Edit [Jan. 24, 2009 9:30am ]: At the time of this post, $1 equals 1,950 Uganda shillings. Amos’ math isn’t all that accurate in regards to calculating how much he earns per day. As you are listening to the interview, bear in mind that his numbers won’t add up.
I met Amos on the descent to the bottom of Kireka stone quarry. I briefly broke away from meeting the Kireka women to venture to the depth of the pit. I wanted to get a feel of the distance the rocks travelled on the way to top of the pit where the women worked. Amos had just emptied a heavy load of stones at the top of the quarry and was heading down for another load. Beads of sweat lined the wrinkles in his forehead, and trickled down the side of his face. One strap on his sleeveless white undershirt was stained with mud from the bottom of the jerry can, the other soaked in sweat. At first glance, he looks too skinny and lanky to be doing such demanding manual labor, until you get a glimpse of his sinewy forearms and shoulders that looked liked they had formed for the specific task of ferrying stones. His intellect and insight, upon conversation, is jarring. It snaps you into a state of confusion.
What’s an intelligent person doing working in this hell hole?
The thing that made talking to Amos interesting wasn’t the story that he told, but the insightful deep and thought-out questions that he launched at me. You could tell he was doing a lot of thinking on the slow arduous climbs from the bottom of the quarry. He first stared at me long and hard when I introduced myself. It took me 20 minutes to convince him to let me record the audio of our encounter. “Who are you, and how can you help us? How does telling my story change my situation.” He’d seen many people with cameras come and go, without a single change in his situation or his opportunities. To him I was just another camera-wielding outsider, indifferent to his suffering. The bulk of his heart-breaking personal story that led him to this pit was not on tape, but what I managed to get on tap, was enough to offer insight into his story, his dreams and hopes for the future. “What you get today in the quarry is what you eat. You don’t get any extra money to help you in some two or three days. Just for today,” he said.
Amos also wanted assistance out of the daily grind of the pit. He said he needed guidance. He espoused his willingness to learn, his dream to be in the health industry, and his lament of having to stop attending school due to the loss of his mother at an early age. Amos fell somewhere between the Women of Kireka project and the feel-good story of Stephen. Where does he go to get a helping hand? He’s neither a female war refugee, nor is he a cute awwwww-inducing, feel-good-story-in-the-making 7-year old.
Reporter Glenna Gordon put it best regarding her encounter with the quarry:
… every single kid in the quarry is very, very sad. And there were hundreds of kids working there. It’s great to want to help Stephen, but sitting right next to Stephen, also crushing rocks in the quarry, is another kid who needs help, and right next to the other kid is another one.
The question of how to help Amos remains an open one at this point, but I hope someone out there can listen to his story above and take it upon themselves to answer his call for guidance.