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Terry Garde - Kenya Fieldwork Diary

24/10/2014

The field work got launched officially on Tuesday when I showed my credentials to the Sub County Commissioner and the Sub County Education Officer, so protocol was kept. The former was in a Government style office just like any District Commissioner’s office in Zimbabwe, with whom I was called up to do my national service . The latter was in the old Macalder Copper Mine offices, in fact it would have been the Mine Secretary’s office, as a safe was still built into the wall! Strange throw-back memories all around me.

Later I had my first meeting with three guys from the Migori County Artisanal Gold Miner’s Co-operative Society Ltd or MICA for short.

Needless to say I never saw all three of them at the same time, sometimes it was just one, at most two. Their mining sites are clustered here in Nyatike sub county about 8 k away, 6 as the vulture flies! The road winds steeply down to cross the muddy fast flowing Migori River on a single lane bridge, then up the other side of the valley, which is a bit scary when in a matatu (local taxi) or on the back of a motorbike, my other way of getting around the locality.

I spent Wednesday and Thursday visiting the Kotchieng mining site of John Asembo, one of the three MICA members. On my arrival there John pointed at one of the shafts and suggested I go down straight way, but I baulked, a minor panic attack looking into the vertical blackness of timber frames with the occasional rung across one corner. ‘Ah, No!’ I exclaimed using the excuse that I had was not wearing the right clothes. Instead he showed me around the surface activities of crushing, milling, and sluicing, as well as the five other ‘holes’

(their name for shafts), all with hand windlasses for raising ore and waste in sacks and lowering timber for making travelling ways in the mining areas (stopes, in mining parlance), with lockable grid covers to keep out robbers.

However on Thursday I had fortified my nerve, put on boots, borrowed a hard hat and a torch and was rearing to descend! On the way there I had seen a vervet monkey and a flame lily in full colour growing on the side of the road and decided these were good omens. Sure enough I descended like a monkey, an old stiff crotchety one, admittedly, but soon I was back in a world I know something about, down a gold mine, a ‘small working’ as they were known in my day. Like me, it was old school: narrow stope, dipping almost vertically, a quartz stringer containing visible gold particles against the hanging wall, hard country rock not prone to peeling away, not making much water, timbered platforms and props acting as ladders to get to the working ‘faces’. But whilst the men were dressed in hard wearing clothes and shoes and had torches strapped to their heads above their right ears using elastic bands made from old car inner tubes, no one had any protective equipment.

After 8 to 10 years I was back underground, and the flame lily, representing day light and the world above, was there to meet me 90 minutes later, as I climbed carefully upwards. Not only underground, but I also watched other people doing their tasks and the skills were apparent, these were truly artisans at work, all done by eye without the usual paraphernalia used in winning gold.

In conclusion it is a strange experience, to be on a learning curve, doing research in situations that are both new and familiar at the same time. Who said nostalgia isn’t what it used to be?

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