Saturday, February 28, 2009

Field Journal - Day Fifteen

Mongombo Diamond Mine

Parts of this entry have been excised for later re-insertion

Who’d ever imagine the during the dry season, we’d be trapped in our tent in a monsoon-like rain -- in fact, throughout this entire trip, I believe we’ve only had two nights without rain!

Some “dry season”!!

Early yesterday morning, still a day away from our scheduled mine deparature date, Polycarpe confessed to me that the “2 hour walk” to the mine was actually an 8 mile trek through tangled forest!

Even worse, he told me the tale of a terrible, shaky bridge (eeeeeeee!!!)

Worried for my safety, Polycarpe offered to go FOR me, meaning he’d also have to do my research. I thought long and hard -- one has to realize that there are no safeties here -- things that are “dangerous” are very literally perilous -- but after careful consideration, I realized that not only was it my responsibility to take the research myself -- but that if anything were to go wrong (as they always do in Congo), I’d be utterly screwed.

So, fluffing up my courage and determination, we packed up the tent yet again to head off on another adventure.

I did try to convince Adam to stay behind, but he refused!

Polycarpe wasn’t kidding!!

We waded through rivers, and lakes of mud. We had to acrobatically balance our way around slippery edges of old mining troughs -- uphill and down -- careful to avoid snagging vines and tripping tree stumps, we walked.

Thankfully the forest canopy protected us from too much sun and heat, but it was impossible not to get soaked. Everyone else was barefoot, but Adam and I had foolishly donned sneakers and socks, and endured the soggy squish-squelch of each step.

8 miles is quite a distance under any circumstances, but unsteady, windy, muddy terrain is really taxing!!

It was neatly 6 miles before we reached the bridge -- which was, to be fair, not nearly as bad is it had been in my imagination!

Sure, getting onto and off of the bridge was terrifying -- a precarious web of sticks and branches -- but with Seba and Adam’s help, it felt almost easy.


But the “bridge” itself was just a huge fallen tree over a clear, pretty brook. At its worst points, maybe a five foot drop.

And here I’d feared something out of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom!!

Once past the bridge, we had about 2 miles to go -- the distance I used to walk daily from my old apartment to Columbia’s campus.

At this point, however, between the branch climbing and mud wading, my legs had just had enough.

Each lift felt more harder than the last, and our pace slowed considerably. 2 miles felt like 4, and, feeling grouchy and defeated, I wondered if we’d ever make it.

But we did, the wooden entrance gate imposing even among the tall trees.

The mining camp is huge -- much larger than I could have imagined -- and lined with rows of long, open-sided houses, army-barracks style.

Two to three men sleep to a bed, and each long barrack has maybe 20-30 beds.

The beds are really just wooden frames with bamboo sticks stretched across them. Some, though not many, have mats on top of the sticks, but not most. Maybe only 1 in 50 has a mosquito net.

It’s easy to read about deplorable conditions, but it’s another thing to see them.

There is a constant sound emanating from the forest --digging and sifting -- and the men who return from their shifts are caked with the white residue from the mineral soil.

Everyone asks if we have medicine, or cigarettes... everyone is sick, but rippled with muscle.

While we’re organizing, a guy comes back with provisions for the mining camp from town. All the men cheer -- they’ve sent diamonds back to town, to the boss, who doles out cash that they use to buy food.

Not enough diamonds ... not enough food.

People are lining up, including this kid with a baby face.

“How old are you?” I ask him.

“13,” he replies sheepishly.

He’s not allowed to participate at 13, but his presence in the camp haunts me the rest of the night.

This is no place for anyone, let alone some 13 year old kid.

Who sends their kids to a diamond mine to work at 13? (most likely sooner)? What is this?? Oliver Twist??

Each man has a label, so I can coordinate his interview with his sample. The men seem to like being labeled.

“I am number 134,” a man with no teeth in the front says to me proudly, smiling.

He seems too to relish telling a man who came to get a sticker that he was too late! Only 20 men needed!

But by the end of the night, digging into our beans and rice (our first real food of the day, before OR after the 8 mile death march).

Both Adam and I felt extremely satisfied, not to mention exhausted, sore and stiff!!

We’d also economized our sleeping arrangements for the hike, bringing nearly nothing but sample tubes, collection materials, the tent, and TP.

No sleeping bag to lay on the tent floor, we discovered HOLES!! Oh no!!

It was also extremely ragged and cold earth, and we had nothing but cold, soggy, dirty clothes (and TP) as pillows.

Not surprising that it was a fitful night of sleep -- the huge rainstorm only compounded the discomfort, and rain snuck between our tent and footprint, making for a soggy situation. The rain continued through the morning too -- I was so glad that we weren’t leaving today!!

Until, that is, our cook told me that he’d “miscalculated” the rations and that we were out of food!!

Thankfully, we were able to buy some off of the camp’s commandant, and now, at 11:18, the sun is FINALLY out.

With luck, it’ll dry our soaked clothes!

And I’ll try to take video of miners at work to show anyone who’s keen on buying diamonds!

No comments: