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Finding a Voice on Instagram in the Wake of Nepal’s Earthquake

When a 7.8 earthquake rocked Nepal four months ago on April 25, 2015, Cape Town-based photographer Sam Reinders quickly made plans to travel to the devastated country, a place she knew well. She’d been to Nepal several times before, seeking breaks from a busy schedule dictated by freelance photography work and a four-year stint as a full-time photo editor at a popular South African travel magazine.

This time vacation was far from her mind. Her return was based on work.

Only days before the earthquake hit, Reinders wrapped up her last day as a photo editor, having made the decision to work exclusively behind the camera again. She got on the plane to Nepal with no assignment and only a list of rusty editorial connections. Without an outlet to publish her work, she turned to Instagram. Reinders, who already used Instagram for personal images and outtakes, made a conscious decision to consider her Instagram account her client while in Nepal. She concentrated on long captions based on facts, but also inserted her opinion on the things she was seeing, hearing, tasting, and feeling.

The aftermath of her decision to work this way has been overwhelmingly gratifying, according to Reinders. While in Nepal she was added to the Instagram Suggested Users list, greatly increasing her followers (she now has 32.9k) and engagement with her images. Reinders says, “The feedback I got kept me going when there were rough moments and I was tired. I felt I had a real and tangible audience. I was able to tell a story in my own way that I was incredibly invested in – and for that I am thankful.”

Below are Reinder’s captions, edited for this post, that accompanied her images on Instagram. To view the full series, captions, and comments visit her Instagram page. The images were taken with a digital SLR and transferred to her phone.

–Sarah Stacke

Nepal can get under your skin – the chaos, poetry and its sweet tea runs through my veins. It has for years. I’m here now on a trip of a different kind, at a time that the country’s poetry has a sad and somber tone. But despite the disaster and the collapsed buildings there is a resilience and hope that, frankly, doesn’t surprise me. This feed is a journal of sorts. Follow along. News cycles being what they are, Nepal will be off your screens, and out of your newspapers very quickly – and the people here are going to need the world’s support for some time to come…. 

Photo 1
Bhaktapur is one of three royal cities in the Kathmandu Valley. It is, without fail, my favorite part of the capital, and I have spent days strolling through its warren of alleyways, the bricks rounded with daily life since the mid fifteenth century. Translated, Bhaktapur means “place of devotees,” and the place is steeped in history and temples. The people who live here are – mostly – artisans and farmers. Life is simple here. Life is good here. Or at least was…On April 25 a 7.8 magnitude earthquake ripped through Nepal. Over 8,000 are dead, scores injured and innumerable homes and historic temples have been reduced to dust. Over two weeks later another severe quake shook the country. Bhaktapur took a particularly bad blow. Most of the buildings here are made from clay bricks, beautiful by design, but not able to withstand the earth’s grumble.

Today I couldn’t walk the alleyways, I had to climb over rubble to get from one courtyard to the next. The entire town has collapsed. People are slowly picking through the dust and chaos to find precious belongings buried deep underneath bricks and splintered wood. The air is thick with dust and sadness, the sound of huge cargo planes landing at the nearby airport, and the ever present murder of crows…

Photo 2
Despite heavy rain – a reminder of monsoon times to come – residents of Bhaktapur in the Kathmandu Valley started the long process of rebuilding today. The area is known for its brick factories – each offering a selection of designs carved into the orange clay. The price of bricks has already gone up 5 rupees a brick…with more price hikes a certainty in the coming weeks.

Photo 3
“Laughter is the best medicine” is a phrase, that from what best I can tell, comes from pages of the Bible. The beauty of laughter, however, is that it overpowers religion, language and class. The Dream Doctors – a group of red-nosed wearing Israeli clowns founded in 2001 – have been traveling around the Kathmandu valley – from field hospitals, to orphanages and to tented camps – cheering up children (and adults!) since the devastating earthquake here that has shattered the country and its people. Balloons of every shape and form, ridiculous skits, goofy shoes and lots and lots of laughter…. Rattling your ribcage laughter. They’re helping heal the wounds you can’t see. 

Photo 4
It happened very quickly. I was in my hotel and about to leave. I’m on the 4th floor. Everything just started shaking incredibly. There have been aftershocks every day since I’ve been here – but they last for about 2 seconds and are over before you even notice them in a way. This one just lasted WAY longer. At least as long as it takes to run down 4 flights of stairs and out into the street, and then some.

People were tearful and fairly hysterical pretty quickly. EVERYONE was on their phones, calling family etc. My mom happened to call me at that exact time. By coincidence. So I told her I was safe and then just stood there with my legs like jelly.

Photo 5
Another quake – measuring more than 7 on the Richter scale – shook Nepal this afternoon. Although the casualties and destruction are smaller in number and scale I don’t have words to describe the sheer terror that has gripped people here.

After the scare of it all (and no doubt also a result of hurtling down 4 flights of stairs faster than I ever thought I could) my legs were a jelly mess for hours. There’s good jelly legs (the ones that come with that first kiss) and there are bad jelly legs. These were of the bad kind.

My colleagues were on the scene quickly – photos, news, tweets, info were at the touch of a button in a matter of seconds. And I’m glad they were. The world needs good journalists to do that. I physically saw how the access to information calmed people down (me included… thank you Twitter). But me: I just couldn’t take photos for some reason. I didn’t know where to start. So, for more than an hour,  I did what the rest of the people around me did. I found a slither of shade and sat down. I used my phone while my battery lasted. I spoke to my family and told them I was fine.

Photo 6
Sleep isn’t coming easily, and the earth is still grumbling every now and again…. So here’s one more from today. This is Parbati Adhikari. I learnt a new Nepali word today: dukha. It means sad. Parbati taught me that word. 

Photo 7
This is Mrs Shrestha, mom to Manjil and Raj, at a tea house just off Nayabazar. It was taken at about 4.30pm. A little over 45 minutes later another large shock jolted the city.

So here’s the thing. There was the “Great Earthquake” on 25 April. And the second big one on 12 May. Everyone saw them, heard about them – it just took turning on the TV or opening the paper. But what was next is largely unreported. And difficult to put words or images to. There have been OVER ONE HUNDRED aftershocks registering a magnitude of 4 or more on the Richter scale. Each one sends people running and crying to open space. Terrified. It’s not something you simply get used to. Wounds are reopened, fresh scars etched into the psych. The continuing instability and the powerlessness it brings – especially for a parent such as Mrs Shrestha –  is something that is not subsiding. I can only think it is like being attacked, and then seeing your attacker again and again and again.

Photo 8
When we arrived in Katakuti it didn’t take long for word to get out. From far flung homesteads to neighbouring villages, along moss covered paths and roads that shouldn’t host cars, through tall pine trees and rhododendron forests, people slowly emerged from the landscape – ladies in every shade of pink and red, men with carved wooden walking sticks. To wait. For the doctor. For tarps to use as temporary homes or to cover their precious livestock and seeds. For blankets and mattresses to keep the cold that grips these high mountains at bay. To wait: for something, anything…

Photo 9
It’s been a month since the ground shook so hard in Nepal that buildings and lives collapsed in an instant, heartbreak and hardship in the silence of its wake. It’s easy to see how an event like this quickly disappears from TV screens and newspaper headlines. The statistics are almost abstract: over 8600 killed and almost a half a million homes destroyed. Tragedy quickly becomes drudgery, and drudgery doesn’t make the news bosses happy. To a small degree life goes on for some, but it is most definitely not business as usual. The aftershocks continue to terrorize. Those sleeping on the streets are not just the homeless but people too scared to return to their homes. 

I spent sunset yesterday at Swayambhunath – also the famed “Monkey Temple”, known for its hordes of cheeky sacred monkey’s that climb it’s temples and shrines. Someone – a total stranger – walked up to me yesterday and asked: “When does it stop?”

I didn’t have an answer :(

Neither does this little guy….

Photo 10
There is a saying in Tibetan, “Tragedy should be utilized as a source of strength. No matter what sort of difficulties, how painful experience is, if we lose our hope, that’s our real disaster.” (Dalai Lama)

I could write so much more about this photo – about her giggles, about the fact that her family has managed to build a temporary tin shelter, about how excited she is for school to reopen and more about the giggles…but I think perhaps the Dalai Lama says it best…


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