Photographers' Blog

Pakistan’s beasts of burden

Choa Saidan Shah, Pakistan
By Sara Farid

A donkey carrying sacks of coal walks through the narrow tunnels of a coal mine, in Choa Saidan Shah in Punjab province April 29, 2014. REUTERS/Sara Farid

The miners call their donkeys their “biggest treasure”, an animal whose strength and patience lets them work in some of the world’s most dangerous mines. But life in Pakistan’s mines is dangerous for everyone – there’s a constant risk of cave-ins, and the black dust floating in the air slowly fills up the lungs of both man and beast.

A young miner leads his team of donkeys back to the coal face to collect more coal underground in Choa Saidan Shah in Punjab province April 29, 2014. REUTERS/Sara Farid

The donkeys make twenty trips a day from the depths of the mine to the storage site where they dump the coal. For each trip, they are loaded up with coal sacks weighing 20 kg (44 lbs) each. The teams of four to six animals are guided to the surface, unloaded, then obediently turn and walk again towards the black hole.

A young miner rushes his donkeys back into the coal mine to fetch another load of coal in Choa Saidan Shah in Punjab Province May 5, 2014. REUTERS/Sara Farid

A miner with a stick in his hand walks his donkeys into the depths of a coal mine in Choa Saidan Shah in Punjab province April 29, 2014. REUTERS/Sara Farid

The workers have made a choice to be down here, I think, even if it’s a bad choice made by poor people with few options. The donkeys haven’t chosen this life, but nevertheless they trudge trustingly up and down the tunnels, wounds on their backs and faces covered with coal dust. Why no bandages? I asked the miners. They laughed. Life inside the mines is hard for everyone.

A donkey walks past piles of coal stacked outside the coal mine in Choa Saidan Shah in Punjab province May 5, 2014. REUTERS/Sara Farid

But the miners do what they can for their animals. After they finish work, they take them to shady trees. They feed the animals even before they wash the coal dust from their own faces. One miner tells me that these animals are like their babies. They can’t ask for anything, so we have to ensure we meet all their needs, he says. We care for them when they are sick, hungry or thirsty.

Tears of coal dust run down a donkey's face as it looks out of its shelter outside a coal mine in Choa Saidan Shah in Punjab Province May 5, 2014. REUTERS/Sara Farid

No one cares for the miners when they are sick, hungry or thirsty, I think. I wonder how often a miner has to choose between spending his few dollars on himself or on the donkey that makes his work possible. Whether laboring under the earth or resting on its scarred surface, both are equally invisible to the wealthy elites who run this country.

May Day, the same procedure every year

By Fabrizio Bensch

Every year I know how my Labour day will end in Berlin. May day concludes in Kreuzberg with riots between radical leftists, the so-called “Autonomen” (autonomists), masked and wearing mostly black clothes and the police.

Since 1987, May Day has become known for very violent riots in Berlin’s Kreuzberg or Prenzlauerberg districts. This annual ritual is repeated but with less violence in recent years. Three years before the Berlin wall came down, violent riots broke out in West Berlin by radical leftists during a demonstration in Kreuzberg, where protesters set cars on fire, built barricades and looted a supermarket.

After Germany’s reunification in 1990, the riots moved to the eastern district of Prenzlauerberg. Riots often broke out during Walpurgis night, on the eve of May Day. That’s the history of the 25-year-old bad tradition in Berlin.

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