No one said it would be nice and easy. But what I actually found down the Sobieski coal mine in Jaworzno exceeded my wildest expectations.
Just before I go down the mine I receive a couple of basic rules in case something bad happened. So I put on a checked flannel shirt and a yellow suit, and the woman at the counter gives me a torch. My only light in the darkness is hanging torpidly between the photographic equipment and the escape respirator. I wear eight kilos more than usually. I’m ready, though I don’t know for what exactly.
I go down a long corridor towards a lift, which immediately takes people 500 metres under the ground in a metal cage. I don’t feel neither coolness nor heat. I can see only darkness, though the conditions down here are allegedly luxury compared to other locations. I get on a narrow train. It takes me and my guide 30 minutes to reach the final station. We have to walk from there. When we get off the train, we cannot see brick walls any more. The floor becomes more and more uneven, and the comfortable, hard pavement turns into cloggy mud. Losing our wellingtons in the sludge is just a matter of time.
I lose strength with every single step. And I have to watch where I stand. Bars and nets sticking out of the wall and puddles of water hiding nobody knows what make us move very slowly, using only torches to light our way. Every several hundred metres we see miners at work. Each of them has his own, specific task. Nobody rests here. We pass them, shake hands and exchange greetings: “God bless!”. I can see that their work costs them a lot. Perhaps even everything. The air gets thicker with every metre; humidity already exceeds 90 percent. I can feel my flannel shirt soak with sweat. We go farther. It is only after two hours that I realize my whole face is pouring with sweat. Everything flying about in the air clings to it. There is no more air to breathe. We reach a machine which rips coal pieces off the walls. We can no longer see anything here. A thick layer of dust makes me subconsciously rub my eyes, which started to tingle. This way, I rub in another part of unpleasant specks floating in the air.
We’ve got only a few dozen minutes’ climb in mud ahead of us. I used to think that I am able to survive a lot but before we reach the train, I ask for a moment’s rest three times. My legs fail me, I cannot breathe plus I’ve run out of water already some time ago. The bottle was closed but still all it now contains is a layer of sand at the bottom.
I turns out we’ve walked around 7 kilometres in such conditions. The train takes us back. Some of us manage to take a nap, others sit in silence. A puff of wind against my back reminds me that it was hot and stuffy only a moment ago. I can still feel the hardships of my trip for the next several days. I think about those who work under the ground and spend several hours every day in those harsh conditions. I know that respect for those who work at the bottom will stay with me for a long time. Perhaps even forever.