back of the group. The daughter, impatient and young — full of energy but not patience, ran eagerly ahead. I stayed with the mom.
She had an interesting job, and I had her captive. I plied her with question about Nepal, earthquake recovery, and her experiences as a diplomatic attache.
“It’s nice because you get to travel all over the world,” she said. “And I think it was good for my daughter, because she was able to see so much growing up. But it isn’t a very luxurious life,” she added. “The foreign ministry is stingy.” She took a few more steps up the steep stairs we were climbing, then added: “They are Germans.” Waiting for her at the top of the stairs, I cracked a smile.
“I thought diplomats lived pretty large?”
“American diplomats, maybe,” she rejoined. “The American embassy in Kathmandu, it is like a fortress. They have so much. Not like the German embassy. They give us what we need — no more. The Americans — you are an excessive people.”
“That is the stereotype,” I said.
“Well, at least with your diplomats, it’s true,” she responded.
“Yeah, the U.S. State Department is like one of the biggest companies in the world, I think,” I said. “Or maybe that’s the Defense Department… I dunno. Anyways. Our government is huge though.”
“Maybe not for much longer though, eh?” she said. Our conversation turned back to Trump for a while.
“The thing that’s surprised me during my travels,” I told her, “is how serious Europeans — and especially Germans — are when they compare Trump to Hitler.”
She nodded. “Oh yes.”
“I guess it’s just much more immediate for you guys. In the U.S., you know, it’s kind of a joke… ‘oh Trump is literally Hitler…’ but no one really thinks it will happen. World War II seems so far away to me… but it was only 70 years ago.”
“Absolutely,” she responded. “He is a scary man. That is all the news in Europe talks about some days. ‘Trump, Trump, Trump.’ And he is not alone. Many people like him are becoming quite popular in Europe.”
“Because of the migrants?”
She waffled. “Yes and no. The refugees are certainly a part of it… It is very complex.”
I started to press the political conversation further, but she wasn’t having it. “The world is complex, but here is simple.” She gestured at the towering mountains all around us. “Let us enjoy it.”
Quietly, slowly, we made our way up — trying not to think about the outside world, pressing in on the sides of our simple mountain sanctuary.