Saturday, January 31, 2015

Deep Down Dark

First heard of this book praised very strongly on NPR where the speaker was adding it to their Morning Edition Book club  Otherwise the topic was already appealing, but her enthusiasm hooked me.  The ordeal of 33 miners stuck 700 metres (2,300 feet) below the surface got the world's attention.   1.2 billion people around the globe watched the rescue.

A reader expects to hear all sorts of heroic inspiration, but Hector Tobar, a Pulitzer prize winner gives a lot more.   There is no communication for 17 days.  Above the mine there is no certainty that anyone is still alive.  Down below they have no idea if rescue attempts are being made.  After communication is established the dynamics change. but we are able to reconstruct the first days.

The men who were trapped were typical of many miners.  It was the most money they could earn and they were willing to take the risks.  They were mostly poorly educated.   Some had girlfriends as well as wives.  Many had had drinking problems.  One had been a professional soccer player on Chile's national team

When they first became trapped they tried to organize themselves and ration their resources, but in fact a small number stole some of the food.  They drank water used for mining which was less than ideal but helped them survive.  At one point although mostly Catholics, they let a Jehovah's Witness lead prayer meetings, but eventually they broke up.  The faith did help them get through to when communications opened up on day 18.  They also found dark humour joking about death as one way of coping.  Hector explained Spanish profanities which was also part of their coping strategy.  One miner was from Bolivia, but not seriously discriminated against.  After the rescue, the Bolivian Prime Minister visited the miner.

Above ground a lot of decisions and manoeuvring.  Offers come from different parts of the world.  Drilling and rescue experts are called in and determine three different approaches.  Chilean politicians in some cases try to get publicity out of the ordeal

A psychologist was called in as well as other doctors to advise on the best way for the miners to handle their isolation while rescue efforts continue.   NASA psychologists were consulted as they were familiar with handling isolated people.  Food is sent down, but at first carefully controlled.  Some medical procedures are established with one very loosely qualified miner.  Early on they are promised large amounts of money which prompts an interest in motor vehicles.  Many do not have driver's licences and a request goes out for test information.

The men are able to communicate not only with rescue people, but also their families.  One miner asked for his allotted time to be split between his wife and his girl friend.

Charles Darwin is referred to as he had traveled through the area on his way to Galapagos.  the land around the mine for a great distance is described as pretty desolate.  The mine was in the Atacama Desert where Darwin walked.  Chile is such an odd shaped country, 4,300 kilometres north to south but only 350 kilometres at its widest west to east part.

After the rescue they are offered all sorts of trips and many do go to Disney World, Israel (for holy sites),  Dominican Republic.  For many the adjustments are stressing, but others are able to move on.

We all look at this experience as miraculous, but the author has given us a good understanding of the dynamics below and above ground.  The author was able to interview all the miners and much of their families and rescuers and got several perspectives on what really happened.   A good read because of the complexity of the rescue.

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