The pod splashed down safely in the Pacific

I’m back on Earth now.

Audit Fun in Sishen
The week in Sishen has been elucidating, and, as you are already aware — red.
I know a lot more about environmental auditing now. I also know a lot more about Sishen Iron Ore Mine. Although I know more, this must not be mistaken with me knowing much. That mine is massive, and 5 days to look around only gets the dust of knowledge under one’s nail.
I’d probably have to stay there 2 years before the dust of knowledge coated me as thickly as the physical dust of iron ore did in the 5 days of my visit.

I just washed my clothes, and it seems I’m going to have to get used to a red undertone in the denim. Ah well.

But what does Mars actually look like?

Mars looks like that pit. Doesn’t really seem that big, does it? Well, here’s something to give you a little perspective on it all. Those three little blotchy bits in the middle are haulpacks. They are the massive 250 ton trucks that move the iron ore from the pits to the stockpiles, and from the stockpiles to the primary crusher.

They don’t really look like much there, but they are big yellow (at least, initially yellow) trucks. The little people seen maintaining them in the following two photos are, in fact, normal-sized people. Thus, the trucks are enormous. Thus, the pit is bigger than enormous. I can’t think of a word for that at the moment. I’ll make one up instead — the pit is gigabig.

In conclusion, the place is big and red, as is everything in it (this includes quite a few of the people, although results may vary). I may be repeating myself on this, but I don’t believe it is possible to over-emphasise the importance of the bigness and redness of Sishen Iron Ore Mine.

That’s not all. For your viewing pleasure I also present an image of part of the mostly decommissioned south plant. When the mine started the crushing and screening plant was here.
All that is left is the reinforced concrete skeleton of the place. It was a little like I’d found evidence of the lost civilisation of Mars. Of course, that wasn’t really the case. If I’d really found a Martian civilisation, then I’d find evidence of intelligent extra-terrestrial life. All there seemed to be around Sishen were miners [1].

I don’t think that I can really go into the details of the audit (and I’m thinking even these photos might be iffy, but I don’t think I’m really giving very much away that isn’t public knowledge anyway), so I’ll move on to the difficulties of leading a vegetarian lifestyle in the Kalahari.

The Difficulties of Leading a Vegetarian Lifestyle in the Kalahari
I stayed at the Cranberry Cottage, a B&B in the town of Kathu, just a few kilometres from the mine. It’s a really lovely place to stay if you happen to be passing through that way for some reason or another. I really liked it there. The hospitality was traditionally Afrikaans, and the people were extremely friendly, even to Engelsmanne like my colleague and me. But then we threw them a curve-ball: Could they cater for a vegetarian?

Puzzled looks. Very puzzled. Cranberry Cottage is a family run business, and so the members of the family really care about the service and experience they provide to their guests. I really felt for Magda Fourie as she tried to get her head around this concept of me not wanting to eat any meat.
“Vegetarian?” she asked, “Will you eat chicken?”
“Uh…” I said, but not wanting to distress her, but my facial expression must have been skeptical.
“Fish?” she ventured.
Hesitantly, I agreed that fish would be an acceptable “vegetarian” meal. That evening, for dinner, they made me an especially prepared chicken potjie. By not digging too deep into the stew-pot, I managed to avoid most of the chicken and feasted on the included vegetables.

There was a rerun of this on another of the days where we negotiated for fried fish as my vegetarian meal, and I received braaied chicken. Crispy. Charred. Very much a dead animal. Not wanting to offend my hosts and their efforts to provide me with a vegetarian meal, I struggled through the chicken, eventually giving a third of it to my colleague who’d already polished off a T-bone steak.

But hey, as Magda told me one of the evenings, “In the Kalahari, chicken is a vegetable.”

The guest house wasn’t the only place where I was met with general confusion regarding my lifestyle choices. The guys we dealt with on the mine were also perplexed, although whoever did the catering at the mine seemed to understand what vegetarian meant. I was provided with a Greek salad for lunch once I’d let them know of my meal preferences. No chicken or fish in sight. Unfortunately there was also no originality in sight. While everyone else was provided with a different meaty dish each day, I got my trusty Greek salad, three days running.

One of the people we dealt with assumed I must be on a diet. I think the other guy assumed I was crazy. Every time I ate my salad he made some comment about it. Eventually I got a little annoyed and asked him why he didn’t eat his tortoise (which he’d rescued and nursed back to health after being run-over) or his pet dog. We concluded that he only eats animals he hasn’t taken the time to get to know. I let my follow-up question slide. Why doesn’t he eat people he hasn’t yet got to know?

[1] And they were very nice miners. If you are one of those people who likes to perpetuate stereotypes, you might choose to interpret this comment as implying that miners are not intelligent. However, there are a number of interpretations of the statement available to our intrepid reader. Examples; Miners are not alien lifeforms, Miners are not intelligent aliens, There are only miners in Sishen and no aliens, The Holy Grail is buried at Sishen, The winning lottery numbers are 8 13 27 32 38 44
The interpretation is entirely up to you

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Living on Mars

I got back to the B&B today and squeezed shampoo into my hair. I lathered absent-mindedly before using the same hand to place the shampoo-bottle on the shower floor.

Blood dripped from my hand.

I was mildly alarmed. There was no sign of pain on my head, hand, or arm. Pain that would be indicative of a laceration. I lathered some more and rinsed and it seemed as if someone had scalped me.

Such is the dust on Sishen Iron Ore Mine. Don’t go there with long hair. Don’t go there if you are a bull — it will enrage you.

It’s been a long two days in the Northern Cape. The first day was long because I had to get up before 5am, and drive for 6.5 hours to get there — and then still wander around a mine for a bit.

The second day was long because Sishen Mine is huge. The pit alone is about 15km long and 5 km wide. it feels like we drove around the whole dam thing, but I fear we only really got to see a small portion of it — and that was just the morning.
Then in the afternoon we had a look at the plant. It’s the biggest processing plant I’ve ever seen. Throughput is lots. Not sure I’m allowed to say how much lots is, but the tons per hour entering the process is in the 1000s.
I’m used to gold plants — they’re not as big.

As an aside, I’m also struggling to keep to vegetarianism in this place. I don’t think I can get enough protein here that isn’t animal, and also not die (or at least become seriously malnourished).

Ah well. Perhaps there will be more on this tomorrow (but realistically Thursday is a better chance since I’m also going to the mine at night tomorrow).

Next week’s adventure

There will travelling, and it will be distant.

I’m off to Sishen, in the Northern Cape. ‘Tis a drive of 585km, and I’m leaving on Monday morning at an unmentionable hour. Returning on Friday.
There is a large hole in Sishen, and I’m going to check that the nice people who work at the hole are digging it properly. And that they’re bashing the rocks they dig up properly. And they’re not killing the trees and animals and stuff. And not pouring oil in the drains. That kind of thing.

Considering the size of the hole, I think they might struggle, but perhaps I’ll be wrong about that. I hope so.

When I get back, I’ll write an audit report. I’ll also hopefully write an account of my experiences. There may even be photographs.

Cross-hairs on Iran

I’m not looking forward to this one.

I draw your attention to this quote at the end of the article.

“It is absolutely parallel. They’re using the same dance steps — demonise the bad guys, the pretext of diplomacy, keep out of negotiations, use proxies. It is Iraq redux.” — Philip Giraldi, a former CIA counterterrorism specialist, in Vanity Fair, on echoes of the run-up to the war in Iraq

I wonder what the final excuse for bombing Iran will be? WMD probably. I wouldn’t expect Dubya to feel the need for originality in his warmongering. Stick to the formula.

Project B running along smoothly

The second batch of Project B was partially distributed at a charming dinner gathering last night. Quinn, Gaby, Chris, Lena, Angie, and Michael were all in attendance.
Michael is out from Wales, so that’s what kind of sparked the whole dinnering thing off.

However, this is not the point of the post:

The point is that Batch 1 of Project B has now been published on my Deviant Art account.

An explanation of what Project B is actually all about is included with the submissions, so go check them out: