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Children of the Sand

By Blanca Madani, San Diego, California World Algerian Action Coalition, 3 August 2000

The following is a translation of an article by D. Tamani, published in French in the Algerian daily, El Watan.

The only employer who does not despise the manual labor of the people of the slum is called Oued Aissi. This tributary of the Oued Sebaou employs more than fifty workers who are in charge of stripping it all day long.

They do not consider themselves looters of the sand; they are workers like any others, simply trying to meet their families’ needs. On account of the sun, we start very early in the morning, around six’o clock, and we stop at ten o’clock. We return at 4:00 p.m., Amer, 26 years old, tells us. He has never been to school and has never worked anywhere else. I looked for work everywhere. Nobody wanted me. The Italians who were building the dam (Taksebt) have not answered my request.

Salim, 24 years old, left school in ninth grade. He went directly to the oued: I have been here since I was 14 years old. Since the extraction of sand has become forbidden, and security services put pressure on the carriers, things have become complicated for the oued workers. We put in three days to fill up a trailer truck with sand. We earn between 100 and 150 dinars per day, Amer tells us. He adds, the policemen do not tell us anything, but when they chase the trucks, we are the ones who suffer. The sand dealers pay between 400 and 600 DA for the cargo and resell it for 5,000 DA. They have become scarce since their vehicles are being seized.

The community of the oued has its martyrs. Eyes full of tears, they remember Souali Ziane, 48 years olds, buried alive last September under a sand mass. He had dug too deeply. Tons of sand fell on his head. The eldest of his six children took his place. He knows he must avoid the holes that are too deep. Khechouane Slimane, 40 years old, was victim of a similar accident, but he suffered burst intestines. He carries a bag outside of his belly, his friend informs us. We take up a collection to give his family a bag of semolina, he adds. Unknown to the public authorities, these men work underground and die in the general indifference.