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THE LIFE OF A MINER
I went inside the mine with darkness around me. My only light was the miner's head light attached to my forehead. There were so many holes inside the dark pit with different sizes. The entrance of main tunnel and the vertical shaft alone covered several hundred meters below with thin air. They were using a wooden ladder to the floor of the mine. While descending, my feet was shaky, legs trembling due to the height to the base of the mine. Rocks were all around me. With my guide, we explored more to the so-called stoop west. More activities were confined to that area because the ore body of manganese was located there. They hoisted it by using a long plastic rope with a basket to haul the splitted ore to the top of the mine to be piled before bringing it to the dumping site.
Anyone can get rich if lucky to find gold, but if not, it will be their graves if luck run out due to bar down of rocks. They had working shift for continued mining by day and night without rest. They had schedule to haul the ore out of the mine.
The miners went to the tunnel. They passed in the entrance to prepare their headlight to resume the shift. Using matches or candles were prohibited to avoid accidental explosion due to presence of methane gas. Smoking is not allowed either.
In the flickering shadow of their dim lights, dirty and sweating figures laden with wheel borrows pushing it out of the tunnel. Those cramping in unnatural postures eased their way back headed toward the main shaft to start climbing out from the tunnel to inhale fresh air.
Due to the kind of job they were in, faces of men were tired draining all their energy and patience. some of them gritted their teeth especially if faced with hardship to extract the ore from the source. A mouthful of wasted air, lungs, roaring for oxygen gasping for air, a long and uneven death at the bottom of the shaft.
For those unlucky ones, crawled to reach the surface from the deep shaft, exhausted, hard slips, does not have strength to save himself. If he survive to crawl out of his hole, the cold air will tear at his lung like a steel trap. If the barrier of rocks block the passage of the mine completely then that will be the end. In a matter of minutes the heart will give way due to the absence of the air for the lungs. Even with outside help using pick axe and other equipment at their disposal trying to penetrate the rocks that block the way, removing shale and stones, at the time the rescuers reach the place of accident, the man already expired because there was a little chance for him to be alive. Being a miner was the hardest occupation to earn a living. Life were hanging in the balance. Anything, anytime, anywhere, something will happen if careless and may become a wasted life.
There were many causes in losing lives. If the rocks fall down to the head of the miner, accidental explosion due to the presence of methane gas, misstep in climbing the ladder, trodding on a loose rung, rock slide or mudslide, the loss of air in the deepest point of the mine below. A threat to life are everywhere. But many men insisted to continue this kind of work because they knew this is where their good fortune lies.
I've seen their cottage nearest to the mine. A bunkhouse made of center logs, dirty dining room and living room with some of their possession place at the side of it. The place is not homely. This house became their temporary shelter after their work, grouping together preparing stew from the pot to the fire. When its done, they were sipping the broth to feel the hotness to go down to their belly easing the hunger while waiting for their meals. To sustain the coldness of the night, they brought coal and dry wood to the fireplace where the glow continued for the rest of the night. Lying in the darkness, a good night sleep for a tired body and mind, saving another energy for the next day's work.
A miner's dream is to make easy for a living. He has a family to support. He is willing to put his life in danger because of them. This is the only job he knew, challenging, in danger but with a good chance to earn more.