In Ghana, I’m interning for Today Newspaper, an independent daily whose slogan is “We Blend Our Vision With Truth & Enlightenment,” and so far, this has proven true. Sitting near the door, I hear the constant hustle of reporters coming in and out of the office. There is always laughter, or arguing, and definitely no dull moment.
Often, I start my day having no clue what I will be doing. Some days, I edit and write stories from my cubicle and sneak out for a bit to get lunch or a snack, usually an alcohol-free Malta Guinness or a plate of jollof rice with spicy stew and chicken.
Other days, the minute I get into the office, my editor tells me that I will be going on assignment. He usually doesn’t tell me where, when or with who, so I try to occupy my time until I get further instruction.
One such day, I accompanied two reporters (who are coincidently twins and write many of their stories together) to take photos for their feature article. The only thing they told me was that it was a story partially on child labor. I could have questioned them further, but I was excited for the mystery of the adventure.
To get to where we were going, we took a trotro, the shared taxis that are the cheapest and easiest way to get around Accra that I previously wrote about for the blog. Needless to say, they’re a lot easier to navigate when you have a Ghanaian guide (or two!)
We got off our first trotro at Circle, a busy hub that can connect you to almost anywhere in Accra. I followed closely behind my coworkers, who easily avoided the people, cars and street sellers to get us to our second trotro.
We stopped to get a yummy snack. I’m still not sure what kind of berries these are, but they were refreshing on the hot day.
You have to love that Accra traffic. Knowing which trotro to take is the mark of a true Ghanaian.
We got off literally at the end of the trotro line. As they say, “We weren’t in Accra anymore.”
My coworkers informed me that we were at the lot where police leave impounded vehicles. Typical of the Ghana Police Service, no one has really done anything about the cars, and I found out that some of them have been there for over 10 years.
After passing all the abandoned cars, we were suddenly at the base of a hill, and despite the fact that we were wearing work attire, we were going to climb it.
After reaching a ledge, I saw a group of around 20 people mining. I was informed that this was the site of the Capital Hill Quarry, which had been abandoned and now, independent men, women and children break stones to be packaged and sold.
Having already been to the quarry a few times, my coworkers knew many of the workers and could explain to them in Twi why an Obruni with a camera wanted to take photos of them. The first person we talked to was Nii Ayikwei Armah, who, at 60, has been breaking stones for 20 years. While I was taking his portrait, he interrupted me to take his hat off, so he would look good in the newspaper.
Armah was hesitant to talk to us about the difficulties of his work. He said as long as he drank enough water and ate well, he could work the whole day, often for more than nine hours, in the sun. To prove his point, he showed us his lunch of Ga Kenkey, which consists of corn and salt wrapped in a plantain leaf.
These are the tools used to break and gather stones. There were abandoned broken rakes and bowls all around the quarry.
Here’s a video of Armah introducing himself and talking about his work.
Here’s a video of Armah breaking and gathering stones with Kwame Essel, who is 52 and also works at the quarry.
Next, we talked to a group of women who were taking a break to nurse while one of them prayed. They were all much more willing to talk about the negative aspects of their job and wanted to fix their hair and dress before I photographed them.
One of the women, Saidu Salifu, told us that some of them fall while trying to climb the hot rocks. She also said that broken fingers are an issue, as the workers are often harmed while breaking rocks.
Salifu complained that she and the other workers have to take painkillers to dull the pain after a long day of work. She makes between GHC4.00 and GHC10.00 a day, which is between $1.00 and $2.50. She told us, “Though it does not pay well, I am compelled to do it to take care of my children.”
Salifu’s young child sleeps here when not on her back.
This is a pile of stones waiting to be crushed. After only an hour at the site, dust from the crushed stones covered all of our uncovered skin.
Once crushed, the stones are bagged and ready to be sold for between GHC 5.00 to GHC 20.00, or between $1.25 and $5.00. They are sold both at the site and carried out of the quarry to be sold on the street.
Going to the quarry, it was almost as if we had entered another world, only to have to return back to reality. I’m so grateful for Today Newspaper for giving me this opportunity and the people at Capital Hill Quarry for letting a stranger document their lives.