Duty Free, Kenya - Gemhunters

Gemhunting while in Nairobi

Kenya - Gemhunters

I was lucky enough to see a few internet snippets of the new TV show ‘Gem Hunt’ that’s on a travel channel. I loved it and want to see the whole series now.  I mean it’s so true and just like the real life of chasing the stones.  Two years ago the show contacted us for a short interview and I’d forgotten all about it.  I like the people they have picked.   Watching them reminded me of what can happen. 

In a time years ago,  Lou and I were staying at a house in Karen, just out of Nairobi.  We had been buying huge amounts of gem rough and had some very nice pieces accumulated – which was fraught with danger (from other shady westerners). One day some lovely Massai gentle souls turned up in their finery, they were goat shepherds from near the boarder of Tanzania.


massai - gemhunters

They had gathered a bag of stones whilst outdoors so often and had heard there was a buyer, found us and visited.  I was in awe, and Lou calmly bought their bag whilst commiserating with them that the idea of smashing one large stone with a hammer and having ten instead of one, would not always be more appealing to someone that liked stones, some were great pieces and sizes.  I  was there – as the tea lady, and one of the massai pulled out a large specimen, it looked like a stalagmite with a gem core, well, I wanted that. They saw my face – no poker face me- and they expressed such great joy, big warm smiles all round and the price quadrupled and I was sent from the room and banned from any more buying deals until I learnt to control any glee.


P1010050But anyway next day we were to meet traders in downtown Nairobi at the Thorn Tree Café where gem people met to buy and sell. It was a good day until the ride back to karen with a drunken taxi driver, he was going so fast he had missed our turnoff and a wheel flew off the taxi and rocketed into the folk walking four abreast along the side of the road and knocked over the unlucky one in the roadside crowd. The taxi driver would have sped off if he could and I think he actually tried, but we leapt out and ran over to the chap, his eyes had rolled back in his head and he was clutching his ribs, the taxi driver tried to tell us he was fine, just faking for sympathy but I had seen him take the full force of the impact, in a split second a brightly painted van – matatua pulled up and  shock, a westerner driver jumped out, assessed the happenings in a blink, directed his local passengers out of his van, they picked up the now limp lad, threw him in the back of the van and drove off, I just caught the word hospital as they left.

Meanwhile, unseen, the luckier roadside walkers had found all the nuts barr one, rolled the tyre back lifted the taxi and where in the process of tightening them with hands, by the time Id turned around the taxi driver was beckoning me to stop gawping and get back in the taxi, as I turned again, I just had time to see the big warm smiles from those kind people that narrowly got missed by the tyre and off we zoomed, I suspect even faster. When I arrived back, straight to my room and sat on bed, I noticed the tissue paper that had held a small bundle of sapphire rough wasn’t by the pillow anymore, strange, bad westerners went there that day, I wandered outside to where Lou was still debating the size of the tip with the taxi driver, but no he hadn’t moved them, I went a bit more paler due to the value of them, I sat down to think and Joseph walked past smiling and greeting us back.

Nairobi Hotel - Gemhunters Nairobi Hotel - Gemhunters








Now I adored Joseph, he opens the gate in the rain, he sweeps and cleans, he caught me doing my hand washing once and admonished me and took it from me, I couldn’t leave shoes out otherwise they would appear the next morning shining and clean. I asked if he had tidied our room and he beamed with joy, and rubbish wasn’t in bin, no, he lead me out to a pit over the rise over the fence and me and Joseph stood on the edge of that gigantic fire pit, I didn’t have words for awhile, he looked puzzled so I gently told him (I was still recovering from the emotion of trying to find a mans pulse on the side of a road 10 minutes prior) that you know those stones we sometimes gather here and there….yes he nodded….I’d foolishly wrapped some in a tissue and left as if discarded in the room…oh he nodded… He walked me back inside and made me a cup of tea and I stared at the wall for quite sometime.

Just after dark Joseph came in to get dinner ready and he presented me with the 5 charred sapphires and a big smile. I brushed off the melted plastic and aluminum and there they were – still perfect with this odd feeling they maybe looked a bit better, brighter and richer in colour. Big hugs (from me) and smiles from him, but he still wouldn’t let me peel the potatoes with him.
So what I remember about African gem buying trip is the warmth of smiles from folk I hardly knew and the look as if to say ‘your foolish but we will take care of things’.

Now that was just two days in the months we were in Africa, something incredible and amazing happened every single day. Every Single Day. So I’m looking forward to see what adventures the Gem Hunt people get up to on their quests. Whilst in Bangkok trying to find ‘the’ gem, there have been some things that have also left me gawping , but that’s another story……entirely.


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