Choa Saidan Shah, Pakistan
By 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.