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18 February 2050

Omdurman, Sudan.

My earliest memories in life are in kitchens.

My mother abandoned me as an infant and my father left when I was seven. A year later, I was working at restaurants, doing everything that the grownup men were doing. There was nobody to take care of me and the state was busy with the war in the south of the Sudan. I did not know anything, so for a long time all I did was keep working in kitchens. Later, I started working at various factories mostly manufacturing goods, and mostly operating machines. None of the jobs were permanent. I was working for a few months here, a few months there, but at least there were jobs until the water crisis in 2030s. It became very expensive to manufacture goods for the factories here due to water scarcity, so they started to shut down one after another. It was a very difficult time. Many people I knew migrated to Europe. They were given asylum by countries that they did not even know the names of. I was already married with children and we did not want to leave Sudan. I was spending hours in streets, sitting still, thinking over how do I pay the rent, where do I get a loan, how do I bring food to my children home. When I was home, I was easily irritated by my wife and children, could not stand to see anybody.

I knew a guy, he was extracting coal illegally and selling it to Egyptians. He said I could help and that’s how I started.

It takes two to four men about a month to sink a hole and reach the outcrop if there is any. We make guesses, dig it out and once we find it, we work non-stop with a handful of men, hoisting the stuff to the top of the whole with buckets, trying to extract as much as possible before we are caught. We constantly move all what we take out to another spot where we brake them and store them. Some of it we sell here but it pays much more if we can sell it to Egyptians despite the fact that we have to bribe people on the border. In the end, it is still way cheaper for them compared to any other type of energy, so it is easy to sell.

There is of course a risk of being imprisoned - the penalty for extracting coal is very heavy - and there is a risk of a collapse and staying under the earth when digging out, the risk of getting caught while carrying the coal to the border. On the other hand, there is also the risk of failing to earn a livelihood for ourselves and for our children. In the end, we all must live.

There is a reason why coal is the darkest thing you could ever find in earth and god knows that it was not always that dark.

In the beginning it was lush and plenty. Joyful it was, and full of the infinite possibilities ahead of it: sky was the limit. It would sing the songs of the most wonderful landscapes but it would not understand that they were self-made scenes– only beautiful when you are in them. Then, it got hard as the tree trunks that were around: solemn, sober, not revealing what it knew. Time passed and pressure pressed down on it, layer after layer - very, very slowly. The weight became its suffocation and the weight became its character. Coal became coal, because it could not be anything else and that is the plainest reason why it burns so much.

Abduraman Alom


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