As the title indicates, this is the second and final part about my journey to one of the “traditional mines”, as they call them. Pictures will be added when the connection allows it. I promise!
Another reporter had been here a couple of days ago. Rode in to the mining area and started taking pictures. The miners got suspicious, thought he might be a spy of some sort, or so I have been told. It only strengthen my belief that we took the correct decision to go to the village elder first. Not only would that be appropriate according to their customs, but it might open doors to us that might not otherwise be open. The job has to take the time it needs. I´m learning that, slowly.
It soon became very clear that the decision was correct. In a hut without windows we found the old man sitting in the corner. I could not spot him until he asked us to sit down. That’s how you do it here. Strangers walks into your home, you offer them a seat, food and water. Then you tell him why you are here. So we talked a little, ate some corn rice that he generously offered us. Then we talked.
Half an hour later he, his first son, and another local man and miner joined us on mopeds to the mine.
“People work too long shifts. Sometimes they use drugs to cope with the burden. We join you there to make sure that everyone understands that you got our blessing and so we can minimize the risk that bad things happened,” the village chief told us.
I think I shook hand and greeted at least two dozen people before I even took a photo. I know I lost a couple of really good ones in the process, but maybe I got some too- who knows. Everyone greeted us with smiles and curiosity. No one accused me or my guides for being spies. And so we got to work. Photos could be taken and interviews were being made.
Something almost all of the miners that I have talked to have in common is that economic desperation brought them to the mines and hope keeps them there. I asked a 16 year old miner how it was to work down there below the surface.
“You should go down and find out yourself,” he told me. I had to give it to him, he was right. So I did.
A lot of miners had been encouraging me to climb down one of the holes, still they all looked really surprised when I took of my shoes and socks as instructed. But the way I see it, if you want to write about how it is to be a miner, then you better be ready to go down into a mine. Not only for the job, but as a sign of respect. They work 12 hour shifts, surely I could manage 20 minutes- even with my claustrophobia?
Let me tell you, it was a very long time ago since I cursed so much as I did when I realized that the reason they take off their shoes and socks is that they climb down there using only their hands and feet. No ladders, no ropes.
But it was well worth the visit. Maybe not the easiest place to take pictures, since flashlights are the only source of light they use. But I think I got a couple of good ones. I save those and the details of how it was down there for the final story.