Sitting in the Sherpa Lodge in Phadking, Nepal. We have just come in from our first data collection session. This really shouldn’t be this much fun. Working side by side with good friends new and old. Christine, Nihima, and I set out at 7:00am to find a busy spot of available and willing porters to survey and observe. The first set of surveys were completed in the drizzle by Nima, who, with each survey became more adept. He is a very capable interviewer! Pasang joined us after the breakfast rush at the lodge and jumped right in. Both did fabulous job.
Christine and I started with the observational data. We sat on a strategic wall with her viewing south (observing those who were heading north, towards Namche) and myself viewing north (observing those who were heading south, towards Jiri). At first it was a bit chaotic as the porters were coming at us fast and we were just getting used to our forms. Then we got smart and made a easy to fill table to capture multiple observations on one page. Way less paper shuffling! Christine, with her fantastic data collection and organizational skills, is an observational expert.
As we climb higher along the trekking route we are definitely more proficient at the data collection process: organize the surveys, recruit some observers, brief Pasang and Nima, find the ideal spot where we will find the most porters and get comfortable. Chaos usually quickly ensues as the word gets out. The Porters are interested in what we are doing and more than willing to help. The small gifts are very well received as are the occasional tea and biscuits.
Seth and I spend the time keeping track of surveys, reviewing the completed surveys, keeping the papers dry, administering the pulse oximetery and handing out our small gifts to thank the porters for participating – thanks Mountain Khakis for the hat donations! Occasionally, we will buy a round of tea and biscuits.
We are six days in and we have collected more than 75% of the data. The remaining surveys will be administered in Namche on the way back down. From here on out we will only be collecting observational data. We will be venturing into the higher altitudes and if all goes as planned, we will hike up Kala Patar and check out Everest Base Camp both sitting higher than 18,000 feet.
It is humbling to have a porter pass you on the trail carrying an excessive load (the largest reported load so far is 104kg…for one person) wearing nothing but flip-flops, tattered jeans and t-shirt. No water bottle, sun protection in sight. We are hoping to find out what the porters know about basic health issues including acute mountain sickness. In the process of collecting data, we are also educating the porters who volunteer for our study about acute mountain sickness. Will we make a difference? Let’s hope so. We hope to use our results to develop a more comprehensive study and to later develop a public health campaign for the porters.