Mining is for me
This essay was a finalist in the Chamber of Mines of the Philippines’ Faces of Mining: Short Story Writing Competitions 2012. The author is an archivist, licensed librarian and currently works as the Records Officer of the Philippine Mining Development Corporation (PMDC). She is currently finishing her graduate studies at the University of the Philippines – School of Library and Information Studies.
I was startled one misty Monday morning when Amang stirred me from my sleep and said, “Jun-jun, get dressed. We are going up the mountain for a celebration.”
This is what I have always been waiting to hear! I have always wished for Amang to ask me to come with him to work and see what they do up in the mountains. Amang says he works as a mining engineer for a company that mines gold and copper up there – although I don’t really understand what an engineer builds in the mountains!
“Don’t forget to pack a change of clothes. We will spend the night at the mine site.” I jumped out of bed, hurriedly ate my breakfast, took a bath, got dressed and packed my clothes for the adventurous day ahead of me. Inang kept telling me to slow down a bit else I trip or choke as I excitedly babbled non-stop about how my day with Amang will be like.
As we were about to leave, Inang gave me a quick rub in the tummy and my forehead, “to keep the engkantos away from you so you’ll be able to return home safely,” she said and kissed me goodbye. We went to town to look for Amang’s co-workers in the plaza who will be joining the trip to the mountain.
Tiyong Abel, Amang’s brother-in-law, was also with us. He drives the service truck of the miners who go up and down the mountain. On our way to where Amang works, Amang and I rode beside Tiyong Abel because the back of the truck was full of Amang’s co-workers and their families. “Don’t fidget too much, Jun-jun. We might fall over the cliff,” Amang jokingly told me to keep me still as we approach the muddy zig-zag road going up to where they work. It made me quite dizzy to look out the window into the side of the road, and this kept me tucked safely underneath Amang’s arms.
It took us a long time to go up the mountain through the bumpy roadway we have to take to get there. “Wow! The road looks like a sungkaan of the giants living in the mountains!” I exclaimed, as I marvel at the sights lying ahead of us, including the uneven road brought about by the heavy machines and the rains frequenting the mountains. I wonder how many truckloads of gold pass this road every day.
As we approach the place where they work, I saw thick smoke rising up into the sky. Kitchen smells greeted my rumbling tummy making me think of Inang’s kitchen and thought it must be time for lunch already. The people in what Amang and Tiyong Abel calls the “mine site” are really busy preparing for today’s festivities.
“Amang, what is the party for?” I ask Amang as I observe the busy people walking past me, carrying food and drinks from the makeshift kitchen under the bamboo trees to the large table filled with yummy delights – smoky lechon or roasted pork and cow and roasted chicken still on their stilts and fresh from the coals lining one table; halayang ube and biko made from mountain rice freshly made by some of the wives of Amang’s co-workers; pansit with bright red shrimp imported from the city (Inang says only the rich people can eat this kind of shrimp); and different kinds of fruits picked from the orchard the stay-in miners take care of. It seems like an endless stream of food is being cooked and laid out on the table.
“This particular celebration is when the people of these mountains celebrate a bountiful harvest or good fortune. People share their good fortune to friends and relatives by holding a big feast and making people take home some of the meats cooked on that day. Apo Idong, with the help of the people in the mine, was able to get the biggest batch of gold we have ever mined. Tomorrow, before we go home, we must go to your Apo Idong because he will give us half a lechon. Your Inang can cook it into lechon paksiw so you can have lechon for the next few days.”
With that my eyes grew wide with the idea of lechon on my plate. I saw people with red striped clothes coming into the site. They have their feet covered with thick mud mixed with grass. They must have been walking for a long time to go to the mine site! Tiyong Abel whispered that they are the tribesfolk who live in the mountains. They are the ones who will lead the feast as they own the land where Amang’s group mines. He also said that later, we will dance with them with their agung and drums, and perhaps, if Amang allows, I can even taste the basi they brewed for the feast.
After a few hours, as the sun is at the other end of the mountains, the festivities begin. The eldest of the tribesfolk chanted a song that seems to me like a mixture of the nature sounds and a few words I can make out in my language. They made a goat bleed by the fire they made in the midst of the gathered people and took out its innards. Amang said this is to foretell what fortune may still lie ahead for the people in the mine site.
The basi is now being passed around with everyone taking a sip as the music of the gongs and the drums start to make everyone’s feet tap to its tune. Then as all these are happening, people have been going from and to the feast table to get their share of the food. What a fun and amazing day!
After being stuffed so much with the food, Amang tucked me into bed inside one of what they call “sleeping quarters”. Sleepily, I asked Amang what kind of work does he do and do we need it to be able to live every day. “I know that the necklace and earrings of Inang come from the gold from the mines but we really don’t need those to live, right?” Amang answered, “It’s not only jewelries that we get from mining, hijo. The pencil that you use in school, the coins that you use to pay the jeepney to school, the utensils that your Inang uses to cook delicious food for you, even the steel, nails and cement that make up our house – all those things come from the mines. People like me and everyone in this mine site help everyone by digging through the earth and rocks and searching for useful minerals and precious metals. Our world will not be that easy without the things we do in the mines.
"But, of course, like what the elders say, we have to give back what we take. For every spade of soil we dig out, we have to put back a spade of earth in return. For every tree we uproot to get to the minerals below it, we must plant another in its place. That is the most important thing of all that I do. As a mining engineer, I don’t just make plans on how to dig out the minerals. I also need to think of ways on how to return everything to almost as how it was when the time comes.”
“Amang, I still don’t get it. How do my pencil, my baon, and our house have anything to do with your work?” I asked, still trying to understand. “The minerals that we mine make up what are called “raw materials” of all those things. Your pencil contains lead; your coins contain iron, copper, silver, and some bronze used to make metals; the cement comes from limestone – all of those are only some of the different kinds of minerals that miners produce. We mine so you will have those things that make up everyday life easier,” Amang patiently replied. “So… mining is for me? It’s for Inang, for my ading and Itoy, too?” thinking of how me, my brother and my best friend plays cara y cruz with our one peso coins.
“Wow, Amang, you are like a hero for working for all of us!” “Come now, you should rest,” Amang replied, patting me on the head. “Tomorrow morning, as soon as you’re finished eating breakfast, I will take you inside the adit so you will see how we mine.”
Still absorbing what Amang told me, I laid my head to rest inside the sleeping quarters way up the mountain. My head was swimming with all the wonderful things that Amang’s work gives people in the lowlands and the cities, dreaming of all the things I will tell my teacher when I enter third grade next month!
The "Faces of Mining short story writing writing competition" received 105 entries from employees, their family members, and the residents in host communities of Chamber of Mines' member firms. Amid negative perception against mining as a mere resource-extractive activity, this contest was launched in July to show the real-life, human interest stories of individuals who have personally experienced how mining touched their lives through the years.
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