It is Pov Sokly’s first day on the job. The 23-year-old has come to the village of Cheuteal Phluos to buy some quartz from the local diggers. Though today might be the first time he has come here in this capacity, Pov Sokly is no stranger to the village.
“Before I brought people from Phnom Penh to buy the stones,” he says. “Now, because I know a lot of the diggers, some buyers have asked me to buy the stones directly.”
According to Pov Sokly, there are about 20 villagers who dig for quartz, sometimes travelling up to 17 kilometres to find the gems.
“Before, less people went to dig for the stones and they could find good quality ones,” he says. Now the quality has deteriorated to such an extent that he pays only 5,000 riel (US$1.25) per kilogramme, which he sells to his buyer in the district of Kiri Vong.
El Vos, 31, started digging three or four years ago.
“I heard that people buy the stones and that’s why I went to find them,” he says.
He has not dug for a few months as he is busy harvesting rice. Once this is completed his group will start digging again.
“We have to go in groups to move the big stones,” says Sok Chamroeun, 44, who is part of El Vos’ group. He has been digging for five or six years now.
The work can be dangerous. Last year one digger died when some rocks caved in on him, the diggers inform us.
“The land is not clay, so it can easily collapse,” says Sok Chamroeun. Still the miners wear no protective equipment, even though they might descend several metres below the surface.
“If we see it is dangerous we have to be careful,” he says. “If people become greedy, it can get dangerous.”
Despite the inherent danger of his profession, Sok Chamroeun cannot wait to get back to work. Unlike El Vos, he does not own any land so he supplements his digging with casual labour. This, though, is not the cause for his impatience.
“It’s like a drug,” he says. “I know the money is important, but when we find a stone which is very expensive, it’s a great feeling.”
INTERPRETER: RANN REUY