Working Man's Death

2010, Society  -  11 min Leave a Comment
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4 min read

A documentary on the extremes to which workers will go to earn a living. In today's technological age - is heavy manual labour disappearing or is it just becoming invisible?

Physical work was once celebrated with hymns of praise. But workers today must be content with encouraging one another that their hard work is better than no work at all. This series looks at the state of physical work in today's world. Work that is dreary, demanding and at time dangerous.

When dawn breaks over Kawah Ijen, men with bamboo baskets slung over their shoulders and torches in their hands emerge one by one out of the darkness, only to disappear into the white sulfur vapors of the volcano later. We visit east Java in Indonesia – where men climb steep paths amid pungent vapours carrying a heavy load of sulphur rock from the mouth of a volcano.

The sun is already out by the time they reach the "kitchen." The "kitchen" is the place at the edge of the hot, blue-green lake at the bottom of the crater where sulfur is mined. The "kitchen" spits, hisses, billows up in clouds of hot caustic vapor. Here molten sulfur flows through long clay pipes, touches the air, and hardens in a matter of minutes. Orange puddles turn into pale-yellow, jagged-edged chunks and slabs.

Equipped with long iron rods, the men stuff a cloth or the sleeve of their jackets into their mouths, and dash up the slope and into the biting fumes. There they break off big chunks of hardened sulfur. After a few minutes of this, they are forced to take a breath. They cough and spit, but keep on working.

The Port Harcourt slaughter yard is a labyrinth of people and animals. The entire area is actually a market, which lies between the zoo, a bridge in the middle of construction, a river, and an area where multinational corporations like Coca Cola and Shell have settled.

The grounds consist of a few huts, a large covered market hall, a cold storage room, a corral for the cattle, pig pens, a pool table sheltered by an awning, a mosque, a few shanties, a slope leading down to the river, and the places where the slaughtering is done.

These places are a large paved surface "The Slab," where the cattle is slaughtered, skinned, and cut into portions, and a charred elevated platform for roasting the beef heads, skin, feet, and whole goats.

First, the young assistants of the goat butchers and goat roasters bring in the animals. The goats make the most noise as they are being led - all tied together - to the slaughter yard. You can't tell if they sense what's in store for them; maybe it's just uncomfortable to be pulled around all tied together like that.

It's snowing in Shamorgar, a little Pakistani mountain village near the border to Afghanistan. Ramadan is over. The harvest is in. Corn, onions, potatoes, and tomatoes are being stored for the winter.

It's calm in the village. A blacksmith is repairing hooks, rakes, shovels, and plows. The owner of the general store opens for business. The muezzin calls to prayer. His voice echoes across the vast landscape.

The Pashtuns are big, proud, and strong. The men speak softly, are seldom loud. They themselves say they can perform the most grueling tasks and are not afraid because they have been chosen by Allah to do so.

That's why they are generally the ones who make the long journey from the mountains in the north to Southern Baluchistan. Here they scrap huge ships. Piece by piece they cut apart the gigantic hulls until all that remains are small sections of steel plate.