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Photos: What It’s Like to be a Gravedigger During a Pandemic



When living next to a cemetery, there are two sounds one becomes familiar with: Sweet chirping birds and the screeching shrill of machinery digging graves.

My mother, who has lived in her east New Jersey home for three years, mentioned that the amount of work she was hearing in the cemetery next door was very unusual. Such a high rate of burials makes a person wonder: Who exactly is handling the deceased and how are they coping with it themselves?

James is a former landscaper who has been in charge of this cemetery as well as a few others in New Jersey for about a year. (To protect his privacy and because he didn’t get permission from his employer to talk to me, James requested to withhold his last name as well as the name of the cemetery where he works.)  He told me that a regular day for him would be to bury three to four bodies; more recently the daily body count has risen to between nine and 20 a day. James and his partner were the only two people at the cemetery responsible for handling it all.

Last month, gravediggers at Beth Israel, a Jewish cemetery in New Jersey, told VICE about the poor working conditions and lack of hazard pay they were facing as they shouldered the burden of an understaffed cemetery while making low wages. James, who works at a different New Jersey cemetery, told me he was looking for another job, as his management seemed to reap the benefits of their labor without passing them on. He has gotten hazard pay only twice since March. “One day I had to bury 29 bodies, and still only the management gets it,” he said.

“I hear people giving doctors and nurses credit, but they don’t realize that I have to bury them.”

“I’m not even allowed to see my kids because I work here, my son has bad asthma and you never know, I might have it on the bottom of my shoe or something. We’ve been very busy and really working. Every day, five days a week, whenever they need me—no days off, especially these days.”

“A lot of people are quitting this type of work because we’re interacting with the virus. You don’t even know if the person had COVID or not, the bodies are moving in so fast that it might not even be on the paper. I don’t want to get immune to death, but I have gotten to be. I can look at a dead body and it’s nothing now because I’ve been doing it so much., but COVID is really something else…”

“A cemetery in Newark that I work at had three refrigerator trucks rented just to store bodies because of how backed up everything was. There was no room to put them anywhere. A lot more people are dying than what they’re saying. I know it because I see it firsthand.”

“As far as the physical part of this job, for my age it keeps me in shape. The experience didn’t bother me too much, I just felt more empathy for people that were exposed to corona and that’s where it really affected me. I see all of the pain that it causes other people.”

“I’m always sympathetic to people as I’m doing my job. Someone came up to me the other day and started crying, saying, “You probably don’t remember me, but you were so nice to me during this whole process..” I didn’t remember her because I was burying so many bodies, but it really made me feel good, it made me feel like my job was worth doing.”

“During the process people could only have five people at the burial, couldn’t be close to them, and the deceased had to be in a closed casket. It was hard.”


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In Pictures: Khabib Nurmagomedov, the undefeated MMA champion



MMA world lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov announced his shock retirement from the sport on Saturday after revealing he promised his mother his clash with Justin Gaethje would be his last fight.

The Russian, who won by a second-round technical knockout, was fighting for the first time since the death of his father Abdulmanap, who was also his coach, in July.

“I’m the UFC undisputed, undefeated champion with a 13-0 record (in UFC), and 29-0 in all of my pro MMA career,” he said after his win in Abu Dhabi.

“Today I want to say this is my last fight. No way am I coming here without my father.

“When UFC comes to me about Justin I spoke with my mother for three days. She didn’t want me to fight without father and I said this is my last fight – and I have given her my word.

“Thank you, coach, thank you, guys. Today is my last fight in the UFC.”

Abdulmanap Nurmagomedov, 57, passed away after COVID-19 related complications in the summer.


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Seychelles opposition candidate wins presidential election



Ramkalawan, running for the presidency for the sixth time, won 54.9 percent of valid votes cast, poll body says.

Seychelles opposition candidate Wavel Ramkalawan has won the archipelago’s presidential election with 54.9 percent of valid votes cast, upsetting incumbent President Danny Faure.

“I declare… Ramkalawan as the elected candidate,” the electoral commission chairman Danny Lucas said on Sunday.

Voters on the main islands of Seychelles cast their ballot on Saturday in presidential and parliamentary elections spanning three days.

More than 74,000 registered to take part in the polls.

The opposition, narrowly defeated in a presidential election in 2015 and buoyed by a landmark victory in a parliamentary poll a year later, won its first presidential poll in the 40 years since Seychelles gained independence from Britain.

Ramkalawan, an Anglican priest and leader of the Seychelles Democratic Alliance, was running for the presidency for the sixth time. He lost the 2015 poll by 193 votes to James Michel in an unprecedented second round of voting.

The campaign took place mainly over social media, with rallies banned due to the coronavirus.

Seychelles has recorded only 149 cases, mostly imported, but the pandemic has been a burning campaign issue as restrictions on global travel bottom out the tourism industry – a major earner for Seychelles and employer for many of its 98,000 people.

Visitor numbers have collapsed since March in the archipelago nation of 115 islands, normally a popular destination for honeymooners and paradise-seekers drawn by its fine sandy beaches and turquoise waters.


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Thousands of seals found dead at breeding colony in Namibia



Cause of mass die-off unknown but scientists suspect pollutants, bacterial infection, or malnutrition.

An estimated 7,000 Cape fur seals have been discovered dead at a breeding colony in central Namibia.

Conservationist Naude Dreyer of the charity Ocean Conservation Namibia (OCN) began noticing dead seals on the sandy beaches of Pelican Point colony – a tourist destination known for its colony of seals and schools of dolphins – near Walvis Bay city in September.

In the first two weeks of October, he found large numbers of seal foetuses at the colony.

Tess Gridley from the Namibian Dolphin Project estimated that between 5,000 and 7,000 female seals had miscarried young with more still being found.

Last week, there was a spike in the number of dead adult females, Dreyer said.

“What we have been observing is less freshly dead seal pups and a lot of dead female adults,” he said.

Fur seals normally give birth between mid-November and mid-December.

The cause of the mass die-off is yet to be established but scientists suspect anything from pollutants or bacterial infection to malnutrition.

Some of the dead females found were “thin-looking, emaciated, with very little fat reserves”, said Gridley.

In 1994, some 10,000 seals died and 15,000 foetuses were aborted in a mass die-off that was linked to starvation suspected to have resulted from a shortage of fish as well as from a bacterial infection at another breeding colony, the Cape Cross, some 116km (72 miles) north of the central tourist town Swakopmund.

Annely Haiphene, executive director in the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources,  told AFP news agency she suspected the seals died from “lack of food” but will wait for the outcome of the tests.


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