Around the salty Lake Katwe in western Uganda, condoms have taken on a unique usage, rather than preventing the spread of sexually-transmitted diseases such as HIVAids.
Out of sheer innovation, rudimentary salt-miners at this lake use condoms to protect their penises, as they hit the lake to excavate salt rocks.
“We don’t have any protective gear so, we improvise by wearing condoms because the saline waters in this lake can cause impotence,” said George Dunia, who has been mining salt for three decades.
Dunia is one of hundreds of men who live off the lake’s salt rocks. The miners use steel metal bars to break the rocks, which they put on wooden floaters (made from Ambacher trees) to transport them to the shores.
For hours, the men are exposed to hyper-saline water, which covers their bodies up to the chest. The lake is two metres (6ft) deep, with a total surface area of seven square kilometres. According to Dunia, the condoms are freely distributed by government-aided health facilities in the nearby Katwe township, as part of efforts to fight HIVAids.
For decades, this crude salt extraction has been the major source of income for families here. At 45, Dunia owns three saltpans – demarcated square pools of saline water and mud – on lake-shores. He earns up to Shs 90,000 a week from selling both rock salt (locally called mahonde or ekisura for animal licks) and white crystal salt from his pans.
“I pay school fees for six children and buy all home necessities from this salt extraction,” Dunia says. “It’s the only viable economic activity I have known in my life. Actually, I inherited some of these saltpans from my late parents.”
Fishing, another would-be main economic activity here, is restricted on the nearby lakes Edward and George, or the Kazinga channel, as part of nature and wildlife conservation measures.
While Dunia and hundreds of other men enter the lake waters to excavate rock salt every Monday, Wednesday and Saturday, women use bare hands every day to sort salty mud in the saltpans.
“This water is toxic and we have to be extra careful because a single drop on the ears or eyes can be fatal,” says Eva Mukande, sieving through the mud in her saltpan.
Industrial salt production on Lake Katwe stopped years ago, and there is little sign the factory may reopen soon.
Source : The Observer