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.
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|
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.
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.
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.
|Doreen and George|
|Mount Meru Lodge|
|Goat - The National Dish|
More about the rest of my trip and my safari in my next blog entry.