Life in Sierra Leone
We arrived in dusty Koidu (also called Kono and Sedafu) after a 6 hour journey on terrible roads in a clapped out Jeep which managed to squeeze in 13 people and 4 people on the roof. We broke down 3 times and everyone had to get out and walk whenever there was a hill (fairly frequently) because the jeep couldn’t manage uphill with all of us in it.
Koidu is in the Eastern Province of Sierra Leone (really close to Liberia) and is the heart of diamond country. In 1972 the third largest diamond in the world was found in this area – 968.9 carats known as the ‘Star of Sierra Leone’ and bought by diamond mogul Harry Winston. Koidu is also infamous because of movies like Blood Diamond.
Koidu is known in the rest of the country as the ‘wild east’ and at the eight police checkpoints we had to pass through everyone eyed us warily and asked us what our business was in Koidu. People were confused but in the end very welcoming when we said we were tourists. Certainly this strung out, dusty town definitely did have a feeling of the ‘wild east’ about it. We knew we’d arrived when we heard the incredibly loud booms and felt the ground shaking beneath us – the sounds of the big mining companies blasting through rock…………………
Life in Russia
Abandoned Mir Mine
Mir Mine also called Mirny Mine is a former open pit diamond mine located in Mirny, Eastern Siberia, Russia. At the time of its closing in 2004, the mine was 525 meters deep and 1,200 meters across making it the second largest excavated hole in the world, after Bingham Canyon Mine. The hole is so big that airspace above the mine is closed for helicopters because of incidents in which they were sucked in by the downward air flow.
Mining began on 1957, in extremely harsh climate conditions. The Siberian winter lasted seven months which froze the ground, making it hard to mine. During the brief summer months, permafrost would become mud turning the entire mining operation into a land of sludge. Buildings had to be raised on piles, so that they would not sink. The main processing plant had to be built on better ground, found 20 km away from the mine. The winter temperatures were so low that car tires and steel would shatter and oil would freeze. During the winter, workers used jet engines to burn through the layer of permafrost or blasted it with dynamite to get access to the underlying kimberlite. The entire mine had to be covered at night to prevent the machinery from freezing.