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


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


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