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Portraits of people

Portraits. Pictures of people I don’t want to forget. In Nepal I meet many beautiful people. Inside and out.

Seeing people

Through my lens I see people in a different way sometimes – I think other photographers will understand when I’m saying this. You look into their eyes so deeply as you’re taking the pictures – you want to portray them as they are. Almost always I show the portrait pictures to them afterwards and if they don’t like them, I delete them. The following pictures made it through… and I want you to see them. I want you to recognise them.

Portraits of people in a forgotten crises

I want you to see the story of a people that lived in very difficult circumstances, in a crises that is largely forgotten and where more than 600,000 houses have been declared inhabitable. Only a small part of them have been rebuild so far. And researchers say a new heavy earthquake might occur in the next years. A race against time. I hope the portraits speak a thousand words to you too. For all the pictures below I did not use a filter or programme to alter them, they are the original pictures as I took them with my camera.

Portraits - picture of Dolma Tamang and her husband in front of their new earthquake resilient house. ©Medair/Wendy van Amerongen

The glow that made her face shine like the sun

Remember Dolma Tamang? I wrote about her in April when she was still living in her shed. Now I took portraits of her and her husband in front of their new earthquake resilient house. I love this picture as you can see how happy they are. They could not stop thanking everyone who helped them – so thank you too if you contributed to building those safe houses! More money is still needed to build the 1,263 houses that we want to build – so if you still want to see more of these smiles, please consider donating to Medair Nepal.

Portraits - shop owner who asked me to take his picture. He wears a typical Nepali hat, the Nepali Topi. ©Medair/Wendy van Amerongen

Nepali Topi

This shop-owner asked me to take his picture. I was happy that he simply continued to lean against the doorpost, without overly posing, but continued the way I met him. He wears the typical Nepali hat, the Nepali Topi ((Nepali: ढाका टोपी). The Nepali Topi is popular among hilly Nepalis. The topi is worn as a symbol of national pride and national dress. Portraits - mother and child walking through Bijulikot, Ramechhap, Nepal. ©Medair/Wendy van Amerongen

I loved it when this child looked straight in my lens and the mother seemed more interested in the discussion that was going on between several shop-owners. I love seeing how moms all over the world are very inventive in the way they carry their children. Her other child (you only see very little of her) holds her skirt, while walking along with them.

Portraits - woman carrying leaves/bamboo for her cattle. ©Medair/Wendy van Amerongen

The strength of a woman

The female are incredibly strong. These bamboo leaves and grass for her cattle might have not weighed as much as the rocks she had to carry to build her new earthquake resilient house, but still… and while talking to me and the translator she didn’t take it off her head, she just started talking to us while holding it and smiled a lot of times.

Portraits. Woman thanking us for her earthquake resilient house with a smile. ©Medair/Wendy van Amerongen

Thank you – thank you – thank you!

Unfortunately I stood at the other side when she told our technical engineers that she was so happy with her new house. So you cannot see the new house unfortunately. But I promise you to show some of the new houses in a next post. But this broad smile, full of gratitude – just thought you should see it.

Portraits - Woman: I'm always happy. ©Medair/Wendy van Amerongen

Sirmala Tamang – I’m happy all the time

This lady is very special. She’s called Sirmala Tamang and is 28 years old. She’s one of the ladies that started to convince the community how much better these new earthquake resilient building techniques were. And now her own house is finished. She says: it’s nice. It’s so much better than before. It is strong. Last year was very difficult as water entered our cottage all the time and we got sick often. This house is dry and safe. I’m happy all the time. What makes me sad is the earthquake, but other than that – I’m happy all the time. She again taught me that we don’t need a lot of things to be happy. We need security/safety, and people around us. We need hope.

Portraits - child Parpatti Tamang - is fixing her hair. ©Medair/Wendy van Amerongen

Parpatti

When I captured a portrait of Parpati this time, she was in a much different mood than last time, see photo above and below. You can see the photo I took months earlier with her grandfather on our former website. Now she was sick. She just came back from the hospital. It took five hours on foot to get there. Can you imagine her mood?

Portraits - Very intense picture of Parpatti Tamang who's sick and just had to walk five hours to get to the hospital. ©Medair/Wendy van Amerongen

Portraits - close up portrait picture of Padma Budathoki. ©Medair/Wendy van Amerongen

Portraits of Family Budathoki

This is Padma Kumari Budathoki, a woman I wrote about earlier, as did Gerhard Wilts of the Dutch Daily. A woman with a lot of resilience. Her husband (see portrait picture below) has a kidney disease. When they were still living in their shed, life was very hard on them. Padma didn’t know how to get through life with her husband being so sick and having no safe place to take shelter from the heavy rains and cold. Now she and her husband can breathe again as they have a safe home. Their portraits speak worlds to me.

Portraits - portrait picture of Mr. Budathoki, who has a kidney disease. He wears the typical Nepali hat, the Nepali Topi. ©Medair/Wendy van Amerongen

Portraits of children

Portraits - Children are so resilient and I love to see their smiles. ©Medair/Wendy van Amerongen

The above and below portraits of kids show me hope, over and over again. Their smiles. The ‘wonder in this world’ they still seem to see. Their power to overcome disasters in life. The resilience and happiness they take from the small things in life. God has made us in His image. Worrying didn’t add a single day to our lives. Children somehow seem to understand that. And I cannot get enough – taking their portraits.

Portraits - three children playing with each other and giving me their smiles. ©Medair/Wendy van Amerongen

Portraits - picture of a child saying the traditional Nepali greeting 'Namaste'. ©Medair/Wendy van Amerongen

 

Balancing on a tree-trunk - difficult to travel roads

Difficult, difficult, difficult. During our holidays we laughed out loud when we heard the song of Dutch comedian Brigitte Kaandorp: I have a very tough life (sorry only in Dutch). But at the moment, there’s not much to laugh about if you look at the situation in the world and a lot of people are in real difficult and very tough circumstances. A lot of people have a very tough life. I cried a lot a couple of times. But despite my compassion that might be good because at least I can still feel anything, people need more of my action.

A quote from our colleague…

My colleague Elisabeth Ahlquist worded it beautifully, so I won’t take effort to write something myself, but I will just quote her:

‘This is one of those weeks when each day seems like an onslaught: Hurricane Irma (which has Haiti in its sights, a nation still rebuilding from March’s devastating hurricane); the brutality of the Myanmar military on the Rohingya; Trump’s rescission of DACA; N. Korea and it’s hydrogen bomb tests; publication of studies revealing micro-plastics in our water; wildfires raging; civil wars continue in South Sudan, Syria, DRC, and Yemen; millions forcibly displaced from their homes due to violence and insecurity; 20 million people are threatened by man-made food emergencies…

It’s a real cluster cuss and sometimes hope seems hard to hold. But I cling to hope on behalf of those taking the full force of the onslaught.’

How do we bring hope and change?

That is what we have to do. Cling to hope and think about how we can give hope to the people in these extremely difficult circumstances. What can you do? Do you give time in prayer? Or by stabbing your hands dirty? Do you give some of your money to organisations that bring hope in these circumstances? Do you give your heart? Dear people, sometimes the situation is overwhelming and we cannot take this any longer. But please, promise me we won’t forget them all. Take one of those situations in your heart and support them in a way that is possible for you. Let’s bring hope!

Fortunately there are also a lot of good things happening. Like here in Nepal: So it’s about time for a few new blogs.
To stick with the word ‘difficult’ we will show you something in this blog about the difficult roads we travel in Nepal. A challenge, but nothing we can’t overcome.

For about 160 kilometer, we driver about seven or eight hours

The roads in Nepal to our project are a challenge. Especially when it rains and storms, but even if it’s dry, the potholes are quite a trial. The route is only about 160 kilometers, but we take about seven to eight hours to get there! Below you’ll find two small video’s of the potholes (who don’t show that well – you just had to be there actually) in the road. Oh and holding my phone is also a challenge in itself… :-).

The next video might show it even better…

Hiking for hours in the difficult to reach areas

When we arrive at the outskirts of the project, we have to hike for hours sometimes from the one cluster of houses to the other. For me this feels like ‘holidays’ because the area is beautiful, but if you do this day in, day out in all kind of weather circumstances like rain and cold, to reach the most vulnerable, than that is very tiring and difficult. And I have the utmost respect for my colleagues who work there.

Do you see the beautiful environment? It’s great, but there are no roads that you can reach by car… our colleagues do everything by foot! Respect. Now the sun was shining, but they are also going when it’s freezing cold or when it rains. Do you see the blue roofs? Almost all of them are new, earthquake resilient homes. Can you imagine seeing this makes us extremely happy? We may support a full village to built earthquake resilient homes. And a village is a lot more of those hills. 1,263 houses in total. You only see about 15 to 20 in this picture… can you imagine? 🙂 Almost 200 are finished now!

You can see the beautiful but difficult to reach areas. See the blue roofs? Those are Medair earthquake resilient houses. All respect for the staff as there are no roads for cars to reach those houses, everything is done on foot. You can see the beautiful but difficult to reach areas. See the blue roofs? Those are Medair earthquake resilient houses. All respect for the staff as there are no roads for cars to reach those houses, everything is done on foot.

And then there are the slippery bridges that consist of a tree or if you’re lucky two tree-trunks. The steep slopes, the many leeches during the rainy season that stick to your skin and try to get your blood. Respect… a lot of respect for my colleagues.

You can see the beautiful but difficult to reach areas. Crossing a river on just a slippery tree is just one of the challenges. All respect for the staff as there are no roads for cars to reach those houses, everything is done on foot.

Padma Kumari Budathoki -overlevende van de aardbeving verteld over haar nieuwe aardbevingsbestendige huis dat ze dankzij Medair bijna kan betrekken
Padma Kumari Budathoki (75) explains to the Dutch Journalist of the Dutch Daily what the earthquake has done to her

Padma Kumari Budathoki (75) explains what the earthquake has done to her

In the second week of May Gerhard Wilts journalist with the newspaper ‘The Dutch Daily’ visited us in Bijulikot to see how it is going with the reconstruction after the earthquakes in Nepal in 2015. You can read the article here in Dutch  – a two-pager with a positive impression, which we have translated upon request in English below!

Thankful…

We are extremely thankful, that in Ramechhap we can be a real example for the surrounding areas. The fact that the chief of the government body National Reconstruction Authority talks full of enthusiasm about the fact that he wants to duplicate Medair’s project, tells me enough… We are incredibly proud of our team.

Please read below the article translated to English (translation by Tina Meeuwisz):

In Bijulikot everyone wants to move forward

By: Gerhard Wilts/Nederlands Dagblad

“We were busy with the harvest,” says Padma, “when the earth began to shake violently. I could not manage to keep up standing, trees fell down instantly and big cracks appeared in the walls of my house. “Two years after the earthquake, Nepal has not yet overcome the disaster.

Padma in front of her temporary shelter where she lived after the earthquake and is now shelter for her cattle again

Padma in front of her temporary shelter where she lived after the earthquake and is now shelter for her cattle again

Bijulikot

Squatting on a reed mat next to the stable, Padma Kumasi Budathoki recalls the devastating earthquake that struck Nepal on April 25, 2015. The 75-year-old farmer could no longer live in her old house. ‘In the first few weeks, my husband and I only had a plastic tarp to live under. That was hard, also because there are snakes here. Later we could temporarily live in a cousin’s house. The government helped us with rice, tarps and a grant of 25,000 rupees (around 250 euros) to rebuild our lives again.’

Padma squats on the reed mat and Gerhard Wilts from the Dutch Daily interviews her. Saugat Upreti (shelter technical officer with Medair) translates from Nepali to English and vv.

Padma squats on the reed mat and Gerhard Wilts from the Dutch Daily interviews her. Saugat Upreti (shelter technical officer with Medair) translates from Nepali to English and vv.

Two years after the disaster. This month, Padma finally gets a safe, earthquake-resilient home, built with the support of the Christian relief organization Medair and her local partner CDS. With aid worker Wendy van Amerongen and a translator I visit Padma. In the difficult accessible area of ​​Ramechhap, Medair is the only organization helping the victims. ‘I am so grateful to the relief organisations and donors,’ says the elderly woman. ‘Otherwise I could not have survived this.’ Her eyes well up. A tear runs down her cheek. ‘I feel so powerless. My husband has bad kidneys; he has now gone to a clinic by foot, one hour from here, to have his stoma checked. He cannot work anymore, so I have to fend for myself. His health is more important to me than that house.’

Padma in front of her new earthquake resilient house

Padma in front of her new earthquake resilient house

Daughter Tonisha lovingly caresses her mother’s skinny shoulders. She lives in another village, with her in-laws, and is the only one who occasionally helps her mother. Tonisha stands up and says, ‘I’m going to see if father has returned.’ When we descend to our car half an hour later, a thunderstorm emerges overhead. Halfway down the slope we run into Tonisha with her stumbling father.

Portrait picture of Padna

Portrait picture of Padna

Relief

During the heavy earthquake in April 2015, followed three weeks later by a second earthquake, more than 8,700 Nepalese lost their lives. The damage to the houses was huge and hundreds of thousands of people became homeless. The authorities, especially in the eyes of foreign countries, reacted too slowly implementing relief and placed restrictions on aid organisations. Two years after the earthquake, many foreign funds have still not yet been used.

‘Yet, the long wait is not strange,’ says Wendy van Amerongen: ‘The scale of this disaster is huge. The mountainous landscape does not help, and it takes time to set up a good organisation and logistics and to set up a catalog of earthquake-resilient homes.’ But it also has advantages. ‘We had time to train masons in earthquake-resilient techniques; which are different from traditional construction. Residents go from homes with several floors to one floor homes. Especially if an existing but uninhabitable house had to be completely broken down, it was difficult to convince the population of the need.’

From South Sudan to Nepal

With her husband Willem, Wendy moved from the chaotic South Sudan to the Nepalese capital, Kathmandu, early last year. She sees big differences. ‘In South Sudan it was unsafe. The fighting and the threat of robbery never stopped. We had barely any freedom of movement. And the dangers kept increasing: there is fighting everywhere and aid workers are becoming targets more often during combat. The traumas of the South Sudanese people are very deep: “God has forgotten our country,” they said. The despondency was enormous – so much so that I also often lost hope.’

Nepal is in a sense a relief for her. ‘The Nepalese people went through a natural disaster, but there is no ongoing war. You can feel the drive they have for reconstruction. That gives me new energy, there is hope again. Even though the Nepalese people are mostly Hindus, I can show them God’s love in a practical way. Emergency relief in remote areas is not easy, but walking in the mountains often feels like being on vacation.’

Challenges

At the same time there are other challenges, she immediately adds: ‘Medair works in the mountainous and sparsely populated district of Ramechhap. The rainy season limits the assistance. There is a constant risk of landslides, but leaving this area is not an option for the population. There are not enough masons to build houses. Questions like: Will the government distribute the money on time? And what will happen after the elections? A plus point is that the population is better educated and therefore better developed compared to South Sudan. There is also a growing solidarity within the community which Medair has used in the form of clusters (groups of people, neighbors helping each other) during the reconstruction: Nepalese villagers help each other, or go to neighboring villages to help.’

Portrait picture of Man Bahadur Bohara (46), mason from a nearby village who works happily in the Medair project area

Portrait picture of Man Bahadur Bohara (46), mason from a nearby village who works happily in the Medair project area

One of them is Man Bahadur Bohasa, a 46-year-old mason who is busy with the roof of house owner Talak Budathoki. “Due to the construction of such a large number of safe houses there is a lack of construction workers,” he says. “I work now seven days a week, from seven o’clock in the morning to five thirty in the afternoon.” He lets the hammer rest in his tanned hand for a moment and grins: “Sometimes working days are even longer.” He can make a good living with this, even though prices for construction materials have risen.

Hindu ceremony

Talak Budathoki’s house is almost ready. The owner, father of eight children, smiles while he hospitably offers sweet tea with milk in his bamboo emergency shelter. ‘Within a few weeks we can sleep well again. We have lived in a hut made of bamboo and tarp next to our old house for a year and a half. At the opening of our new home, I will invite the whole family, we will slaughter a goat and hold a festive Hindu ceremony. The old house will be used as a storage space.’

Talak Bahadur Budathoki (62) and his wife Inra Maya Budathoki (62) in front of their soon to be new earthquake resilient home.

Talak Bahadur Budathoki (62) and his wife Inra Maya Budathoki (62) in front of their soon to be new earthquake resilient home.

A sense of optimism flows along the steep slopes around the village of Bijulikot. At several restored houses we receive a warm welcome consisting of sweet tea and flower necklaces around our necks. Under the blazing sun, Namas Bahadur Khulal tells about the reconstruction among a group of men. ‘Our houses and water wells were damaged, in the fields there were deep cracks of hundreds of meters and the groundwater level dropped. The harvest was largely unsuccessful, but with the support of the government and Medair we are able to rebuild our lives again. Two months ago, there was a small earthquake, but we are no longer afraid because we live in safer homes. In the meantime we also help in other neighborhoods with repairs.’

Blind man

Even the blind Kul Bahadur Magar seems to smile constantly, as he talks about his role in the reconstruction. In a dingy shirt with Justin Bieber print and an old brown-red hat atop his head, he explains that the government aid of 2000 rupees per month (20 euros) for disabled persons is insufficient. At his own house – familiar terrain for him – Magar helps a mason by mixing cement and carrying things around, because ‘finding a permanent job is difficult’. Although he also followed training to make candles and soaps. ‘I would like to do more, but there must be a market for it,’ he smiles.

Portrait picture of Kul Bahadur Magar, blind from birth and helping in the reconstruction project

Portrait picture of Kul Bahadur Magar, blind from birth and helping in the reconstruction project

Technical specialist Sushil Katri Tiwal of CDS, Medair’s local partner, acknowledges that there is considerable progress. The support of the population to build more secure homes is increasing thanks to the government’s financial support and the commitment and expertise of aid organizations, he says. ‘A couple in their eighties had a very hard time with the fact that their home had to be broken down while there was no money yet. Their children also did not see the necessity initially. Now that they can live in a safe house, everyone is happy.’

Portrait picture Sushil Katri Tiwal - CDS sub engineer

Portrait picture of local staff Sushil Katri Tiwal, sub-engineer with local implementation partner Community Development Society.

NRA optimistic

Rishi Raj Acharya, who leads the official reconstruction agency NRA in the district of Ramechhap, focuses on numbers to underline the, according to him, successful government policy. ‘The material damage caused by the earthquakes is estimated at € 9 billion. The National Reconstruction Authority (NRA) has been set up to monitor the rebuilding.’

Portrait photo of Rishi Raj Acharya NRA Chief Ramechhap District and Wendy

Portrait photo of Rishi Raj Acharya NRA Chief Ramechhap District and Wendy

Example region

He is particularly keen on Medair’s support, which made Ramechhap ‘an example region’. ‘I have seen their projects as in Bijulikot with my own eyes. The government’s deadline to have all homes rebuilt in 2022 is feasible. At least in my district.’

Although the reconstruction started slowly, CDS aid worker Sarita Basel is surprised by the rapid progress. The difference with six months ago is clearly visible, she tells, while she rests in the shade by a restaurant during the work visit. Around her some chickens and pigeons forage. Goats tied under a shelter against the burning sun bleat for attention. The animals seem to support her words about the progress.

Portrait picture Sarita Basel, social mobiliser with CDS

Portrait picture Sarita Basel, social mobiliser with CDS

‘More than fifty safe homes are already finished. Soon 1,200 more will be added to that number’ says Sarita. ‘Of course, not everything is going well. Women are often disadvantaged when it comes to receiving help; for example, a pregnant woman did not receive medication in the emergency aid phase. The task of ensuring that women are treated equally is also what we do with CDS. ‘But further, she decides with a smile,’ I can really only tell success stories. Those are here in abundance.’

Another finished earthquake resilient house in Bijulikot

Another finished earthquake resilient house in Bijulikot

Background information on earthquake: Turbulent times

On Saturday, April 25, 2015, Nepal is hit by a very heavy earthquake.

During the earthquake there are 8790 people killed west of the capital city of Kathmandu. During a second earthquake on Tuesday, May 12, this time east of the capital, 37 people are killed. At least 21,000 Nepalis are injured and approximately 824,000 homes are destroyed or damaged.

The earthquakes hit Nepal at a bad time. The country is in a political transition: in 2008 the monarchy was abolished and the Hindu nation was officially proclaimed as a secular state. There is still a lot of old pain after a ten-year civil war with Maoist rebels at the beginning of this century. The elections this year (municipal councils) and next year (provinces and parliament) slow down political vigor.

Background information: What still has to be done

The international community has made $ 4.2 billion available for reconstruction in Nepal. Only after eight months, in January 2016, Nepal introduced the NRA Monitoring and Coordination Body. But two years after the earthquake, only five percent of the destroyed houses have been rebuilt (43,000) and twelve percent of the funds were deployed.

Over 544,000 families have received their first $ 500 subsidy for, among other things, the rebuilding of homes. Second and third grants only follow after inspection and approval by the authorities; each family is entitled to a grant of (converted) $ 3,000. In total, approximately seventeen percent of the total number of grants has been provided.

Many households have spent two winters in tents or bamboo huts. There is a huge lack of drinking water, building materials and masons. Many Nepalese families do not want to wait any longer and start the recovery or new construction themselves.

In the remote district of Ramechhap, where Medair operates, the construction of 310 earthquake-resilient houses began in July last year: 56 have been finished, 170 are under construction, while permission has been granted to build another 953 houses. Masons are trained at a high pace, there are now 270.

Seismologists expect that Nepal will be hit again by a severe earthquake within fifteen years.

sources: NRA, Medair

How trained masons changed her live…

It is a hot and dusty day in Bijulikot. The clouds are clutching together and form thunderheads in the distance. I know I have to rush back to the place where we come from, so that the car can safely return to our base before a heavy thunderstorm will make passing the very steep and slippery road almost impossible. But an elderly lady who caught my eye earlier looks at me and I just have to speak to her; she is working around a shed, which I hope is for her animals. But I don’t see any animals around and I would later find out it is her ‘home’. I feel an immense urge to talk to her. But Kiran, Sr. Technical Officer with Medair, says: ‘She’s deaf, so she will not be able to hear you.’

Dolma Tamang working around her temporary home.

She smiles when she looks at me. One of her eyes looks like it is completely gone, hidden in the numerous wrinkles in her face. The photographer with us quietly takes some photos from a distance, capturing the serene moments.

Dolma Tamang – portrait picture

I don’t just pass by… 

Her deafness doesn’t discourage me from going to her. I want to be with her, show her that I care. That I don’t just pass by to look at the progress. I ask Kiran if it is okay to see the shed. He says that this is no problem. So I show her with my body language that I want to get in. She makes a very kind gesture and another big smile shines from her face. I take off my shoes, as this is usual tradition when you enter a Nepali home. I step onto a sandy floor and when I enter the room, I can only make two steps forward, as to the right of me is some kind of stove (actually more or a pile of wood and charcoal with a pan on top) and the roof above it is blackened. In front of me are some clothes on a pile covered with a plastic sheet, diagonally opposite is a mat on the floor, which they seem to use as their ‘couch’ and behind that, the bed.

She sits down and a few moments later, I find myself next to her, holding her hand in her temporary home: encouraged to see the glow on Dolma’s face. She does not seem desperate, even in that cold, damp, dark little space where you cannot even stand up straight. On the contrary, her face is glowing and I learn later it is because soon she will not live in the cold shed anymore, she will move to her earthquake-resilient home–just like her son, whose house was finished under Medair’s technical guidance just days earlier.

Wendy, holds Dolma Tamang’s hand and sits with her in her temporary home: encouraged to see the glow on Dolma’s face.

After we share this moment of serenity together just in silence, as I know she’s deaf and she wouldn’t understand me anyway as we speak different languages, I thank her with my smile and stand up to move on. I ask Kiran a bit more about her. He talked often with her and her husband to convince them to build an earthquake-resilient house. I learned that Dolma’s husband was at first skeptical about building an earthquake-resilient house, as he thought they would not be able to do it within the amount of funding provided and he did not want to get into debt. However, Medair convinced him to proceed. We trained their son, Biju, in earthquake-resilient techniques, and he is now one of the skilled masons. Biju’s house was finished recently and now that his parents are convinced it will work for them, he will help build their house too.

While I walk back through the little village with the houses scattered over a very steep and hilly area, I am filled with a sense of thankfulness and hope. Medair’s presence will bring change. This village will rise from the devastating earthquake and return stronger, more united and filled with hope. The clouds are still tremendous, but the sun has cracked a big hole in them that is getting larger and wider. It reminds me of the glow on Dolma’s face, which makes her face shine like the sun. There’s hope. And hope always pierces through darkness; hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness and difficult moments one must go through.

Dolma Tamang ‘thanking’ me with a ‘Namaste’ – Nepali greeting.

All photos in this post copyright to the amazing photographer and colleague Tamara Berger