The Scars and Buried Secrets of Sand Quarries
Rawad Baaklini and Tiiu Meiner
How did you go about researching sand quarries?
We selected three quarries for quite specific reasons: we’re Estonian and Lebanese, in the Netherlands. To begin with, we did computer research. We found a lot of historical information on the Dutch and Estonian quarries we investigated. However, on the Lebanese quarry, we couldn’t find information online and relied on the information that Rawad had gathered through his network in Lebanon. Then, we went to experience the quarries ourselves.
We first went to the Estonian quarry and realised that the internet research that we had done was very vague compared to the actual reality of the place. Luckily, we had the Eduard Pukkonen geologist with us, who was able to guide us around the expansive area of the quarry with its working parts, abandoned areas which are still considered official quarry area grounds and parts that are now being used as recreational spaces. He explained that the landscape of the region has been shaped by the quarry.
We also met a man who used to be a policeman who told us that the history of the quarry was actually riddled with crime in the 1990s. He told us that the quarry used to be a dangerous place to be around, because the landscape of the sand could hide traces of crimes. These stories helped us to realise what the quarry is. There are lots of layers to it.
We couldn’t go to Lebanon for various reasons. The country is on fire. Instead, we asked Rawad’s friends who are also filmmakers who live there to film for us. Because it’s an illegal quarry, it was hard to find any information on the internet. We did, however, contact people who have PhDs on quarries and rehabilitation, who we interviewed. They are also involved with an NGO called Save Mayrouba who are pushing to close the quarry.
The way the Lebanese experts talked about the quarry was just incredibly poetic. They told us that the excavations are like scars of country, and that sometimes, it’s good to keep scars as reminders. They understand the violence of the quarry.
Can you read a country’s development through its quarries?
There are a lot of factual similarities between the quarries we visited. However, visually, they’re very different. Each country has a different landscape. The Lebanese quarry is a mountainous region, the Estonian and the Dutch quarries are surrounded by flat land. Besides the natural appearance of the land, excavation changes the landscape on multiple levels.
In Estonia, the quarry is working at half its capacity. Protected species of frogs and lizards have come to inhabit parts of the quarry, making them inoperable. The quarry has created a habitat for these animals. This shift brings tension. What’s more relevant: excavating or restoring?
We researched three quarries, two of them located in countries that are economically developed. Quarries here felt under control because we met people who demonstrated an awareness for the impact of their activities and the violence that comes with it.
In Lebanon, this was not the case. The quarry we explored in Lebanon is an illegal quarry in a town called Mayrouba, in the mountains of Lebanon. The quarry has come to take over three quarters of the beautiful, mountainous town that used to be a popular summer holiday spot. The people who now work the quarry have been doing it over a few generations. It is the centre of their lives. They don’t see the impact that the exploitation of the land has on the relationship between them and the land. For them, the land is to be there to be excavated. It’s only about generating economic value.
The quarry in Lebanon started operating after the Civil War ended in 1990. That’s when the country was being rebuilt and, as you can imagine, the amount of regulation in the Lebanese context was very different compared to countries with relatively peaceful and wealthy contexts. Of course, Estonia has a history with the Soviet Union, but resource production was quite regulated in the Soviet Union.
So yes, each quarry reflects the state of the country that they’re located in. Therefore, the three quarries we investigated were very different. It’s almost as if you can feel and understand a country through its quarries.
It’s interesting to not only see a quarry as a place where resources are excavated, but as a place with much more diverse activity. This is what the project focuses on. Quarries are always alive and we want to tell their layered stories. This is why we called the project Carry on, and so on and so on.