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Norbu Sherpa: 'Money won't bring them back'

The sherpas of Mount Everest are mourning their colleagues killed in a recent avalanche. Many are agonizing over whether they will return up the mountain themselves, as one of them, Norbu Sherpa, tells DW.

Deutsche Welle: How long have you been guiding climbers up Mount Everest?

I began as a kitchen boy in 2004. I climbed Everest for the first time in 2006 - I've been up there six times so far.

Did you know the Sherpas who were killed in the avalanche last week?

One of them was from my village. He was a very active mountaineer and a member of national and local mountaineers' organizations in Nepal. We were very close friends. I was very close friends with other people in the team that was killed. I knew five of them altogether.

Climbers have always been killed on Everest. Are you ever afraid when you climb?

We're normal people, of course we're afraid. But we have to earn money, and our job begins at two in the morning - it must be one of the hardest jobs you can do. But with one expedition we can feed our families for a year. It's the only way to earn good money in Nepal as a sherpa - otherwise there are virtually no opportunities.

Norbu Sherpa Mount Everest Expedition

The Sherpas depend on dangerous expeditions for their livelihoods

How do you view the financial aid being offered to the avalanche victims' families by the Nepalese government?

You have to be aware that in our Buddhist culture a large part of the money will be used for burial rites. The $400 [290 euros] originally offered to the families of the dead mountaineers was a scandal. Now they're talking about $10,000. That's good money. On top of that the government wants to guarantee that the children left behind will get a school education.

Last year four sherpas died on Everest, and two on other mountains, and no one did anything about it, least of all the government. Now that 16 mountaineers have been killed, something is finally happening and we have the chance to put some pressure on the government to further our interests. Of course, the money won't bring our comrades back.

Many sherpas have called for all Everest expeditions to be cancelled this year. Can the sherpas even afford a boycott like this?

At the moment all the sherpas are at the base camps. As soon as they're back in Kathmandu, it will have to be cleared up how the tour operators can improve the situation. At the same time, the government has decided that every sherpa has the right to withdraw from a tour and get a compensation payment. The circumstances of the sherpas differ. Some really are dependent on the full salary to get their families through and pay their school fees. They'll have to carry on, whether they want to or not.

Norbu Sherpa is a mountain guide and an operator of expeditions on Mount Everest. He runs the "Wild Yak Expeditions" agency.

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