Dr. Blake Kerr: An Honorary Tibetan
by Kara Westerman
One of our favorite local doctors, Dr. Blake Kerr, burst onto the film festival scene this past year with his documentary “Eye Of The Lammergeier.”
As an “accidental filmmaker,” as he refers to himself, he has managed to get some of the only footage recorded in the last thirty years of the systematic genocide that is occurring in the Chinese military occupation of Tibet.
“There are strong parallels between the American genocide of Native Americans and what’s going on in Tibet right now,” says Dr. Kerr. “The Chinese look at the Tibetans like animals. Racism is the root of it. It’s two cultures that are colliding and one culture feels superior, exactly the way Europeans treated Native Americans — they used to shoot the Indians like they were on a hunt.”
The lammergeier is a large condor, said Dr. Kerr. Since Tibet is a high altitude desert with no wood for cremations, when someone dies the community holds a Sky Burial, where the bones are separated from the flesh and mixed with barely flour that the lammergeiers eat and carry up to the Heaven Realm.
“The eye of the lammergeier is a birds’ eye view of the Chinese military occupation of Tibet,” says Dr. Kerr.
Doctor Blake Kerr is a very different kind of doctor — at his Wainscott Walk-In Medical Center, he sits down in a chair across from his patients and listens, for as long as it takes for them to explain their symptoms, not behind a desk, and not at the computer. Afterward, he never forgets to ask: “Is there anything else?”
His style and world-view were shaped when, just days after graduating with his medical degree in 1987, the young Dr. Kerr set out for the mountain climbing adventure of a lifetime.”
I was the only person in my class in medical school who, instead of going into a residency, decided to go to Everest,” he says, laughing. He had wanted to go ever since he was a boy and had read “Tin Tin In Tibet.”
He and his climbing partner, John Ackerly, met at Darmouth College as undergraduates, where they joined the Dartmouth Mountaineering Club.
“I had been trying to get John to go to Tibet with me for about ten years,” Blake reminisces. “I just kept sending him books about climbing in Tibet.”
Finally, a few days after gaining their graduate degrees, John Ackerly, agreed to go with Dr. Kerr, but under a few conditions: that they go the way overland travelers went a century ago, no ropes, equipment, or warm clothes.
They bought one-way tickets to Hong Kong and embarked on a four-month journey through China, traveling with pilgrims and nomads.
“We basically hitchhiked to Everest! We didn’t even have a stove — it was ludicrous,” says Dr. Kerr. “We were totally out of our minds — but it was an adventure!”
After reaching the highest elevation they could climb on Everest without climbing gear, 22,000 feet, and in their sneakers, they were satisfied they had reached their goal. Blake had lost 40 pounds by the time they decided to hitchhike into Lhasa, the capital of Tibet, to relax.
“I really just wanted to hang out with westerners, drink beer and write exaggerated postcards home after that expedition,” he said.