Beyond the Smile is a story about love, sharing and discovering what difference a friendship growing over mountains, cultures and continents makes to the lives of people touched by it.
Everest, then what? Twenty years ago, I was on the top of the highest mountain on Earth. What defined me was also my undoing: I was the mountaineer and the adventurer, the ‘first Australian woman to climb Everest’. Climbing at high altitude was what I lived for. Until a very dear friend of mine was killed, coming down from the summit of Makalu, a mountain we were climbing without sherpas or oxygen. I lost the life that had been mine, it was just too sad to be in the mountains.
I struggled to grow beyond my familiar male dominated mountain climbing and expeditions tribes. Would I ever belong again? Who was my tribe now? Nepal saved me. For many years, I had worked with climbing sherpas. After a long break away from the mountains, I was now guiding again, and a question became my new Quest: those sherpas who are always laughing on expeditions, no matter how hard the work is, do they laugh at home too? What happiness was there in life beyond their smile?
It took an invitation from climbing guide Lakpa Tamang to show me another way of living, one I could perhaps one day bring back home to Australia with me. Life in the here and now, defined by duty, love and fun. A life guided by the strength of happiness and the power of smiling, and the love of village women - that feminine power at the core of communities.
Since 2007 I have been fortunate most years to spend time with Lakpa, his wife Pemba and their five, then six, children. Five girls and a boy. This personal experience of discovery led to uncovering the bigger issues that affect the area: the very low level of literacy in trekking guides' farming families and villages, the need to create sustainable local employment, the low rate of young people completing their high school education.
Beyond the Smile spans a decade of sharing and growing, of learning to give and receive, of belonging, and gratitude for the journey of discovering another way of life, and through belonging, a better self.
Note: sherpa as ‘high altitude Nepali worker’, not necessarily from the Sherpa ethnic group.
Exposure to inspiring experiences through visual ‘entertainment’ can change people's lives. Insight into other cultures and their way of dealing with life in all aspects is something worth exploring and learning from.
Discovering the joy in every day life, through the deep spirituality as well as through the simple tasks and pleasures of a subsistence farming community in the hills below Everest, led to a yearning to belong to something greater than the self.
I want to share with the viewer my personal involvement with Lakpa's family and village, and with it the awareness of community and personal growth that occurred: through the implementation, led by local people’s wishes, of solutions to the issues at play, mostly the lack of literacy in the adult women population of subsistence farming villages, and the need for local, environment based, socially sustainable job creation.
This is a love story across continents and cultures, where receiving and giving are equally important, and its aim is to inspire people to belong, where ever they are.
Aims & Objectives
By presenting life beyond the smile, I am hoping:
• To share with Westerners a reality of life and culture different from theirs, one that might inspire them to bridge the gap between the aspirations of the individual, and the one step at a time rewards of becoming part of a community, whether at home, or in Nepal and other places. This can be achieved by showing the film in schools, communities and of course on television and in festivals.
• To continue the personal empowerment and community development programs in the Gyamdanda Community Forest Villages (four villages, of which Lura is one). This can happen by becoming part of the story, by participating in treks to the area and living with the people of the village
• To eventually implement the evolving program around other Community Forests.
The impact of the film in making is already visible. Communities and individuals in Nepal have been enthusiastic about the ideas and aims which are developing, and over the years, implemented. Likewise in the rest of the world, there is a thirst in these financially difficult times for a fresh look at life. Schools in Australia have expressed interest in showing the film and in the literacy work. There seems to be a general curiosity about the subject. Beyond the Smile is already touching people's lives. The journey of making and completing it will touch many more, in Nepal, and other places.
The principal aims of this documentary have been described above.
I would love to be involved in the production of a study guide showcasing the life of a very extraordinary people, through the everyday life of the trekking husband, of the children at school, of the farming women, as well as the strong and varied spiritual, mental and physical connections in their community.
This could be accessible through the documentary website. I also have been approached to show the documentary in schools and to answer questions from students. We will also be looking at ongoing relationships with people and organisations to respond to needs identified by the Nepali people on how sustainable community empowerment programs might be further developed and implemented.