Choa Saidan Shah, Pakistan
By Sara Farid
The air became heavier as the rocky walls of the tunnel closed in around us and the last ray of sunlight disappeared around a corner. Ahead was darkness, behind was darkness. The miners’ headlamps and their shining eyes were the only points of light.
We scrambled and crawled along as the tunnel shrank and the wooden beams holding up the ceiling became lower and lower. Finally we came to the coalface. A few bulbs dangled on thin, bare wires. The feeble light glistened off the men’s sweating bodies as they swung their pickaxes into the rock.
Down here, work starts at 7 a.m. and lasts for five to six hours, which is about as long as the body can take. Laborers hack away at the coal, break it up and load it onto donkeys to be transported to the surface.
Working in these conditions, a team of four can dig around a ton of coal per day. They sell it on at $10 per ton, which is split between the four of them. They have to cover all their expenses themselves.
The work is exhausting and the miners often lose their breath, taking a break every 10 minutes to recover. In the thin air, the men drink water and dip tobacco. The dim bulbs keep going on and off as the power falters, and the miners’ small head torches become arcs of light against the rock as they move.