Freetown – In my teens, I worked as an artisanal miner, waist deep in water, sieving the gravel to find a diamond. Growing up in diamond-rich eastern Sierra Leone, it was the natural thing to do.
Jobs were, and still are, few and far between, so the gemstones were a magnet. They persuaded many to drop out of school, but I worked as a miner mostly during school holidays and sometimes at weekends. The Kono District was densely populated because the sparkling stones could be found virtually everywhere, sometimes through sheer luck.
My parents joined thousands of people from across the country, as well as The Gambia, Mali, Senegal and even Lebanon, to go to Kono in the hope of making a quick fortune. I grew up there and my work as a miner was hard. I dug the river beds for gravel and extracted the often muddy earth looking for diamonds.
The pickaxes and shovels would blister my palms and the sieve would harden or even deaden my fingers, often breaking my fingernails. And because I had to also lift sacks full of dry red tropical gravel, my head and neck were almost always in pain.
Diamond deposits were sometimes so close to the surface in parts of Kono that it was common for people to pick up tiny gemstones that had been loosened by a heavy downpour. I found a tiny stone once or twice in my birthplace, Bumpeh. I did not know their true worth, but got enough money to see me through for about a week
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