MOGADISHU —-Crouching under a dark dust-filled 10-meters tall rock, Mohamed Ali anxiously looks at two columns supporting the giant wall from collapsing. He starts pounding rocks
with pickax, the wall shakes with sand flying around and stones sliding into the entrance.
After few minutes, he crawled back into outside, pulling crashed rocks in a bag out to sort into a collection area. As he assembled rocks to prepare to transport them into a nearby truck, he instantly jump-runs after a rumble from the nearby rocky hill was heard.
“Such sounds are heard when the wall is going to collapse,” says terrified Ali, looking up the hill and squeezing his soiled fingers. His mining colleagues huddled, and convinced him to avoid that pit he
just got out.
The quarry hasn’t collapsed yet, but one of the supporting structures cracked, making it vulnerable for collapse.
It’s a risky job that the father of six and hundreds of other desperate Somalis found inevitable to do to support their poor families.
The terrifying moment has brought back one of Ali’s most painful memories: the day he witnessed 16 of his colleagues died after a high quarry collapsed onto them last year. He barely survived as he was supposed to join the dead team digging a deep underground in few minutes.
“Every second carries its own risk; it’s our only means of survival.” He said with a heavy lungful exhalation.
With no proper tools to use and safety training, the quarry miners struggle to detach themselves from the obvious risks involved in their tough job, listening loud music, while others shared comic stories to
stay blissful during the tough labor.
“Music keeps you psychologically standing apart from the scary surroundings.” said Abshir Jimale, a 26-years-old father of two, crushing stones under a giant high rising rocky hill with a music speaker hangs nearby.
“You can’t just do work and stay normal here without distractions.” He grinned.
Jimale lost three of his hand fingers two months ago, after a landmine he was trying to bury underneath a quarry wall to pull it down with blowing up got detonated by mistake. A similar explosion killed his friend one month ago, highlighting the challenges these poor quarry miners face on daily basis.
Despite the dangers, the quarry workers contributing to the reconstruction of the Somali capital recovering from more than two decades of war get customers to buy their supplies once in a while, a matter of life that further adds woes to their wretched life.
Across the roughly five miles square quarry, the miners transported crushed stones onto awaiting trucks ready to buy their construction goods. Businessmen exploit them, they say, buying their supplies at a lower price, and sell it for more than a double profit.
Their job is reciprocal for them, assembling stones together to sell and share the earnings among dozens of people. One can barely earn $5 on a high business day.
One truck of stones goes for $60 dollars for the construction companies, and sells it for a double profit gross of $120 to their customers. Their days are filled with degradation.
Lacking the proper protection, most of the quarry workers have respiratory problems from filthy underground caves they work. Some of them suffer from asthma and catarrh.
There are no official statics for deaths of quarry miners; however, workers say they have lost more than 100 colleagues for the past three years in a country whose infrastructure is in tatters, with no
resources for disaster response. When quarries collapse, survivors are hardly ever seen making out to safety.
“When there was a government, we had all required tools to keep us safe,” says Afrah Mohamed, a 55-years old experienced quarry worker who worked at his current job before Somalia’s central government was overthrown by warlords in 1991.
“But now, it’s all about do or die – That’s our sole income source sadly.” He said, standing over a rock he was hammering on a recent day.
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