Insider: Living off rocks

By the sweat of your face you will eat bread, till you return to the ground. As stated in the bible, after the fall of man, one of the curses to punish man was toiling in order to satisfy his needs. I get to believe this biblical saying on reaching Nyakyonga stone quarry; a place where women have gone an extra mile to meet their needs by crushing rocks for construction. In the Nyakyonga trading centre, I get a glimpse of the hilly isolated stone mines.
For sale.
For sale.

By the sweat of your face you will eat bread, till you return to the ground. As stated in the bible, after the fall of man, one of the curses to punish man was toiling in order to satisfy his needs.

I get to believe this biblical saying on reaching Nyakyonga stone quarry; a place where women have gone an extra mile to meet their needs by crushing rocks for construction.

In the Nyakyonga trading centre, I get a glimpse of the hilly isolated stone mines. The mega stones stand tall at a safe distance from the road. I am told it’s a place where dozens of women have earned their daily bread. As I cross a risky bridge, the quarry gets nearer.

On a closer view, Nyakyonga stone quarry has many stones varying in size. I am told that the biggest stones are those that have just been excavated from the ground while the medium ones have been chipped to that size.

Women stand by the small path near the mine. I inquire why none of them is at work. A crestfallen lady in a low tone tells me that for the past two weeks, they haven’t been working.

“We were stopped by the district until we get permission and a working license from them,” says Chlodine Mukarubuga.

The look on Mukarubuga’s face stresses the fact that she can’t wait to resume crushing rocks. Accordingly, for the past three years she has been crushing stones for a living.

Associating such work to men, I can’t resist the urge to ask Mukarubuga and the other ladies why they went into stone mining.

Being an orphan, Mukarubuga would lack essentials; this sent her to the stone quarry. She admits that at first it was so hard though with time she got used to the job.

“At first I would only earn Rwf 400 but currently I get Rwf 3000 and above,” she proudly says.

Working in a stone quarry doesn’t seem a simple task. Imagine pounding a stone to the smallest size you can ever imagine. To the women who pound the stones, every single day is a serious task.

“As a child, I never imagined I could ever wake up daily to such a hard task,” comments Lillian Uwera. As the ladies display their hammers, I get to realize the unique thing with their arms.

They possess strongly muscled arms. One could mistake them for male hands were their faces hidden. I get to know that it’s the type of work they do that makes them muscular. It also determines the way they dress.

Though not at work, these ladies are dressed in armless tops saying this saves them from excess heat from the sun. Accordingly, neither sun nor rain is excuse enough not to work. The demand for stones is high that they cannot risk losing the chance of making handsome profits.

According to Uwera, vehicles are always packed at the scene impatiently waiting for {conkasi} stones. The most wanted stones are the smaller ones yet they are the hardest to pound.

As they sit under the sun everyday, the more than 20 women earn according to their strength. The quicker one is, the more stones they pound thus the more they earn.

Payment is according to the number of wheelbarrows one fills per day. As some raise three to four wheelbarrows, others raise more than five and earn more. A wheelbarrow of stones goes for Rwf400.

At Rwf 3000-4000 a day, Mukarubuga is the highest earning employee. Compared to other employed people in Nyakyonga, she qualifies for a millionaire.

She however moans the taunts of this kind of job. As she displays a half finger, she tells the sad story of how it was hit by a hammer as she was crushing the stones.

Mukarubuga is one of the many that have lost their fingers to the stone quarry. Other women report having almost lost their sight when stones skipped into their eyes while working.

They also mention fatigue and prolonged illness as other challenges they face. Meanwhile, giving up isn’t an option because of the many things they have earned out of the work.

“My first born completed her O-level as a result OF this,” says Uwera. Like the others, she pays for her children’s education. She also paid for their health insurance.

Many women have bought plots of land and a few have constructed houses out of this job.

“My wife constructed that house with money from the quarry,” Edrese Bagirubwira proudly says. He says he became disabled when he was working in the stone quarry.

Since then, the wife has taken care of the family. As I leave, the women are more than determined to form a co-operative so that the district permits them to work again.

“This is what we are used to and it’s the only way to survive,” says Uweera. Hopefully, their wish will be granted.

Ends

 

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