The Diamond Fields
Kono, Sierra Leone, 2003
As you can imagine, access
to mining is very political
in Kono.  Chiefs own the
land and the Government
divvies out permits.  
Obviously, this all costs
money -- A lot of money
that doesn't go back into
public projects but into
individual pockets.  
However, the Chiefs and
local authorities also tend
to be somewhat tolerant of
illegal freelance mining.  
In essence, they have to
be.  Kono is a tenderbox.  
People understand that
their is a lot of money to
be made and that this money
doesn't seem to trickle
down (as a "wise?"
president once thought.)  
When a company, like the
South African Branch Energy
demand that people stop
mining on their permits,
the authorities are forced
to step in.  This tends to
lead to public
demonstrations that can get
a little rowdy.  The
exception was when the
authorities were going to
close down the mining
fields in the middle of
Koidu town (where I took
these pictures).  We
thought that the place was
going to explode.  Luckily
nothing happened.
Last Christmas I treated
myself to a bicycle so that
I could jot around and get
some exercise at site.  It
was one of the best things
I did.   Not only did it
allow me to unload a little
of my excess stress, but I
was also able to weave in
and out of the diamond
fields. (Besides the rides
were a blast.   Most of the
miners thought I was nuts
as dashed by with mud
splattered over my face,
crossing chest high rivers
with my bike slung over my
shoulder......Not that the
miners don't ford rivers
carrying 100 lbs pumps on
their head, but as the
"Pumoi" they are surprised
that I would get dirty.
Sorting the stones
Sifting in the muddy waters
Mining in Downtown Koidu
A miner's bungalow
Biking along the trails
I passed by large
digging machines and
dump trucks scattered
though out the weeds.  
All the machines were
looted during the war
giving an effect that I
entered an elephant

As you would expect a
miner's life is not
luxurious.  Its the
dream that keeps people
digging in the hot sun
day after day after
day.  However, miners
do what they can to
keep comfortable.  My
favorite was the Dump
Truck bungalow.  
Someone converted the
bed of a truck into a
one room apartment.  
Kept him dry.

One of the paths would
pass by an abandoned
mechanized processing
plant that was looted
during the war.  It was
a 3 story skeleton of
steal jetting in the
air.  Climbing around
the rusting beams and
ancient machines was
fun but I had no clue
how they functioned.  
By the end of my
contract, though, the
South African mining
company (a subsidiary
to  mercenaries who
were given permits to
mine the Kimberlite
tubes as payment for
recapturing Kono in the
middle of the war)
started to build a new
processing plant.  I
was able to see the in
and outs of mechanized
mining and all of a
sudden the tangled
structure of steel,
pipes, neglected
machinery and broken
glass made a little
more sense.  Although,
I can still honestly
say that I am still
pretty clueless to the
whole diamond thing.
Part of the old processing plant
Diamond sorting room in the old plant