My skin is covered in a thin layer of pitch black coal dust as I reach the hotel by early afternoon. I’ve held my breath several times along the road for the toxic smoke in all shades of grey which billow out of the plentiful factory chimneys that line the road; an orange smoke felt like tiny pieces of glass in my throat.
Even in this industrial town where I stay the night, the air is never clean. Many kids’ faces and hands are smudged in the black coal dust. I think that if I’m annoyed by the pollution after half a day, then what must it be like to live with it 24/7? That a shower is only good for the next few hours – maybe for the day if one stays inside with doors and windows closed? This life is the worst I can imagine. I could bear a poor life in Africa, close to nature; being able to see the stars above each night as pitch darkness prevails; remember the grace and fortune of being a part of something so big.
But here, the pink, bare-strip neon lights from inside the prostitutes’ ‘studios’ – the curved black silhouette of one of the girls leaning in the doorway – and the odd fire thrown out of a factory chimney – is the only light around. A light which fades those stars – and with it that important feeling of something bigger than your sole, earthen life.