Brigitte walks around with a brass tray filled with granite stones on her head. She climbs in her worn flip-flops up a small path that zigzags from the depths of a crater. Covered in gray dust, her fantasy earrings are two lighthouses amid the dust that rises every day at the Pissy granite mine, an excavation located on the outskirts of Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso. But this landscape of dust and stone, in which more than 3,000 people work, many of them women, has become a refuge for Burkinabe forced to flee their home due to the climate crisis, poverty and, above all, the rise in jihadist violence.
More than 10,000 deaths and two million internally displaced people (10% of the population) are some of the figures of the tragedy that affects a country besieged by the massacres of armed groups and local militias linked to Al Qaeda and the Islamic State , which have spread fear throughout the Sahel. At least two thirds of Burkina Faso is outside the control of the state.
The Pissy mine has incorporated 500 displaced people into its ranks in the last year
Besieged by a three-meter wall crowned by concertinas that delimit the limit to where it will grow, the Pissy mine is a depression that year after year and informally has made its way to the road. The flood of civilians from rural villages besieged by extremist violence has put strong population pressure on Burkina Faso’s big cities. Resources are scarce and the influx of displaced people has increased competition in finding a job. The Pissy mine, for example, has recruited 500 displaced people into its ranks in the last year, as confirmed by the director of the excavation, Abiba Tiemtore.
Brigitte came to Pissy in 2011, when a flood swept through part of the city of Ouagadougou. Thousands of people lost their homes, although it was the impoverished neighborhoods, with their mud houses, that bore the brunt of the onslaught of the floods. Brigitte was one of the victims. Before the disaster, she was a hairdresser in her neighborhood, where she had a store where she served her clients. But after the flood, she was forced to look for a new home and she came to the mine on the advice of a neighbor in order to earn some money to feed her children. Since then, she comes every day, first thing in the morning and until late in the afternoon, she brings trays of stone up from the depths of the quarry and then hammers them into gravel.
This job is very hard. I have destroyed hands
Mariama, miner in Pissy
It is the same decision that farmers, seamstresses, ranchers, cooks, peasants, housewives, mothers, daughters and grandmothers made. Thousands of women from different regions of Burkina Faso converged on this sinkhole. And they keep converging.
Mariama arrived at the mine driven by jihadist violence and the drought that decimated crops in her village in the northeast of the country. “This job is very hard. My hands are destroyed” says Mariama. With her right she strikes out with a massive piece of iron, which is actually a part of a truck’s steering system, and with her left she places the granite stones dodging the onslaught of stone chips to her chest and his face. She says that everything she earns is to guarantee a plate of food for her six children.
Afternoon falls, the gray dust travels towards the sunset together with the last impulses of the mine. A group of women dump their grist into the back of a motorcycle, some folding the cloth that offered shelter from the scorching sun, while others wait for a buyer to save the day. Brigitte picks up her tools, checks her left hand and registers the bruises on her hands: the effort of her work has been engraved on her fingers with a hammer blow. She adjusts her black scarf on her head, she tucks the collected money inside her frilly black shirt and leaves the mine with her fancy earrings leading the way.