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The Appalachia Issue

Broken Knees

I used to be a concrete worker, but I've just gone through knee surgery. They operated on me using spinal cord anaesthetics, and I thought that was a bit uncomfortable.

used to be a concrete worker, but I’ve just gone through knee surgery. They operated on me using spinal cord anaesthetics, and I thought that was a bit uncomfortable. I didn’t mind that big old needle. I’ve been through those kinds of things before. It was the actual surgery that was awkward. I was conscious the whole time, and when they opened up the knee they started really prodding around in it properly. They were hammering and jerking it all over. They got a jackhammer going on it, and it was banging and thumping and they were just drilling away, making all kinds of noises. The nurse anaesthetist was standing right next to me, and finally I had to tell her, “I can’t stand it, you have to give me something now!” So she handed me a pair of ear protectors. I can’t kneel anymore, so I can’t be a concrete worker, and I can’t go into the mines. But back when I was working, one of the most entertaining jobs I had was when we were building in East Berlin in the seventies. They would drive us down there and gave us diplomat passports, so we would just walk back and forth over the border like it was no big thing. After that I came back here and went into the mine. It was a great place. There were cafeterias and showers. It was better than any building site I’ve ever been at. I mean, showers? We didn’t even know what that was. I would go months between them. During one period, 33% of all taxes in this whole area came out of Laisvall. That was money that was paid straight to the local authorities. They never had to give anything back. They never had to pay for a thing in Laisvall as long as the mine was here. If something broke, the mine got it replaced. If something needed fixing, the mine did it. Now Laisvall needs help, and they’re grunting and complaining. These are settler grounds, and people used to own a lot of forestland, but the government took it from us. It was expropriated—”disposed of,” as they call it. Only a fifth of the original forestland is still privately owned here. The rest is owned by the government. Just when they were closing down the mine I was making a lot of statements. I would say, “What is anyone going to want with a worn out old mineworker?” And I wasn’t the only one, people were saying it was all ruthless exploitation. So before the mine was closed an investigation group was appointed. They got €10 million, and they were supposed to find out what we were going to do here once the mine was gone. They went out and about and made all kinds of different trips. And what they came up with was this; people should be coming here as tourists and get an adventure experience. One said people were going to come here to ride mountain bikes, the next one said that it was skiing people should be coming for. But we’re in the middle of nowhere. It would cost around €1.000 for people to get here. What would they do that for when they can be in a spa and get a cucumber on the eye. For €1.000 people can get to New York and back. And it’s not like we have any Alps to ski on. These are just regular mountains. When the mine closed down, all the money was gone. We have the car tests, but that’s just during the winter months. What about the spring and the summer and the autumn? I haven’t been to the mine since they cut down the mining tower. It’s too sad, I don’t want to see it. I think they should have left it. You could see it from everywhere here, and it always meant home. And then they blew it up, but it wouldn’t go down. It just sat there, leaning a little bit. It was almost like I was a bit happy that it refused to go down. What will happen to the community? It will die. What are we supposed to do? Reindeer husbandry? If the Sami will get the sole rights to hunting and fishing, like the government has petitioned for right now, then there will be trouble. The way it is now we’ll hunt together and we’ll fish together. Their reindeer graze freely, and nobody cares. But if the government steps in from above and makes decisions, then there will be conflict. Why should they get the hunting and the fishing? They’re not natives of this land. The Sami population were forced to move here from Karesuando. The settlers were already here when they came. The Norwegians come here and hunt for ptarmigan too. They get to shoot six or so each. But of course no one would stick to that. They would just come here and slaughter off every ptarmigan on the mountain. So now they’ve been forced to postpone the hunting season so it will match the Norwegian season. ULF “PUFFIN” LESTANDER