This is one of a series of blog posts from the fourth ONA class of MJ Bear Fellows, three journalists under 30 who are expanding the boundaries of digital news. Fellow Rajneesh Bhandari is an independent multimedia journalist in Nepal. He regularly contributes to various regional and international media, including The New York Times, Asia Calling, IPSTV, CCTV and others. Apply for the 2015 fellowship here.
It was Saturday, April 25. At exactly 11:56 a.m., a 7.8 magnitude earthquake shook Nepal for 50 seconds. In that short span of time, houses collapsed. People were injured. Some were trapped under rubble and died. Hospitals were filled with rescued or injured persons and dead bodies.
I was at Shivapuri National Park when the jolt was at its peak, and thankfully was not injured. Soon after, I started reporting, and it was not an easy assignment. I had challenges in finding transportation, lodging, electricity, Internet and a workstation. Life was extremely uncertain, because we weren’t sure if the earthquake was over or more aftershocks would follow.
An old house completely collapsed and other buildings were damaged near my rented apartment in Anamnagar in Kathmandu. We slept in tents in an open space with 20 other people for many days, fearing that a big aftershock could come any time. My mum would quickly cook something in the fourth-floor kitchen and bring it down, and we ate together on the ground floor. This continued for many days as the aftershocks were ongoing. I had made a temporary workstation on the ground floor where I started filing stories.
Fulfilling the role of a journalist was difficult. Two major aftershocks occurred. The first was a 6.8 magnitude on April 26, as I was filming in Basantapur, and the second reached a magnitude of 7.2 on May 12 as I was filming in Swayambhunath. Many other smaller aftershocks came in between. Reporting the story was sometimes more important than just sitting in open space for safety. Roads were blocked, some by landslides and others due to cracks. It wasn’t easy to move from place to place. Walking for hours was the only way out in most of the rural areas.
With no electricity and no good Internet for a couple of days, sending files back to the bureaus was difficult. I ran to all the Internet Service Providers asking to use their service during the initial days after the earthquake, but most were closed as they feared staying inside the building long enough to fix the problem.
The people I interviewed had unique stories. One man wasn’t able to do the final rites for his beloved because he didn’t have money. In another village, the lama, or head spiritual leader, was killed and nobody was left to perform last rites. Monks were looking for relics in the ruble.
Many are still unsure what the monsoon season will bring, and how many aftershocks may still occur.
Fellow Rajneesh Bhandari is an independent multimedia journalist in Nepal. He’s done research on the convergence of media and the mobile revolution in Nepal, and he published an iPad book on autism. He regularly contributes to various regional and international media, including The New York Times, Asia Calling, IPSTV, CCTV and others. He previously coordinated Media Gufa, which requires journalists to be isolated in a room for 72 hours to report news stories using only social media and another group of journalists to report stories from a rural area without using the internet. He also is working as data editor on an investigative project launched by Transparency International, teaches journalism at WLC College, Nepal, runs multimedia workshops for national and international organizations, and is working to improve digital literacy in Nepal by training young people in rural areas how to use digital tools.