shell for Shell



The fishing boat cuts the silent water like a knife. Zemano and Grace are out looking for periwinkle shells. They left home at seven o’clock this morning hoping to fill a bucket or two with the small, black, cone-shaped shells.

−This is our only source of income, Grace tells us while she is paddling towards the shore where, in theory, the shells are to be found in the riverbank mud. So far the two women have been looking in vain. The mud where mangrove forest once grew used to be full of periwinkle, but after the major oil spills in 2008-2009 life in this part of the Niger delta is as good as extinguished.

−We used to fill our buckets in no time, and could earn a decent amount of money from selling the shells. These days we’re lucky if we get enough to feed our children. Zemano is seven months pregnant, and hope to be able to keep on fishing until the baby comes in mid-February. Her feet sink into the black mud as she wades off in the gloomy remnants of the mangroves.

Minutes later we hear the sound of shells as they thud against the bottom of the bucket. One shell, two shells, three… They are out of sight, but we can still hear their voices and the sound when a new shell finds its way into their buckets. The silent seconds between each thud is too long, and after ten minutes of digging the women return to the boat with a rather depressing catch.

−This isn’t even enough to feed one of my kids, Grace complains. The yellow bottom of the bucket is still visible. One bucket full is the absolute minimum she needs to keep her family from starving. Before the shells were considered a delicacy, but due to the pollution their taste is now so bad that no one wants to buy them. This, in turn gives them nothing to eat but polluted seafood. Grace’s husband was a fisherman too, but he passed away due to respiratory problems, leaving Grace as the family’s only breadwinner, or shellwinner, to be more precise.

Zemano is slightly luckier. She has only two kids to feed, and a husband who is still fishing.

−It feels so terribly unfair that Shell and the other oil companies make fortunes while we’re paying the price for their greed. What will I ever be able to offer the baby in my womb? Zemano asks as she washes her feet in the oily water before getting back into the boat.

−I’ll tell you what you can offer it, Grace tells her friend and takes up the paddle. You can offer her nothing. Absolutely nothing but a terrible future in a polluted environment, with no education, toxic food on the table and no means to leave this dump.

After this both of them paddle in silence for a long time. The smell of crude oil never escapes our noses, as we move slowly through the water scattered with colourful layers of oil spill. Hopefully the next spot will have more shells and less pollution.

−Look, there you see a monument over our misery, Grace says as we pass an old, abandoned oil-installation and other visible signs of what used to be called Nigeria’s oil-adventure. Judging from what the women just told us; oil-horror-story is a more accurate way of describing it.





62 Responses to “shell for Shell”

  1. […] For the complete story and more pictures, please look up Untold Stories. […]

  2. As always, excellent photographs and very touching story. Thank you for sharing.

  3. Terrible! I have no words, but I am glad you have. Good reporting again!

  4. Sometimes when the world goes crazy buying Christmas presents it’s good to remember that there are an awful lot of people who need things instead of just wanting fluff all the time. Great post!

  5. I appreciate that you provide another piece to the story of people’s lives, barely scraping by as a result of corporate ecological waste. It’s heartbreaking and frustrating. I am glad to see the photos of these two very hardworking women, too.

  6. Sharing those women stories is very powerful and a way for all of us to remember how truly blessed we are. Thank you Otto

  7. What you share here, Otto is so very important.
    How sad for these two women and the many,many others affected.
    Thank you for posting this here.

  8. Wonderful photos to document this tragedy. I will again be putting this on Twitter.

  9. profound sadness…there are no other words to describe this tragedy.

  10. It makes one feel the power of what we have here in the United States. We can bitch and moan but we have it really good. I hope these women find the shells they need.

  11. I am so glad to see this marked as ‘freshly pressed’ . Hopefully this will bring more publicity to an important and under reported issue.

  12. This is tragic. It is impossible to believe that Shell is not being held accountable for all this on gong damage to these people. It breaks my heart.

  13. I’ve been following this story (among other worldly injustices) for a few years and am glad you shared this post..I just don’t get the need for greed at the expense of humanity..Once we are aware (as in this post) we must act.. no turning away..
    well deserving of Freshly Pressed

  14. Unfortunately this is just one of so many examples of people left to pick up the pieces after a transnational corporation takes their profits and leaves behind pollution and sickness….it seems like the two women are left to re-tool and think of another business because that water quality may not improve in a long time.
    Even as the water killed their precious shells, the water they drink may be similarly polluted thru groundwater contamination?
    No simple answers, I know… just a pervasive sadness over the effects of greed and non-caring.

  15. Reblogged this on lovinglivingandbeing and commented:
    reblogged on lovinglivingandbeing

  16. the least unfortunate ones always end up paying the highest price: their quality of life. 😦

  17. It’s interesting that I did not even the situation is this bad in that part of my country.. it’s a bit sad to see such hard-working women in such hard conditions, just to put food on the table. And organizations such as shell will claim they are fulfilling their social corporate responsibilities. Meanwhile they are busy polluting the environment,making more money and exposing to people to all sorts of risks. Thanks for sharing

  18. This post reminded me of a quote by Nicola Tesla – ” You may live to see man-made horrors beyond your comprehension.”

  19. wonderful to see this one Freshly Pressed. thank you.

  20. Reblogged this on Homie Williams. and commented:
    — J.W.

  21. Amazing photos 🙂

  22. wonderful photo …… but little bit…

  23. One of many Nigerian horror stories.. Glad to be reading, will need to catch up on your other reports. Beautiful photography btw.

  24. Thank you for posting this. As a Nigerian who schooled in Ogoniland and now lives in the west, I can see why this is happening. The continued demand for goods that do very little to improve peoples lives, me included. For as long as there is demand, this will continue to happen not just in Nigeria but most other developing countries. We are all responsible for this even if we think we have never worked for those oil companies. So let’s all wake up and cut back if we truly want to make a difference.

  25. Nice article.. To bad that these people have to suffer and their future generations ….. the big companies in the western world needs to shape up and take responsibility and stop just caring about money!

  26. thedailykatnip Says:

    This is a remarkable report. It breaks my heart to see how awful the circumstances were. How grateful I am for what I have.

  27. T. Ann Jackson Says:

    What an incredible injustice…thank you so much for sharing this story and opening my eyes.

  28. Great Reporting… It is terrible and the efforts to tell the story of the oppressed is laudable

  29. Thanks for telling it as it is. Truth!

  30. Reblogged this on msamba.

  31. Reblogged this on msa.

  32. Shocking and tragic!

  33. Reblogged this on iduweleonard90's Blog and commented:
    real life true true

  34. It saddens me … this is not the Nigeria I know anymore …

  35. Everyone should read this and realize what we are doing to our planet.

  36. Reblogged this on KayUpdates and commented:
    The state of my Nation #Nigeria #NigerDelta #CrudeOil #Shell #Environment #CrudeOil #Communities #Survival #Masses #NoFuture

  37. Beautiful photos, ugly story…and it sad that it is a story that can be told a thousand times over. Big business and politics are simply a bad mix. Wish those brave women well, and thanks for such a wonderful write up.

  38. This is terrible! This should not be real! We will fix this. My generation will change everything. It is my goal 😥

  39. narshakoice4 Says:

    Reblogged this on sunshine of my life.

  40. “Just like that” it is still current

  41. Reblogged this on Hadiza's Space and commented:
    I have no words

  42. Cry the beloved continent! Should I say thanks for sharing? Yes I would because although it hurts me, it is the truth and such untold stories deserve to be told!
    I hope one good day change will come to the world as a whole.

  43. Thank you for sharing this sad story, I cannot believe this horrible things are happening to our people. It is completely unacceptable! thank you for sharing, this is a human tragedy.

  44. Reblogged this on Everyday Heights and commented:
    Such beautiful pictures

  45. Pictures show a lot of power and strength.

  46. skhumbuzo123321 Says:

    Reblogged this on SkhumbuzoTuswa and commented:
    Reminds me of other stories by John Pilger and the doccie ‘The Corporation’. Companies have a tendency to externalize as many costs as they can, which is basically like saying ‘Yes I could help, but I’d rather let someone else do it’. It’s a disappointing flaw of the Capitalist system.

  47. Amazing story but the social,economical and political ripoff side of the story should be revealed.

  48. Reblogged this on Keem Prestige Global Success Network<KPGSN and commented:
    Like every part of Nigeria region, the greed of leadership does more harm than pollution.

  49. Reblogged this on biodunadebiyi and commented:
    Sitting still never changes anything or so I’ve learnt.
    You have to keep moving. Bitch, yes, sometimes its necessary to get things off your chest. But keep moving like there’s nothing in your way. like you’re blind to hardship because in Nigeria, there is always hardship. if it isn’t in your home then it’s the eyes of water sellers, milling about. It’s in the eyes of your driver or the maids you maltreat. It’s in the streets and even when you travel to your foreign vacation spots, you will not escape it. You will remember women like Zemano and the government that has allowed things to get this terrible.

  50. Reblogged this on kevinidehen and commented:
    The black gold, a blessing turned curse to Nigerians…

  51. Thank you for sharing….I visited Kenya last September and my heart is still there. Bless you.

  52. Thank you for posting….! Bless your big heart!

  53. Reblogged this on Abdelftah Tipen and commented:

  54. mzee(@dirtycity2007) Says:

    Reblogged this on The Real Deal.

  55. Promo Bank

    shell for Shell | Untold Stories

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