3 min read

Field Notes: a Nepali farmer’s resilience amid great loss

Elie Gardner Nepal
Elie Gardner films as devotees pray and light candles at Kal Bhairav in Durbar Square, Kathmandu.

Elie is an Istanbul-based photo and video journalist who reports on social and environmental issues.

Elie Gardner: Since January, my husband and fellow Storyhunter Oscar Durand and I have been based in Istanbul, Turkey. We moved to Istanbul to discover a new side of the world, after living in Lima, Peru, for four years and spending our entire lives in the Americas. Istanbul has direct flights to much of the world, including Kathmandu, Nepal, so we were able to fly there on a 7-hour direct flight.

Two weeks ahead of the trip, we hired a local producer/translator to research several story topics that appealed to us. Creating relationships are key for me when I’m producing videos. By the time we landed, we had two main stories planned.

Because we arrived in Nepal about a month after the earthquake, most of the logistics in Kathmandu were straightforward. The hotel had electricity, and internet mostly worked. Taxis were operating as normal, and restaurants were open and appreciated the business. After seeing so many pictures of destroyed temples and collapsed buildings, I expected Kathmandu to look much worse than it did. Other than a few tents in parks, little damage was visible on our ride from the airport to the hotel.

Finding the Farmer

One of our assignments took us out of Kathmandu to Bukhel, where we told the story of farmer Shanbhu Timalsina and his family for MSNBC. To get there, we rented a truck for two days and traveled with Savitri, our fixer, who had already made arrangements with the Timalsina family. Three hours into our journey the truck couldn’t make it up the road, which was in bad condition. This left us no other choice but to walk about an hour uphill in the mid-day sun to reach Timalsina’s house. This meant leaving a lot of water and a few other supplies in the car to make the walk lighter. Thank goodness for our little bottle of water purification drops, which came in handy the next day when our bottled water ran out.

Nepal_farmer_got out of truck to see if it would make it up the road

Locals from a nearby village gather to see the truck Elie arrived in as it attempted to make its way up the road.

The Timalsina family welcomed our team of three warmly. They’d lost their homes, all their belongings, and their crops. The next day when we interviewed Shanbhu, I asked him: “With all the hardship you and your family have suffered in the last month, how can you still smile?” He told us that he could smile because we were there, because we had reminded him that he and his family were not forgotten. They were still alive. While life goes on in Nepal, it will take years for farmers like him to recuperate their losses. I hope that our story somehow helps Nepal’s farmers, with so many in the same or worse situation as Shanbhu and his family.

We followed them in their daily routine, as they milked their buffalo and worked in the wheat fields. Oscar and I enjoyed our first home-cooked Nepali meal under the roof of the shed the Timalsinas built from debris after their house collapsed in the earthquake. All the seeds and food they had stored for monsoon season were underneath us; we could even see some of the corn sprouting in the dirt. They told us they hoped the shed would survive the rainy season. They smiled as they watched us try to eat with our hands, and then offered us spoons.

That night we chatted about Hinduism and Christianity, Shanbhu’s hope for the future and they asked us what Peru was like. We drank a lot of tea with a bit of fresh milk from their buffalo. Most people we met in Nepal thought Oscar was Nepali (he’s Peruvian!), and when we showed the Timalsinas a picture of Oscar’s father, they said he looked like a sherpa. We all laughed about that. Shanbhu’s children sang for us, some Nepali tunes and other Bollywood hits. Then Shanbhu and his brother took their turn, clapping, singing and changing the lyrics of popular songs to tell their own stories. In their voices I heard deep sorrow but also great hope.

Click on the image to watch Elie’s piece: ‘Nepal’s farmers prepare for monsoons after earthquake’
Elie and Oscar in Nepal_farmer storyMay 2015
Elie Gardner (right) and Oscar Durand (left), pictured with the farmer and his family.