The mine

Dark and dingy, we sat down at a table in the middle of the sparse room and were immediately greeted by one of two women behind the counter. Beers were ordered, and at insistence, a fanta for me. I eyed the place knowingly. Despite the two women and sundry kids – including a 10-year-old with a fat breast-fed four-month-old hoisted to her hip – I was uneasy.

As my male colleagues continued to drink leisurely, relaxing from the long day, I watched two separate groups of young and slightly agitated young men with elevated voices demanding beer. That never translates well – whatever the language.

Sure enough, half an hour later I watched that animation turn to violence as voices began shouting and punches were thrown. I peered after the crowd that sprinted from every direction in order to watch the seemingly hoped-for carnage.

After the fight and mob had moved beyond the storefront a police officer finally appeared and carried both offending parties away. We drove through the dwindling crowd, my eyes resting lightly on the graying gutted concrete skeletons that had once been homes, and the pitted asphalt that once was smooth.

Bong Mines used to be a “beautiful place” I was told. Before the war. “down there was the bank, that building used to be the administration building. More than 100 rooms, but most of them were underground.”

There is hope for reclaimed beauty and functionality. The Chinese are taking over the mine operations. A group arrived that day by train (lucky them, that road is brutal) to assess their investment. Rumors abound about changes…

Bong Mines, fighting aside, is buzzing. Hope simmers for jobs and infrastructure. For newness. For starting over. For an “after” to lessen the blow of the war’s “before”.

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