Kevin in Liberia

Its Purpose: to raise awareness of current social, political, ethical, and spiritual issues within a relief and development context in Liberia. Its effectiveness is simple: It relies on me, the author, to provide insightful, and often debate-sparking material that will encourage you, the reader to get engaged through comment contributions, emails, and promoting others to read, re-think, and respond to the important issues discussed.

I know not which is most profitable to me, health or sickness, wealth or poverty, nor anything else in the world. That discernment is beyond the power of men or angels, and is hidden among the secrets of your Providence, which I adore, but do not seek to fathom. ~ a prayer by Blaise Pascal

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Diamonds and "Bamboos"

For many years during the civil war in Liberia the exporting of diamonds funded the purchase of arms which in turn fuelled an already devastating civil war which claimed the lives of hundred of thousand helpless victims. In 2001, UN Sanctions banned all exports of diamonds in an attempt to stop the different atrocities from continuing. Currently, it is not illegal to mine for diamonds so long you have a permit from the government to do so, but it still is illegal to export them. Don’t kid yourself though, the exporting has been stopped on a macro level but the micro- black market is alive and well in Liberia.

On a trip up in Nimba County in search of baboons, or “bamboos” as the Liberians would call them, we ran upon one of these petty diamond mining sites, an always interesting high school field trip. There were maybe two dozen miners at this operation and what an operation.


Firstly, before I get into the story of the diamond miners I should mention about these baboons. The local Liberians in the area believe that their spirits actually enter the baboons and, in a sense, they become baboons. We picked up a local villager who was describing all of this to us as we motored along the rarely travelled on dirt road. He himself was “under the water”, as he described it. What he meant by that is that his spirit can transform and enter that of a fish. Some Liberians have interesting beliefs that’s for sure…troubling as well. A young girl, maybe 10 years old, ran back among the sugar cane as she saw the oncoming vehicle. I was told that some of these people have never seen a vehicle in their lives before. After driving village to village trying to track down the head “bossman’ of this baboon society we came up empty. All the local villagers were too scared to show us the baboons without consent of the head elder because of beliefs that punishment will follow if they don’t follow the proper protocol. So in the end we never saw any “bamboos” or any wildlife for that matter, just a good cultural experience.

Back to the diamond mining…

These two dozen or so men, a lot of them ex-fighters (I saw a few women and children but I’m sure they were mostly onlookers and moral supporters), were working like little ants in their intricately set up operation. What they basically did was dam up a certain part of this river so that the raised water level in the rainy season wouldn’t ruin their operation. They had a bunch of little stations, if you will, set up each doing their own task, and doing it well. From shovels and diggers to hand picking larger stones from the mix, all these Liberians were working together for one goal: Diamonds. I had them give me a demonstration on how they sift through the smaller stones to discover what their sharp eyes know as a good and potentially high-priced diamond on the black, yet open market. What I didn’t know is that all these stones, to the untrained eye, look the same, but to the miners, very different. There is a layer of dark black stones that are heavier than all the other stones and during the sifting of the diamonds and these black stones sink to the bottom, or to the top, when they flip their square screen filter over. Small scale diamond mining operations such as this one exist in many areas of Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone. I can say that maybe I’m a little bit better of a person for experiencing this…well, maybe not better, but a lot more educated.

5 Comments:

  • At 7:32 AM, Blogger Wesley Fryer said…

    Whoa, thanks for sharing this tale Kevin. My knowledge of Liberia is quite limited, so you have expanded my horizons considerably through your story.

     
  • At 11:56 AM, Blogger Gareth Evans said…

    Dude,

    You are having plenty of adventures.

    Please dont encourage the black market though. I hope you didnt buy any stones.

    G

     
  • At 8:49 AM, Blogger Kevin Aja Fryatt said…

    Gareth,

    Sorry man, I didn't buy any diamonds. I guess your ring is going to have to wait!

    K

     
  • At 9:57 AM, Blogger Gareth Evans said…

    Good man!

    When are your stitches coming out!?! You know I worry about you ;-)

    G

     
  • At 2:25 PM, Blogger Kevin Aja Fryatt said…

    G-man,

    Stitches are out man, I'm good to go! A little scar but nothing that can taint my natural beauty...

    he he

     

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