Thursday, December 22, 2016

Pave Setting - Hand Set versus Pre Cut

I thought I'd devote this blog entry to my why my setter Pierre has lost his hair.  Or so he says: by hand setting my tiny little and very soft glittery colored stones into hard metal castings that aren't ready made for the fast setting type that is the standard nowadays.

Let's first talk about how stones are set for commercial jewelry production.  With most rings and other pieces nowadays being made in CAD, it is possible to cut holes into the model where the stones go, add the milgrain, as well as the beads that will be pushed over the gem.  Even the "engraving" can be done in the CAD.  Have a look at this CAD model.  

This is a perfect example of the engraving and milgrain having been added before casting the model.
Here's an image of a CAD with beads (right side):
And here is a casting of a piece like this, one that I have previously used in my shop, before setting.
The resulting jewelry has a very even look with each bead being perfectly rounded.  The setting labor for these rings is faster as well.  The finished product will look something like this:

Good setters and jewelers will recognize immediately that this ring was prepared for easier setting in CAD.  The CAD work itself is more expensive for a piece like this, but since most of these pieces are then mass produced it pays to save on labor, which can be less than half per stone, and can be performed by less qualified setters.
Finer jewelry is often hand set.  For my pieces, Pierre had to build tools that would hold the tiny pieces without marring or bending the metal.  If he sets a pear shape into a piece that has a round hole, he has to drill the hole differently.  If the stone is a bit small, he doubles the milgrain.  If it is a bit too large, he will add less milgrain.  If there's an empty space created, he will fill it with a little engraving.  

This is how my pieces look after casting and pre-polish.  You can see these are totally blank slates.  That means I have "give" when I select gems for these, and Pierre can accommodate different shapes.

The result is that each of my pieces looks a little different.  Pierre tries to get inventive so that the result always looks good, though not usually identical to the previous piece.  This 9 stone ring is a perfect example.  The center can be round or square, between 2.8 and 3mm.  The inner rounds should be 3mm (ish) and the outer closer to 2.5mm. Look at how smaller center and sidestones get more milgrain and beads.

I'm lucky to be working with Pierre, who's been in the business for over 40 years, having learned to set gems in his teens.  He still loves what he does, and it shows.  He finds my designs very challenging because no two items are ever the same.  But he also says it gives him a break from the same "day in day out" setting that other people give him.  Very few setters work with colored stones on a regular basis, and just about none do pave work with them.  When I started showing up with my crazy ideas, I often got him very frustrated - stones too deep, too uneven, too "wonky", not at all like diamonds which are like eggs.  But over time, both he and I learned how to tame the little beauties.
Here are a few more images of some of my favorite pieces:

Grace Ring, Sapphire, Mahenge Spinel, Paraiba Tourmaline

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Tanzania Part III - My Trip to the Mines

On the final day of my Tanzania Trip, I had the most important and rewarding adventure of my entire trip: an excursion to one of the "local" mines. I have to put the word "local" in quotation marks because, despite being less than 80 miles away, it took 3 hours going and 3 hours going back. 98% of Africa's roads are unpaved, and for most of our trip we were on that 98%.  We started early for my taste, about 8 a.m., to avoid traffic.  After a 30 minute ride through and out of town, past the local airport from which the charter planes leave that take wealthier people to their safari locations, we turned off the main road to go Northeast to the town of Komolo.  

A Typical "Vehicle" in Arusha
The road was relatively wide but, because of the dry weather, the dirt had been pressed into the ground in the form of small waves, just like in the desert.  I was told that you either have to drive very quickly or very slowly to cross these, otherwise it tears your vehicle apart.  We drove fast.  "Free massage," our friend Honorine said, who was rather used to it.  My lower back was displeased.  The noise from the road  made conversation difficult, but this didn't stop our guide Moustache from engaging in chatter with Honorine and Doreen, comparing Tanzanian politics and culture to Rwanda and Tanzania in Swahili.  Doreen and Moustache share Swahili as their common language, Honorine normally speaks French or Kinyawanda, but her Swahili appeared to be quite fluent as well.  I think this kind of exchange between cultures does not often take place because people have to have money to travel to other countries. Moustache, for instance, was born and raised near Arusha, and had only been to Kenya.  He belongs to the tribe of the Masai, a largely independent living, very proud desert tribe, tall and dark, who live mostly off herding goats and cows.  Moustache himself was born in a small town but made it to the larger city in his teenage years.  I neglected to ask how, I should have.  Moustache speaks English fairly well, despite the fact that English was not required in most schools during his childhood - I think the government made a big mistake there since Tanzania now mainly lives off tourism and the international gem trade. Unemployment, due to poor education and lack of language skills, is at just under 70%!  People have to be very inventive to find things to do that pay, i.e. being guides and such.

Traffic Jam on the Way to the Mines
Moustache, who is my age (48), proved to be an exceptionally kind person and guide.  He sketched a very comprehensive picture for me of Masai culture: most Masai men have several wives, the more wives in fact, the more prestige you have in your tribe.  A dowry for a wife is several cows, and each gets her own house after marriage.  But the wives work hard, they are the ones that carry the heavy weights, walking behind their husbands, not in front.  Their hair is shaved short, and the traditional wives wear large earrings and necklaces.  They do most of the work, with the exception, for the most part, of herding the animals.  They do the field work, and they sit at the shops in the markets, like the one in Komolo that I photographed.  The colors of the tribe are red, blue, and black, and they wear hand woven cloth that is checkered almost like a Scottish pattern.

The Masai have their own language, just like all the tribes, which Moustache speaks well.  I don't know how many tribes there are in Tanzania in general, because the government does not promote tribalism.  "It brings unrest," they say, and this appears to be true.  Kenya, which does promote tribalism and has 42 individual tribes, has experienced more killings between tribes than Tanzania. Not to speak of Rwanda, where the Hutu's massacred the Tutsi for several months with such violence that for a while, the US granted refugee status to the Tutsi (this is no longer the case).  One of the reasons for the tribalism is that the national borders were not drawn by Africans.  They are the result of the colonialism of the 1700s to the early and mid 20th Century.  Therefore, many tribes are separated by borders; the Masai exist both in Tanzania and Kenya. Other tribes, by contrast, are forced to live together in one country, fighting with each other for political power.  The fact that the national languages are mostly English and French turns out to be an advantage in the following sense: there is no tribe who is granted the superiority of being the ones whose language was chosen to be THE language representing all the cultures.  In this sense at least, all tribes remain equal.

Moustache, incidentally, gave me a nickname - something that is very common in their culture: Tausi.  This means Peacock in English.  Not that I act like one, lol, but because I was always wearing extremely colorful leggings - something that's a bit of a signature style for me.

But let's get back to our adventure: after about 90 minutes of driving, we reached the town of Komolo, from which we then branched off to a smaller dust road to an even tinier town in the bush lands of Mwajanga.  There was no oncoming traffic any more at this point except for cows and a walking Masai here or there.  This had the advantage that we weren't constantly engulfed by clouds of dust getting kicked up by the roads, requiring us to quickly close the windows and slow down until we could see again.  The down side was that the road was even more up and down, including a couple of dangerous spots where, as Jochen told me before, they got stuck in a ditch the previous year, taking an additional hour away from their trip and occupying everyone with putting sticks and rocks under the tires so they could move again. We got stuck only once and after everyone exited the mini-van, the driver made it back out of the ditch no problem. 

Another half hour later we reached the little village of Mwajanga.  At first, I was told, the women were hiding under the bed because a van with white people came.  Many had seen few to no white people before, and with near certainty, I will say that they had not seen a white woman.  Very few women make it that far into the bush, but I had a good guide so I was really not very concerned. The culture is friendly, and we traveled during the daytime (it's obvious when you think about it, but it is VERY dark to drive in a dirt road at night without street lights).  Anyway, after Moustache got out of the car and started chatting with the locals about the mines, people started re-appearing. An elder came by and greeted us.  Doreen looked at the dry beans that were being harvested and asked about prices.  A few people came by and showed us goods - bad stuff at first.  A discussion ensued about the blue capped tourmaline crystals Jochen had gotten there two years ago, a fresh production that only he and one other dealer bought up.  Those were no longer being found, they said.

Mwajanga Tanzania

But there was a new mine, or rather, a hole in the ground where some mining took place a few years ago, and in which they now had discovered chrome green tourmaline crystals.  Production had started again two months prior to our arrival, they said, and they offered for us to come see the mine.  So we piled back into the van and followed a guide on a motorcycle up the hill along the various narrow roads that had been created by motorcycles and maybe a car once a month to bring supplies up or down.  A couple of times, we had to turn around and choose a different path because only the motorcycle could pass.  We got stuck one more time, but only briefly.  The cloud of dust created by the motorcycle got us dirtier and dirtier.  During a "bathroom break" in the bush I scratched my leg bloody. Luckily I always carried two things, thanks to the smart advice of my friend Roberta, who had lived in Tanzania for a while: moist bathroom wipes and alcoholic hand cleaner.  I used both to clean my wounds as we drove on.  This was a moment where I envied men for being able to relieve themselves in a much less complicated way, especially when there wasn't a single bush to hide behind.  But luckily the locals take natural processes in stride.  After all, only my skin color was different, my "behind" was the same.  I'm not cut from that cloth, but I yielded to my fate.  Couldn't be changed anyway.

Finally, after yet another 30 minutes, we were told we had arrived.  About 20 yards away, there were some blue tarp tents, very close to a white pile of rocks mostly consisting of calcite.  We got out of the car and walked up to the small group of men sitting around a camp fire. It was lunchtime and they were eating ugali with some cooked beans, eaten by hand according to custom.  We got friendly stares, and Moustache chatted with them in the Masai language.  They got up to show us the hole and talked about the green tourmaline.  The town had been sponsored by a local dealer who had brought a generator with a hose to bring air into the mine.  It was about 70 meters long, they said (that's 210 feet), so air was needed at the far end of the shaft.  Their lighting consisted of flashlights fastened around their heads,   not the mining lamps we have.  I was sad I hadn't brought my headband with the reading lamp, they could have obviously used it.  Jochen in turn was sad that he couldn't go into the mine.  He hadn't expected to find anything of interest, and so he wasn't wearing jeans and he had left his hammer at the hotel.  Otherwise he would have climbed down.  I, in turn, was totally satisfied just looking down into the hole and taking some video.

Moustache Shows us the Tourmalne Mine

Tourmaline Mine

Miners in Mwajanga

The Miners and I

The locals showed us a few pieces of rough they had gotten out of the ground.  It was the first strong green tourmaline found in the area.  Only a few pieces are found at a time, most not facet grade, so it can take weeks to get together a parcel.  If it took that long in the US to get gem grade materials, they would be priceless. I did hear after coming back to the US that some time in later September or early October, a larger pocket of material was found, and it got bought by Steve from New Era gems, who visited Komoro on his fall trip to Arusha.

I ended up buying two tiny but gemmy, facet grade pieces of rough for $10.  After cutting, they'll cost a lot more, and they'll be small, but it's not like I made a big investment.  I just wanted to buy something.  Most material was going into the hands of whoever sponsored the mine anyway I presume, as that individual had paid for it.  It is known that the locals sell some stuff on the side, and while that's not liked, it is generally tolerated.  Illegal mining, as it is called, takes place everywhere, and as I see it, it is needed to support the locals.

Here's a video I made of my trip:

Komolo Market

Locals in Mwajanga


For instance, in Loliondo, the rights to the mines that yield Spessartite (a Mandarin garnet) were acquired by an Arusha woman nicknamed Mama Six-Finger ("Mama" means woman).  "She does have six fingers on one hand," Jochen said, who had met her some years ago.  Initially, mining in Loliondo went well, but after a while, Mama Six-Finger's guards, who were protecting the area from the local Masai who claimed ownership of the land, ended up in a shoot out and some people were killed.  As a result, the government shut down mining, which is why the Loliondo Mandarin Garnets are now so rare.  Mining still takes place but only "illegally," that is, against government mandate.  The Masai bring the gems to town and from there they make their long way to places like my website.

In other, larger and more well known mines, the miners leave pieces in agreed upon places inside the mine. At night, the Masai come in and pick up the pieces, in order to sell them off at the local markets. In the end, however it happens, most of the gems make their way to the same brokers and dealers. It's just that the money is distributed in a different way.

It is difficult for a foreigner to comprehend this system or the ethics of it.  Save it to say that since poverty and corruption are everywhere (and seem to go hand in hand), it is difficult to pass judgment.  Out of all the people who have nothing, who should have food or drink?  The ones who have something in these countries, it is said again and again, did not earn it honestly, because that is just about impossible.  But are you therefore to remain honest and poor?  Posho, the extra money collected by officials and others to speed up custom's processes and the like, does not consist of huge sums by our standards - most would still fall under "gifts" in the USA because it is less than $20.

Anyway, I was in Tanzania to observe and to learn, not to judge.  What I took away from the trip was that matters were considerably more complicated than what meets the eye.  I would have had to spend a lot more time there to get a true sense of culture.  So I came away with a much greater understanding, yet being intensely aware of how much more there is that I don't know.

Mt Kilimanjaro in the Early Morning Sun

Monday, November 14, 2016

My Trip To Tanzania - Safari in Africa

Of course, one of my days in Tanzania had to be spent on safari.  Hiring a jeep and driver for the day is expensive: $250 plus gas and park entrance fee, which is $53 for whites and $5 for locals, or rather, for African blacks, since Honorine who is from Rwanda and Doreen who is from Kenya, also just paid $5.  Instead of getting a jeep, we negotiated with a local driver who borrowed a minivan from a friend.  The entrance fee remained the same though. We chose Mwajanga National Park, about a 2 hr drive from Arusha, a bit closer than the Serengeti which borders Mwajanga to the East.  Mwajanga, aside from housing many different animals, is also located in an interesting area: the part where the African continent is coming apart as a result of plate tectonics.  You can see a huge rift elevating itself on the north side of the park.  The separation line stretches all the way to the Middle East through the Ocean.  South of the rift is a gigantic lake that has formed as a result of the rift.  The lake - over a mile deep by the way - serves as refreshment for the animals the hang out in the park. 

Doreen and Honorine in Mwaganga National Park

A Monkey Taking a Look at Us

Since this was the dry season, I didn't see as much as I would have in December for instance.  There is no winter or summer in Tanzania, incidentally, because it is located too close to the equator, so talk of summer and winter doesn't make much sense.  You have to be further north or further south to intelligently speak of those kinds of season.  This doesn't mean that there are no weather patterns though. The surrounding grasslands are extremely dry in July and August and turn to green from November to about March or April.  That's when you can expect torrential downpours and lots of flooding, in addition to more heat.  The dry season is better travel weather for someone like me because it is much less hot and humid, only maybe 90 degrees during the day.  Arusha, which lies 1500 meters high because it is close to Mount Meru, the second largest Mountain in Africa after Kilimanjaro, is even cooler.  During our stay, it was 50 degrees or so at night and about 80 during the day.  There were no mosquitoes, or hardly any, and it is too high and too dry for the ones that carry malaria or Dengue fever (much to my relief).

A Giraffe Looking at Us from the Distance

Hippos Near the Hot Springs
We spent about 3 hours driving through Mwajanga.  I took some really nice videos of elephants coming right up to the car and baboons having fun.  The giraffes were more shy, they remained in the distance.  And of course the antelopes ran away like deer.  But if you drove slowly you could see many of them just 30-40 feet away, staring nervously at our car.  The park consists of a lot of intertwined unpaved roads, with several dozen tourist filled jeep like vehicles on the way (Toyota, mostly, made specifically for safari rides in Africa).  We drove about half way into the park, 20 miles, which took over an hour because the roads were so bad.  The drivers we passed would yell out to us where else to go look for animals - that or radio are a common method of communication. 

A Frightened Antelope

A Nearby Giraffe

A Baboon Couple

On one such drive by we got to find out that there were lions in a nearby open area.  This is a rare treat.  Lions do not come very close to human beings, they tend to hang out on their own. Contrary to common belief, we are not of much interest to them food wise (they get better stuff in the park). There are local tribal communities that live right among lions, in fact.  We walk upright and we move slowly, so we don't register as prey animals given their instincts.  To want to eat a human, Jochen said, a lion has to be pretty hungry and pretty old (so he can't run fast enough to catch an antelope).  In short, the chance of getting run over on a busy Manhattan street is considerably higher than getting attacked by a lion in a national park, despite the impression created by the media.

Anyway, we headed toward the lions and parked alongside several other vehicles by the roadside.  I wasn't brave enough to get out of the car, nor is it allowed in the open road.  You can only exit in designated picnic areas. 

The lions were hanging out about 300 feet away.  It was a couple, the female had just hunted and killed an animal -  we couldn't see what it was - and they were munching away, then resting lazily in the sun. A coyote was nearby, waiting for them to be done so he could finish up the rest.  The lions seemed content.  I took a lot of photos from the distance but my lens was not strong enough so they are hard to see. My final treat toward the end of the ride were some elephants nibbling the leaves off a tree directly by the roadside.  Elephants have no natural enemies, I am told, so they are extremely relaxed animals.  There was a really big older guy about 2 meters away from my car, curiously eyeing me with one eye while eating.  Even our driver had never seen anything like it, and he had been in the park a few times already.  I got a great video of him.  I left the window rolled up for the most part, just to be sure he wasn't going to stick his long nose into the window to see what was up inside.  Or decide to lean against the car, which would have definitely tumbled us over.  He was at least twice as heavy as we were. 

A Lion Having a Look at Us

An Elephant Staring at Me
Earlier, we had seen an elephant rubbing his huge behind on a tree to scratch his itch from the fleas.  That reminded Jochen of an experience he had in his 20s: he was driving through the Sahara desert in his Unimoc and had settled somewhere for the night, sleeping in the back of the vehicle.  All of a sudden the vehicle started shaking.  He was terrified, but only briefly, until he saw the small elephant - elephants in that region are much tinier - rubbing himself against the car to scratch his itch.  After the elephant had satisfied himself, Jochen went back to sleep.

An Elephant Scratching an Itch on a Tree

Elephant Family

After the two hour ride back and a short shower to rinse off the enormous quantities of dust kicked up by driving on the dirt roads, we had dinner at the Impala Hotel: Indian food. It is interesting to see how different countries interpret certain cuisines.  Indian food in England, for instance, tasted very different from Indian food in the US.  Arusha has a large Indian population, so I was very curious how the food tasted.  I was not disappointed, and neither was my Kenyan friend Doreen: she wanted to try absolutely everything she said.  To save money, Doreen never eats out, and certainly not food like this.  It would have cost her a quarter of her month's salary to pay for the dinner for the four of us, or more.  For me, it was about 1/3 of the price of New York - and that at one of the best restaurants in Arusha.  We had prawn appetizers, dips and different breads, a cauliflower appetizer, and five main dishes. The palak paneer was much richer than I am used to, and the mushrooms were fantastic.  The bread was all freshly baked - you could watch it being done in the open kitchen. I practically rolled out of there.

Stay tuned, the last leg of my trip (blog coming out in a couple of weeks) was a trip to one of the local tourmaline mines!

A Masai Woman on Her Long Road Home

Thursday, October 27, 2016

My Trip To Tanzania - Part II

Day two in Arusha, Tanzania. The day started with a visit to one of Jochen's suppliers, a long time dealer in gemstone rough and one of the richest men in Arusha, who has also supplied to a few dealers I know here in NY.  T. who has to remain nameless for security reasons, is a White African native in his early 60s and, like all the other dealers there, he is totally hooked on what he does.  T. showed me a small quantity of cut stones he had in stock, mostly Tanzanite.  I still have quite a bit so I didn't buy any.  T. explained that the price of Tanzanite was back in the basement again because the market was flooded with gems (in fact most people I know don't even stock Tanzanite, they buy it as they need it and then sell it immediately).  Right now the unheated stuff is sought after, which is harder to come by than ever.  I was told that another dealer, a Greek man who had also spent most of his life in Tanzania, would have cut stones.  He was just down the block so we went there and I got a nice cup of Greek coffee, not the powdered stuff that Tanzanian coffee shops offer, but the real thing.  This is interesting by the way: Kenya, Rwanda, and Tanzania, all of which grow coffee, export the good stuff to Europe and the US, with just the garbage remaining for the locals.  This is typical I am told because first world countries pay more so you can't actually get good coffee here. It is the same with tea and chocolate.

Most of the stones owned by the Greek gemstone dealer were in his retail shops. He didn't do much wholesale, he said, but what he had in the office was great.  I set aside some tourmalines, tsavorites and a pair of spinel, (most of which is already sold), and I was to see the rest of his collection later that week.  Prices looked just a tad better than in the US, but I was going to see some gems I didn't have in my collection, like African ruby, so I was interested.

After the visit with the Greek guy, I was put into a taxi and brought over to Jochen's office, where he was waiting for me.  It wasn't far but I was so turned around by all the streets looking the same, and frankly a bit intimidated by it all, so a taxi was best.

That day I was shown better quality stuff by the local brokers.  It took a few hours to sift through, but I found 3 little spinels, a sapphire cabochon, a faceted sapphire, and a few garnets (purple but from Mahenge, not Mozambique).  Generally, lots of goods you see in Arusha don't come from Tanzania as they are imported from other African countries now that Arusha has become the main African gem trading center.  You, therefore, have to be more careful - lots of brokers are not very well informed about their goods and again the expectation is that you just know.  I am pretty good but I didn't have either a microscope or any other good equipment, so I bought based on what I saw with the loupe only.  I can pull out fakes quickly but I can't tell, for instance, if a ruby is glass filled.  Now that I've come back I've learned some more tricks that I can apply on the next trip.

Tanzanian Spinel
When we got back to the hotel, Honorine was waiting for us.  Honorine is Jochen's friend from Rwanda, who had traveled for 18 hrs on a crowded bus to come see us.  A beautiful, humorous and bubbly woman with long braids (all plastic, she told me), she's known Jochen for several years and has brokered some deals for him in Rwanda as well.  She's also accompanied Jochen on buying trips to other countries because she speaks several African languages in addition to French and English.  Jochen pays for her bus ride and the hotel when she comes.  Honorine is about 33 years old, from the Tutsi and lost her parents in the genocide - they were murdered in front of her eyes when she was 11.  Before that though, she said, she had a really nice childhood, and she feels that she is who she is now because she was very happy before they died.  Honorine's parents were well off because her father worked for the government, although that may have been the reason he was killed.  Honorine works as a book keeper now, and her job even paid for her bachelor's degree.  As a very outgoing and quick minded person, she has been extremely resourceful, and this is an invaluable survival skill in Africa.  Honorine is super helpful in observing the trades, translating some things that are missed, and counting the money.  I suck at counting money and if you add to that the problem of trying to understand the currency, this is quite helpful. 

The next day, we spent the morning in the office again and then my friend Doreen arrived from Kenya. Doreen is the niece of a good friend of mine, Sr. Francesca Nkima.  Francesca is a Kenyan sister who came to study at the college where I was full time professor - Felician College - about 15 years ago.  At the time, she told me a lot about her family in Kenya, and how her two nieces really wanted to get an education but could not afford it. So my department sponsored first Purity and then Doreen to go to secretarial school.  A few years ago I started sponsoring Doreen for a bachelor's degree by collecting money from my friends and saving what I have left.  I don't have kids and I feel I should give back somehow, so I kind of adopted Doreen.  Doreen graduated this May, her life dream is a Master's Degree.  We'll see, I hope I can get more money for her.  

Doreen is in her early thirties, she was introverted at first even though we had "known" each other for over a decade we had never met in person.  Doreen had taken the local bus from Nairobi, about a six hr ride.  She had never been outside the country before so this was a big deal.  I think her rough childhood made her a more cautious person emotionally, but within just a few days, we got very close and shared a lot of moments from our upbringings and past.  I found her to be tremendously self disciplined and committed to her goals, as well as highly intelligent and observant of her surroundings.  When I commented to Doreen that I liked her dreadlocks, both her and Honorine laughed at me.  They said they were jealous of my long, straight hair - "I wonder why God punished African women with this wool" Doreen said, giggling.  Her 4 inch long dreads took 2 years to grow. 

At the end of the journey, I gave Doreen my old iPad, and of course the money I have collected so far to get her on her way to an MBA or the graduate degree of her choice.  Hopefully I can collect more, as I know Doreen saves every penny despite her limited income.  Honorine, who loves a bit of luxury, got a Dior soap from my mom, I left half my makeup and creams, and of course some money too. (I came back with very little in my wallet, as you can imagine - but I don't regret a thing!).

On our fourth day in Arusha, I finally had time to meet with the Greek gem dealer again.  I took Doreen with me, as well as her boyfriend George, who had come along for the ride.  We arranged that I would take a taxi to his shop at the Mount Meru Hotel.  Security at these nicer places is tight, so we had to go through a scanner and get our bags checked.  Once I got inside I saw why.  Aside from Kibo palace, this was one of the nicest places in town.  The Greek gem dealer offered for me to stay there at a reduced rate of $150 a night because he was friends with the manager.  I declined because I wanted to save my money for Doreen.  Also, to be honest, I felt stupid staying in a nice quality hotel when the rest of our crew, Doreen, George, Honorine, and Jochen, were going to remain in much more basic accommodations and I couldn't afford to pay for 3 rooms. 

The Greek guy and I got along really well.  We swapped trade info about what gems move and which don't while I selected some goods - a John Saul ruby cab, a Longido ruby octagon (both unheated), some tourmaline, some mahenge spinel, a chrysoprase just for fun - at the time of writing, all this material is already sold.  He then took us to another one of his shops where I looked at unheated Tanzanite (very rare these days), a purple pear shape and a green octagon (sort of the color of blue green emerald but not quite, a really unusual color).  Having run out of cash, we agreed that I'd arrange for payment through a friend's family in Arusha (more about that later).  One phone call later and that was taken care of.  He didn't seem remotely bothered.  In this town and in this business, a lot has to be done on trust.  If you have the right connections, you're "in" and nobody gets worried.  If you don't, purchasing is difficult.

John Saul Ruby

Longido Ruby

Mahenge Spinel
Doreen's boyfriend George was thrilled to have come along because the Greek dealer had a Mercedes 4 wheel drive, the only one of this particular kind of Mercedes on the East Coast of Africa, he proudly claimed. Not that I would know (I knew it was a Mercedes because it had the star on the front, that was about it), but George had never seen a car like this, certainly he had never ridden in one, so he took lots of selfies after we parked.

Doreen and George
Our trip back took us past the Meru Coffee Lodge, another expensive resort area that is set within coffee plants.  There we got to see local glass blowers in action, making beads and glassware for tourists.  In the evening, I took everyone to an Ethiopian restaurant in town.  For just over $120, the five of us had an amazing dinner including wine, beer, and fresh juice.  Doreen posted on FB since this was the first time she had had that kind of food before.  I was impressed too I must say.  Maybe even more so after lunch in the local canteens - fried chicken, rice or ugali (corn meal) or chipsi (fries) with some tomato, cucumber and cabbage salad.  (Though one day I picked a local dish, a kind of beef stew with banana, and that was really good).  My stomach had begun to rebel at day two, I think mainly because much of the food in Arusha is fatty and oils are used to fry things over and over, so I'm not sure how old some of the fat is.... My German doctor friend Dagmar later explained that another problem is that your body doesn't know the microbes in that region of the world so it tends to want to expel quickly (much to my detriment).  She said that an African who visited America would face the same problem.  Plus my body was put through four major world regions in less than a month: Central Europe, an island off the African coast, then Central Africa, plus of course the United States.

Mount Meru Lodge

Glass Blowers
Speaking of food, on another evening, we got to taste the national dish - fresh roasted goat.  It roasts all day, and for dinner you buy it by the pound. together with rice, ugali or chipsi, and vegetables.  It was simple food but really tasty, except that I was chided by Honorine for not properly chewing the meat off the bone.  I was leaving too much meat to be thrown out and that was a no no so I dutifully went over all my bones a second time.  It is interesting to note how many habits we rich people have that establish our wealth beyond doubt to others.

Goat - The National Dish

Goat Dinner

More about the rest of my trip and my safari in my next blog entry.