3 February 2013

Nigeria: Poverty Pushed Me Into Stone Crushing - Salamatu

The story of Salamatu Abubakar is a pathetic one. Being a stone crusher is a job ordinarily reserved for men but poverty has driven this nursing mother into the difficult terrain and she has embraced it.

Despite being only 28, Salamatu Abubakar looks older than her age. With wrinkles all over her face, anyone would not be wrong to mistake her for being in her 40s.

Since losing her husband two years back, she has had to fend for herself and her family alone - to do that, she has to crush stones. With the little money she realises, she pays for her rent and her children school fees.

A tough job ordinarily reserved for men, Salamatu Abubakar has embraced the challenge, though not without its consequences. Her palm is very coarse and hardened as a result of long handling of hammer, which she uses to crush the stones into small pieces with her bare hands.

Like many of the other women who crush stones at the abandoned quarry previously managed by Paulosa Quarry Company in Suleja, Niger State, poverty is the single factor pushing these women to the edge.

A wheelbarrow load of crushed stones cost N400, barely enough to take care of their medical bills, which arises from the health implication of inhaling stone dust and injuries from flying pebbles. However, Salamatu Abubakar told our reporter that she sees stone crushing as the only option available to her rather than being idle.

Though if she had another job that pays better, Salamatu Abubakar said she would have taken it. But she is not educated and lacked the requisite qualification to seek a white collar job. Hence, securing a job with less stress will be difficult. She said, "After I lost my husband, some men were asking me to sleep with them before they can assist me and my children. It was something I couldn't imagine myself doing so I have to take the hard way."

Once in a while, Salamatu Abubakar said she has fallen ill.

But as most of her fellow female stone crushers revealed, they barely visit any hospital as this will amount to total expenditure of the meagre money they earn on drugs.

"I drink agbo (local herbs)" one of the women said. "it is the same thing all the women here drink. Going to the hospital is rather too expensive for us."

The interesting thing about this quarry is that all the stone crushers here are women. Occasionally, those whose children are a bit older come to assist their mothers to crush the bigger stones into smaller piece, before they are further crushed into various sizes of gravel.

Before the loss of her husband, Salamatu Abubakar was a full time house wife. She said, "My husband fell ill in 2009. And for a long time, we spent our money on hospital bills. Unfortunately, he died in 2011. After his death, there was no money left. And I was not working then. So one day I had to beg one of the other women crushing stones to see if I could join them. That was how I started.

"When I started this work, I thought I could not do it for long because of the difficulty in it. But some of the women I met doing the job encouraged me to go ahead. First, it was the problem of joints pain. My joints were aching me seriously. But the women recommended some drugs and herbs for me. I got a lot of relief after taking those drugs and herbs."

She said the poverty is pushing women to go beyond their limit to earn a living and raise their children. Though, Salamatu Abubakar is a widow, but not all the women who crush stones are widows. Some told our reporter that they were only supporting their husbands.

She said that while crushing of stones by the women is a business that has helped them to fight poverty in their immediate families, they do not wish to allow their children to follow in their footstep because of the tedious nature of the job and the effect it is having on their health. She said those of them that found themselves doing the job, work very hard to ensure that their children do not do the same to earn a living.

But when our reporter noticed a small child sitting next to Salamatu Abubakar and queried why she had to bring the child to the quarry, she claimed there was no one at home to take care of the child as his older siblings have gone to school.

"We are doing this job not because we want to do it but because there is no alternative job available to us. It is a very difficult job even for the men. But you can see that most of the people doing it here are women. We use these sledgehammers to hit the stones until we crush them into smaller sizes just as the crushing machines do.

Thereafter, we separate the stones into big and small sizes. We also separate the dust differently. When you do that job for one day, you would like to go and rest for at least a week. But no way! We still come out the next day.

She is optimistic that someday, she will save enough money to help her own a stall where she can sell food items.

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