Connect with us

Into the Mine!

Published

on

I am on the precipice. Can I do it? The sun beats down on my uncovered head, dazzling my eyes against the dark hole yawning about seventy feet down below.

I’m standing on the edge of a gemstone mine in Kenya, with a decision to make. It is now or maybe never.

Into the Mine!

I am on the precipice. Can I do it? The sun beats down on my uncovered head, dazzling my eyes against the dark hole yawning about seventy feet down below.

I’m standing on the edge of a gemstone mine in Kenya, with a decision to make. It is now or maybe never.

Into the Mine!

The black hole at the bottom is the intimidating entrance to the mine. That is by design: part of its security.

Advertisement

The mouth of the opening looks pretty far down a steep grade of loose shale underfoot. And that’s just the beginning. Then you crawl–and I mean crawl–deep into the belly of the hill, following the rift, or vein, that yields the good stuff, the gems we have come to hopefully see.

Into the Mine!

Roger Dery begins an initial descent into the mine. Image courtesy of Ernest Rodriguez Photography.

This moment is essentially why I signed up with Sharing the Rough, traveling nine thousand miles, across continents, braving rough roads and frontier border crossings. To descend into the very heart of the earth and see where gemstones are unearthed from their matrix. Of course I’m going in. There really isn’t any other conclusion.

Into the Mine!

Roger Dery and the mine manager checking to make sure it is safe.

Slowly, following the strand of other gem hunters and movie crew that are snaking their way down the thirty percent incline to the entrance to the mine, I start to descend. The loose gravel underfoot is the real threat here: one slip and we take the others out below us. I hope that the shoes I bought for their traction hold as anticipated.

Into the Mine!

I’m negotiating my way down towards the opening of the mine.

Advertisement

We have to use our hands at one point; the grade shifts abruptly to close to fifty percent, and the footholds are far apart and require some counterbalance. The miners are watching us from the knoll above the opening. I wonder if they are silently laughing at us, the novice mzungus, going impossibly slowly down a ramp that they practically run down. It’s their daily commute, one that their bare feet know by heart: the depressions that hold, the ones that are unstable. Do they respect us for wanting to see where they work, what they see? Or are we ridiculous adventure seekers that are interrupting their day?

Into the Mine!

The miners.

We reach the bottom, where the opening to the mine gapes just below us. I have to duck to get in. A few feet in and it is DARK. Opaque. The air becomes heavy, chewy. Skin gets slick with sweat from the extreme humidity. My heart is thumping from the exertion and the thrill, and it’s hard to breathe in the viscous air.

Into the Mine!

Almost to the entrance to the mine. Image courtesy of Ernest Rodriguez Photography.

I stop for a moment and fish out my Petzel head lamp and switch it on. Much better: I am first into the mine in this group, and the pool of yolky light illuminates the few feet in front of me. I am crouched as I walk: the tunnel is short in height with unyielding rock all around. The shaft changes directions a couple of times and keeps dropping in elevation, sometimes gradually, sometimes more abruptly, with mining bags piled to bridge the depth.

Into the Mine!

We are crouched, making our way through the shaft.

Advertisement

There are a couple of miners down there, and begin to demonstrate how they work. They take a metal stake a couple of feet long, about the diameter of rebar, and use a mallet to strike it into the wall of the chamber. He drives it in a couple of times, then the soil and rock cleave away in a large chunk. They rake through what fell with their fingers, searching. Normally, this rock and dirt would be bagged and then passed, miner to miner, transported from the blackness to the daylight to sift through what is there.

Into the Mine!

A miner: guide, geologist and hard worker.

The distance traveled into the earth was hard to gauge—was I walking forever? Only a few moments? About four hundred feet in, we are at the end in a small chamber, where the mining is taking place. I have a brief flight sensation, where I just want to turn around and run back to where the air is thinner. But the bright lights of the film equipment make me realize that there is stuff going on down here. I use my yoga breathing to still my heart, and try to blink the sweat out of my eyes.

Into the Mine!

Deep inside the mine, cameras rolling…

A couple of gem hunters are asking questions, the camera light brilliant in our faces. We find out that if they go much further in depth with the mine, they will need to pump in oxygen, a thought that both comforts and confounds—why are we here, again? We also found out that the miners descend for about two hours at a time, then take a break.

Then, I notice the miners have become more attentive to the dirt and rock: they are using their fingers now, not the stake.

They found something–a pocket of gems in the dirt! The mine manager’s son, affectionately known as “Buddha” around the mine, and another miner pick them up to show us closer. Even in their rough state and surrounded by dirt, in the light from our flashlights and camera equipment, the sparkle is undeniable. Rough-edged yet precious, they glow on his palm. It’s so exciting I forget all about not being able to breathe.

Into the Mine!

Rough gemstones from the East Africa region we were in.

When the awe and wonder wear off a few moments later, most of us realize we probably want out. We make our way back through the shaft, quickly and triumphantly. At the top, guzzling bottled water and high-fiving each other, we are jubilant!

Into the Mine!

I made it!

Into the Mine!

This is our intrepid photographer, Ernest Rodriguez. Yeah, that about sums it up!

Back at the land rovers, our peerless driver Archie took a long look at me. “Why Monica, you are all DIRTY!” he exclaimed. From my red hair to my boots, I was covered in residue. And I was beaming.

Into the Mine!

Gem Hunters Danuta Kuc, Dave McConnell and Ernest Rodriquez with Sharing the Rough.

This day at the mines was not adventure tourism. It was a chance to see where gem mining begins, deep inside the earth, and meet the people who wrest it out each day. I will never look at a gemstone quite the same way again.

*Sharing the Rough is an important jewelry documentary that chronicles the journey of a gemstone from the mine in East Africa to a piece of finished jewelry-as-art. The film is truly independent and a labor of love–it could use your help with funding the final phase of the film! You can find out more at their website www.sharingtherough.com, and in the

spirit of sharing, make a donation to the film that will also benefit the people of Tanzania and Kenya here.

For daily news, blogs and tips jewelers need, subscribe to our email bulletins here.

Advertisement

SPONSORED VIDEO

Wilkerson Testimonials | Sollberger’s

Going Out of Business Is an Emotional Journey. Wilkerson Is There to Make It Easier.

Jaki Cowan, the owner of Sollberger’s in Ridgeland, MS, decided the time was right to close up shop. The experience, she says, was like going into the great unknown. There were so many questions about the way to handle the store’s going-out-of-business sale. Luckily for Cowan, Wilkerson made the transition easier and managed everything, from marketing to markdowns.

“They think of everything that you don’t have the time to think of,” she says of the Wilkerson team that was assigned to manage the sale. And it was a total success, with financial goals met by Christmas with another sale month left to go.

Wilkerson even had a plan to manage things while Covid-19 restrictions were still in place. This included limiting the number of shoppers, masking and taking temperatures upon entrance. “We did everything we could to make the staff and public feel as safe as possible.”

Does she recommend Wilkerson to other retailers thinking of retiring, liquidating or selling excess merchandise? Absolutely. “If you are considering going out of business, it’s obviously an emotional journey. But truly rest assured that you’re in good hands with Wilkerson.”

Promoted Headlines

Most Popular

Columns

Into the Mine!

Published

on

I am on the precipice. Can I do it? The sun beats down on my uncovered head, dazzling my eyes against the dark hole yawning about seventy feet down below.

I’m standing on the edge of a gemstone mine in Kenya, with a decision to make. It is now or maybe never.

Into the Mine!

I am on the precipice. Can I do it? The sun beats down on my uncovered head, dazzling my eyes against the dark hole yawning about seventy feet down below.

I’m standing on the edge of a gemstone mine in Kenya, with a decision to make. It is now or maybe never.

Advertisement
Into the Mine!

The black hole at the bottom is the intimidating entrance to the mine. That is by design: part of its security.

The mouth of the opening looks pretty far down a steep grade of loose shale underfoot. And that’s just the beginning. Then you crawl–and I mean crawl–deep into the belly of the hill, following the rift, or vein, that yields the good stuff, the gems we have come to hopefully see.

Into the Mine!

Roger Dery begins an initial descent into the mine. Image courtesy of Ernest Rodriguez Photography.

This moment is essentially why I signed up with Sharing the Rough, traveling nine thousand miles, across continents, braving rough roads and frontier border crossings. To descend into the very heart of the earth and see where gemstones are unearthed from their matrix. Of course I’m going in. There really isn’t any other conclusion.

Into the Mine!

Roger Dery and the mine manager checking to make sure it is safe.

Slowly, following the strand of other gem hunters and movie crew that are snaking their way down the thirty percent incline to the entrance to the mine, I start to descend. The loose gravel underfoot is the real threat here: one slip and we take the others out below us. I hope that the shoes I bought for their traction hold as anticipated.

Advertisement
Into the Mine!

I’m negotiating my way down towards the opening of the mine.

We have to use our hands at one point; the grade shifts abruptly to close to fifty percent, and the footholds are far apart and require some counterbalance. The miners are watching us from the knoll above the opening. I wonder if they are silently laughing at us, the novice mzungus, going impossibly slowly down a ramp that they practically run down. It’s their daily commute, one that their bare feet know by heart: the depressions that hold, the ones that are unstable. Do they respect us for wanting to see where they work, what they see? Or are we ridiculous adventure seekers that are interrupting their day?

Into the Mine!

The miners.

We reach the bottom, where the opening to the mine gapes just below us. I have to duck to get in. A few feet in and it is DARK. Opaque. The air becomes heavy, chewy. Skin gets slick with sweat from the extreme humidity. My heart is thumping from the exertion and the thrill, and it’s hard to breathe in the viscous air.

Into the Mine!

Almost to the entrance to the mine. Image courtesy of Ernest Rodriguez Photography.

I stop for a moment and fish out my Petzel head lamp and switch it on. Much better: I am first into the mine in this group, and the pool of yolky light illuminates the few feet in front of me. I am crouched as I walk: the tunnel is short in height with unyielding rock all around. The shaft changes directions a couple of times and keeps dropping in elevation, sometimes gradually, sometimes more abruptly, with mining bags piled to bridge the depth.

Advertisement
Into the Mine!

We are crouched, making our way through the shaft.

There are a couple of miners down there, and begin to demonstrate how they work. They take a metal stake a couple of feet long, about the diameter of rebar, and use a mallet to strike it into the wall of the chamber. He drives it in a couple of times, then the soil and rock cleave away in a large chunk. They rake through what fell with their fingers, searching. Normally, this rock and dirt would be bagged and then passed, miner to miner, transported from the blackness to the daylight to sift through what is there.

Into the Mine!

A miner: guide, geologist and hard worker.

The distance traveled into the earth was hard to gauge—was I walking forever? Only a few moments? About four hundred feet in, we are at the end in a small chamber, where the mining is taking place. I have a brief flight sensation, where I just want to turn around and run back to where the air is thinner. But the bright lights of the film equipment make me realize that there is stuff going on down here. I use my yoga breathing to still my heart, and try to blink the sweat out of my eyes.

Into the Mine!

Deep inside the mine, cameras rolling…

A couple of gem hunters are asking questions, the camera light brilliant in our faces. We find out that if they go much further in depth with the mine, they will need to pump in oxygen, a thought that both comforts and confounds—why are we here, again? We also found out that the miners descend for about two hours at a time, then take a break.

Then, I notice the miners have become more attentive to the dirt and rock: they are using their fingers now, not the stake.

They found something–a pocket of gems in the dirt! The mine manager’s son, affectionately known as “Buddha” around the mine, and another miner pick them up to show us closer. Even in their rough state and surrounded by dirt, in the light from our flashlights and camera equipment, the sparkle is undeniable. Rough-edged yet precious, they glow on his palm. It’s so exciting I forget all about not being able to breathe.

Into the Mine!

Rough gemstones from the East Africa region we were in.

When the awe and wonder wear off a few moments later, most of us realize we probably want out. We make our way back through the shaft, quickly and triumphantly. At the top, guzzling bottled water and high-fiving each other, we are jubilant!

Into the Mine!

I made it!

Into the Mine!

This is our intrepid photographer, Ernest Rodriguez. Yeah, that about sums it up!

Back at the land rovers, our peerless driver Archie took a long look at me. “Why Monica, you are all DIRTY!” he exclaimed. From my red hair to my boots, I was covered in residue. And I was beaming.

Into the Mine!

Gem Hunters Danuta Kuc, Dave McConnell and Ernest Rodriquez with Sharing the Rough.

This day at the mines was not adventure tourism. It was a chance to see where gem mining begins, deep inside the earth, and meet the people who wrest it out each day. I will never look at a gemstone quite the same way again.

*Sharing the Rough is an important jewelry documentary that chronicles the journey of a gemstone from the mine in East Africa to a piece of finished jewelry-as-art. The film is truly independent and a labor of love–it could use your help with funding the final phase of the film! You can find out more at their website www.sharingtherough.com, and in the

spirit of sharing, make a donation to the film that will also benefit the people of Tanzania and Kenya here.

For daily news, blogs and tips jewelers need, subscribe to our email bulletins here.

Advertisement

SPONSORED VIDEO

Wilkerson Testimonials | C. Aaron Peñaloza Jewelers

Wilkerson Paves the Way for the Future

After serving the San Antonio, Texas community for decades, C. Aaron Peñaloza Jewelers closed its doors earlier this year. Aaron and Mary Peñaloza, the store’s owners, chose Wilkerson to handle their retirement sale. “In the first six days, we did six months’ worth of business,” says Aaron. “In the first three weeks, we did a year’s worth of business.” Mary Peñaloza says Wilkerson’s ability to tailor the sale to their store’s requirements really made it all so much easier. “They are professionals,” she says. “They know what they’re doing. They have a plan, but they will listen to you and adjust that plan to your needs.”

Promoted Headlines

Most Popular