This series of posts documents two ordinary folks attempting to get out there and do good. Over the next few months, we’ll follow them through the setbacks and triumphs of their endeavor to take the inspiration of Mountainfilm and turn it into something tangible. (To catch up. start here.)

Hello readers. It’s Thursday. We hope you’re having a good week.

A few weeks ago, we wrote about galamsey mining and how it has led to labor abuses, among other things. Recently, we were able to visit an actual galamsey site. You can see pictures here.

Our first step was to get permission to visit a site. As galamsey is illegal, showing up to a site bearing only cameras and goofy grins was likely to earn us a swift and permanent visit to the bottom of a mine. Really. Given those circumstances, we opted to ask permission of the only body that holds any authority with the galamsey chiefs, the galamsey “executive board.” (Galamsey bosses from various area sites make up this committee, and are ostensibly those most respected within the industry.) We attended a meeting held in a back alley with chairs set up in the middle of the dirt road, chickens and children scrabbling about. The galamsey chiefs held a hushed discussion regarding our request. After their brief conference, the chief executive gave a short, gracious speech informing us that, as we were associated with SSF, we would be welcome to visit a galamsey site. Our coworker later told us they also contacted him to verify we weren’t under-cover agents from AngloGold Ashanti.

The following week, we crammed two to a seat in a taxi, sweating and debating whether it would be rude to ask the driver to turn down the overloud talk radio omnipresent in Ghana. It was me, Jenny, our two galamsey boss guides (Samuel and Steven) and Barimah, the SSF Projects Officer we had co-opted as our translator. Our taxi dropped us off amidst a bustle of activity a few miles after pavement had given way to eroded mud.

Upon stepping out of the car, I was immediately asked by a dapper chap, shirtless in a pinstriped blazer and jean shorts, if I was there to buy gold. It was clear that obrunis visit this area for one reason only. I somewhat nervously put off his question without giving him any answers while looking askance at Samuel and Steven, who were busy greeting a giant man with a stutter, an outsized laugh, and a machete. The point-of-entry security guard, as it turns out.

After purchasing water for everyone, we began to climb a narrow path, leaving behind the man with the machete and the would-be gold seller. It’s about 1000 degrees Celsius on any given day in Ghana, and humidity also hovers at around 1000% (just for the sake of symmetry). Playing at documentarians, Jenny and I were each schlepping a good amount of camera gear. Our guides, though significantly older, set a pace that had them leaping nimbly up the slopes and left us huffing our way up, determined not to ask them to slow down.

As we climbed, we passed a steady stream of porters carrying 110-lb. sacks of rocks down the slope. These sacks contained the raw material taken from the mines out of which gold would be extracted. Your typical mine uses a considerable amount of machinery to extract and transport ore. But because any equipment used at a galamsey site might be seized upon the very real threat of a police raid, the galamsey bosses and workers extract the raw material using manpower alone. Think about that for a minute. Every single ounce of rock is extracted, transported hundreds of feet up and out of each mine, and carried several miles down a narrow, steep, and slippery footpath to meet buyers at the road.

Actually, think about that for a week. This post is getting long, and I bet your attention span is perhaps only a few nanoseconds longer than mine, so let’s pause here. Tune in next week to hear about my underground adventure!