Week Twenty-Eight: Update from a Petit Sabbatical

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In late June, I was out of the country. I went to Pakistan and did some work and some travel in the Karakoram Region. This area is characterized by having the highest concentration of high mountains in the world. While most people know Mount Everest in Nepal, many do not realize that K2, the world’s second highest mountain is located in Pakistan.  The approach to K2 involves utilizing various modes of transportation (commercial airplane (large), commercial airplane (small), 4WD Jeep, mule trains, porters, and foot travel for roughly 8 days) to access some of the most remote landscapes on the planet.

This is just to get to the point where you can first see K2.  It is not a mountain that is easy to see in person, and perhaps that is why it is such a special event to arrive at the natural mountain-enclosed amphitheater of Concordia. Exhaustion, rough weather, difficult terrain crossing the Baltoro Glacier, challenging food and water, minimal hygiene standards, these are all factors to expect on the trek. If you are a woman you can also expect to be surrounded night and day by the local men who are hired as porters for the expeditions. These men are accustomed to foreigners, as that is how they earn their living, but typically there are far more men on the trips than women. It can be uncomfortable at times to see the cultural impact of the foreigners – on the local landscape, the local Balti people, and on the expectations that a trekking infrastructure like that in Nepal should be an inevitable path forward for Pakistan.

I knew that my time in Pakistan would not be easy. Not a vacation. I was mentally and physically prepared for the challenges. I had brought a bound paper journal to record my essays for the #52essays2017 challenge. I figured I would type them up and post them when I was back in the States before the school year resumed. But when I came back I found myself lingering over the journal. I was questioning the purpose of writing personal essays. In the context of so many really serious and looming social problems my own jolting arrival back into academia and domesticity and good coffee every morning seemed nearly obscene.

I waited to resume the essay challenge. I put it off until I finished reviewing my photos and journals from the summer. I set a deadline for the first week of school. When it passed I decided that when the semester calmed down I would catch up. There was already so much that I could just transcribe and post. So what if I didn’t hew religiously to the weekly challenge.  But then the semester overtook me. I was applying for promotion, I had articles to write. I was awarded two new grants. I needed to hire three new staff. And every night traffic, dinner, escapism, the fight to sleep. Days and weeks passed.  I read six novels. I complained about them. And I circled back to this challenge.

It is rarely a straight line. The trail was lost several times on the glacier. Often when you get off track, the going gets harder, the cliffs nearer, the river comes into sight and is raging. But the path is still there, looking back the way you came in a slightly different perspective may be all the reorientation needed to affirm the route. I see it now and it looks familiar. It doesn’t look easy, but I know that it is the best way forward. So, I am resuming the essay challenge. I’m getting back on track. I’m ready to ascend and descend and rest along the way. I want the view at the end. Not solely because it is iconic or stunning or noteworthy. But because in arriving I can appreciate where I have been. I can feel how I’ve changed. I can hear a different resonance in my body. And that is important to me. Here’s to committing, stumbling, and recommitting.

This piece is part of the #52essays2017 challenge where I will share one essay a week in 2017. To learn more about this challenge or to participate, check out writer Vanessa Martir’s website and post about it.

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