Scene 8: Working in the Shadows

Facing Immigration from Illinois College, Immigration

(NARRATOR begins and the cyc should light up with an ominous red color. The WORKERS are behind the scrim.)

NARRATOR: JBS is a meat packing factory in Beardstown, Illinois. Most workers have ten-hour work days.

MCABRAHAM: I start work at two and I get off at midnight. I’m always exhausted.

AKUA: I have to attend classes in the mornings, and I can’t stay awake.

NARRATOR: They only get a fifteen-minute break every two hours. And they have to finish lunch in only thirty minutes. Many of the workers get paid around $14 an hour.

ANIMA: Although we make a good living, it is like Hell in the factory.

RACHEL: Working here feels like being in prison.

NARRATOR: Every day they’re bombarded with horri c sounds and smells. Roaring machinery pounds in their ears along with the squeals of hogs before they are butchered—1200 an hour, over 18,000 a day.

MCABRAHAM: The summer heat makes the stench of death even stronger.

NARRATOR: The pigs begin knocked unconscious by carbon dioxide. Workers then have
to place the pigs on a hook. (MCABRAHAM strains to hoist a pig onto a hook to the sound of a metronome.) The next worker has to sever the pig’s jugular vein. (AKUA demonstrates.) It’s then drained of its blood and sent to the next group. These workers tear the pig into pieces. (ANIMA and RACHEL tear the pig apart.) Then, workers have to transport the pig remains onto the kill oor. In this room, temperatures can reach as low as 35°F, colder than any temperature the workers had felt in Africa. But the smells and temperatures fall short of the pains of labor. Because of their ten-hour schedule and repetitive motions, the workers are often left feeling stiff and in pain.

AKUA: When my shoulder started hurting so bad all the time, I was told to just take ibuprofen and get back to work. (AKUA mimes taking pills before returning to her job.)

NARRATOR: They are treated like machines and have to hook one pig every three seconds (workers speed up with metronome) with pigs weighing on average 265 pounds. American plants run at roughly twice the speed of those in Europe. (They speed up until they collapse. Scrim lights out momentarily.) However, it is worth it to the Congolese workers. (The red light transitions into a yellowish-orange. They slowly rise with scrim lights.)

ANIMA: Although it is always painful, I need to support my family.

RACHEL: The money I make is sending my son to school.

MCABRAHAM: As long as my children need help, I will keep working.

(Sound of a crowd. Light comes up on MICHAEL and MASON entering. MASON comes in carrying two hotdogs.)

MASON: Hey, bro, here’s your hot dog.

MICHAEL: Thanks, man.

(The crowd roars, and they look excited. Projection of the winning moment of the World Series.)

BOTH: Go Cubs!
(Sound fades and they exit. The workers are shown huddles behind the scrim for a moment. Lights shift.)

HATEEYAT: Living in America, it is different. We work a lot more than I thought we would, and I have little time to spend with family. All week long, I am at work, even on Saturday. The kids are at school, and the daycare is not good. They don’t get out enough. We don’t see each other very much, so that warm relationship with my kids—that is what I am missing.

The one day we have together is on Sunday, and we go to church. There, I can forget my troubles. When I sing, it is like I am with Jesus, and that feeling helps me bear the burdens in the rest of my life.

SPECIAL MUSIC — Gospel Quartet: Bonse Aba

This scene originally appeared in Congolese Immigrant Stories, a publication of The Facing Project that was organized by Illinois College in Jacksonville, Illinois.

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