Gaze deep and long and recognize this man who is central in the photograph as your brother, father, son, uncle, lover, spouse, neighbor. Know him as part of your family or member of your community.
The work he and others perform at this brick kiln factory in Nepal is similar to building an endless pyramid by hand. There is a meditative quality to the repetitive actions, but not one aimed at serenity. I suppose everyone has a temple within and I know this man embodied an aliveness that persisted, despite his environment. But I can still hear the bricks clattering. The noise came from all directions and created a cacophonous surround sound atmosphere. When I look at this image today, I remind myself he and his co-workers were not paid. The feelings are immense, complex, and awesome both in the horror of that thought and the resilience of the human spirit despite obvious exploitation and oppression. I experience fatigue and an odd sense of exhilaration.
The reality is that exhaustion is a part of everyday life for enslaved kiln workers. They literally have no room for restoration while picking up three-pound bricks and stacking 18 or more of them on their heads. They walk about 100 yards to unload them and then return for the next load…hundreds of times each day. Often, entire families inherit the shackle of bonded labor slavery. Emergency “loans” and high brokers’ fees and empty promises allow slaveholders to trick the borrowers into slavery. Illegal, exorbitant interest rates that are impossible to repay mean children inherit bogus debt from their parents. Research shows that generations of families have been enslaved for an original loan as small as $18.
The enslaved workers may or may not know they have rights. They are held under threat of violence and have no papers, visas, or other means of escape. Without abolitionists working with them on the ground, they simply endure. The window of what is possible opens only gradually, with people willing and dedicated to empowering them with information. The cycle of change is reliant on building awareness onsite and globally and results in micro steps toward liberation.
So again, I invite you to gaze deep and long and see this man as your brother, father, son, uncle, lover, spouse, neighbor. Know him, heed the word, be aware, and act.