Photographer, Jason Florio, at work – the gold mines of Senegal, West Africa

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Woman breastfeeding her baby, gold miners at work, Senegal, West Africa © Jason Florio

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Photographer, Jason Florio, at work – Gold mines, Senegal. West Africa © Helen Jones-Florio

Thursday 20th December 2013 – Paddling distance: 11.4km (total to-date: 83.65km) – River Gambia Expedition

River Gambia Expedition

A relatively short day’s paddling on the River Gambia today, as we wanted to stop and visit another gold mine in South Eastern Senegal. This stretch of the river is dotted with artisanal gold mines – which draw thousands of migrant workers from all over West Africa: Guinea-Bissau, Ghana, Guinea-Conakry, Mali, and Senegal itself. All of them hoping to make their fortune. Whole families live in and around the mines, in makeshift villages (rather disconcertingly described as the ‘Wild West‘ of SE Senegal, during our pre-expedition research). All the mines we visited were understandably dusty, but this one, in particular, had an extremely fine, pink-hued, dust which got into absolutely everything. Even our tents, situated by the river – over 2 miles away from the mine itself – were covered in a fine film of the pale pink, talc-like dust. But, at least we could pack up our tents and leave the next day, washing away the dust. Many of those people whose lives revolve around the gold mines, for months and years in some cases, aren’t so lucky, as they inhale toxic fumes from the mercury – used to separate the gold from the rock dust. The mercury that isn’t inhaled settles into the environment – i.e. the pink dust that coats everything and everybody, at this mine.

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Florio helps the gold miner load his bicycle, Senegal, West Africa © Helen Jones-Florio

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H: “There’s gold in this here rock – apparently!” Gold mines, Senegal © Jason Florio

We met the Senegalese version of a ‘Tolleh Kaafo (silly people/village jokers). Most villages in The Gambia will have such a group, or person, in this case, and their purpose is to lighten up situations – laughing and joking around, when things get too serious. This guy was a real character, who seemed to have everything but an attayah teapot in his pockets!

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Kids playing in the dust, gold mines, Senegal, West Africa © Helen Jones-Florio

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Ebou, Abdou and Yousef, relax after a long days paddle, Senegal, West Africa © Jason Florio

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Dawn – Ebou & Yousef go fishing, River Gambia, Senegal, West Africa © Jason Florio

More river stories to come…next stop Mako, with a couple of hippo encounters on the way!

As always, thanks for stopping by.

The Florios - H & Florio

To view Jason Florio latest series of images – River Gambia – please visit floriophoto.com

 

 

Jason Florio & Ebou’s random meeting in the gold mines of Senegal

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Florio and Ebou with a Gambian gold miner (middle), Senegal, West Africa © Helen Jones-Florio

On our travels through the gold mines of Senegal, out of the hundreds of thousands of migrants who travel from all over West Africa to the region, we bumped into this guy from The Gambia – our team mate, Ebou’s, home country. Here he is, taking us to meet his fellow Gambians, who had migrated to the area in the hope of making their fortune.

More photos and stories from the River Gambia Expedition coming soon.

Photographer, Jason Florio – hanging with the gold miners of Senegal, West Africa

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© Jason Florio

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© Jason Florio

Sunday December 16th – Sila Kounda, Senegal

Starting from where we left in our last blog post about the River Gambia Expedition…we decided to spend a couple of days in the village, because there was a gold mine, Laminia, which we wanted to go and see – ’about 1km’ walk away. We set off, with the chief’s 12-year old grandson, Ibrahima, leading the way. Four kilometers later, and a paddle across the River Gambia in a model-sized dugout – looking as if it could barely float, and which Yousef had to bail water out of each time he came back across the river to take us over, one by one – we reached the gold mines.

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Our Malian fisherman/guide comes back over the River Gambia to take the team, one by one, to the opposite bank © Helen Jones-Florio

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Our Malian fisherman/guide comes back over the River Gambia to take the team, one by one, to the opposite bank © Jason Florio

With both freshly dug and discarded mining holes everywhere you stepped, we gingerly edged our way along the narrow pathways between the holes . All around us, disembodied voices came out of the ground – from the narrow 20-30ft deep deep holes – shouting for the boys waiting at the top to haul up the plastic buckets; many of which are adapted from the ubiquitous 5 gallon plastic water containers. The rocks are taken to be smashed down into dust, washed and then shifted for a precious speck of gold – if they are the lucky ones.

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No safety harnesses here! Ebou hangs onto Florio – that hole is deep! Laminia gold mine, Senegal, West Africa © Helen Jones-Florio

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Gold miner coming up for his hourly break – the girls bring food and hang around the holes. Some of them work on the mine face too © Jason Florio

The men, young boys and quite a few women, many with their babies crawling around in the dust beside them – often precariously close to the holes – are from all over West Africa: Guinea-Conakry, The Gambia, Mali, Gunea-Bisseau, Ghana, Senegal…all hoping to strike gold. Only then, do many of those we spoke to feel they can go back to their homelands – with something to show for, on average, of between 6-12 months spent in an environment of breathing, eating and sleeping in the dust. Some of the men we spoke to had been at the mine for years. Villages spring up around the mines, to cater for the continuous influx of hopeful people. We would see many of these places – Wild West-esque, ramshackle villages, throughout our travels along the River Gambia in Senegal.

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A gold miner rests, Laminia mines, Senegal © Jason Florio

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Gold miner at work, Laminia, Senegal © Jason Florio

We had read, previously when researching the gold mines of Senegal, that we either shouldn’t visit them or be very cautious if we did: because there is such a diverse cross section of people from all over West Africa – some of whom are so desperate that they would have no qualms about doing you serious harm, to take from you what they want. And, I have to say, I was more than a little nervous – being the only toubab woman in our group too – when we went to the first mine.

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Mining holes snake their way through the mining area – Laminia, Senegal © Helen Jones-Florio

However, we didn’t encounter any hostility from anyone we met – and we visited a number of mines along the river. Yes, there were a few people who were very vocal about not pointing cameras in their direction and we respected that. And, I’m not saying that some of these miners wouldn’t rob you of your belongings if the opportunity arose. But, then again, that can happen anywhere. At each mine, we spent a couple of hours walking around (whilst trying not to fall into holes!), talking with the miners, and, on the whole, we were made to feel very welcome. Besides, most of the miners seemed just as curious about us as we were about them and were more than happy to share there stories.

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H, Ebou and Ibrahim – Laminia gold mines, Senegal © Jason Florio

And, someone may just hit the jackpot…

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Gold! Senegal © Jason Florio

After a couple of hours at the mine, we made the long walk back (let me tell you, 4km is a long way in 100degree heat!), across the river, to the village of Sila Kounda to get ready to leave the next morning.

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Larking around – Yousef carrying Florio, with Abdou’s help, from the dug out to the river bank ‘he cannot get his nice shoes wet’! Sila Kounda, Senegal © Helen Jones-Florio

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Everything is fascinating…to the kids – Sila Kounda, Senegal © helen jones-Florio

Monday December 17th – leaving Sila Kounda

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I wonder if we will see the old chief again – Sila Kounda, Senegal © Jason Florio

After thanking him for him and his family for the hospitality, and bidding farewell to the old chief, we load ‘The Twins’ up and head back out onto the River Gambia, for the next village along the way – Djinji – which is about 22km from Sila Kounda. I wonder what we will encounter on the river today…

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‘The Twins’ -packed and ready to go. Leaving the mines and Sila Kounda, River Gambia – heading to Djinji © Jason Florio click here or on image to view footage

As always, thanks for stopping by…more soon

Helen & Florio

Coming next…the fight for my paddle!

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H : “this is MY paddle!” Sila Kounda, Senegal © Jason Florio