Good Friday morning ...

On Joel Maeda Street, just a few blocks from the Clock Tower Roundabout in Arusha, is a small curio shop tucked between a food market and another non-descript merchant. It was here in the Lookmanji Curio Shop in July 2000 where I had my first "romancing the stone" encounter with tanzanite, a precious, transparent gemstone native only to northern Tanzania. Quite frankly, I had never heard of tanzanite before, but was quickly taken by its brilliant, sparkling, primarily bluish color.

Escaping the street hawkers by ducking into the shop I encountered Marcus, the owner's son, who introduced me to this handsome stone and gave me my first lesson in deciphering its various qualities. As he uncovered a stash of loose stones in a lock box beneath the counter, I learned that the predominantly violet-blue colored stone could easily be seen as purple or red, depending on the angle and the lighting. But I found in any light it appeared to be a dazzling beauty. I also learned that there were a lot of scammers in Arusha Town which had become the main marketing and smuggling center for tanzanite. These hawkers are fast-talkers and quite convincing, luring the unsuspecting tourist to an upstairs room or a small alleyway shop to make an offer one supposedly cannot refuse. I left the shop that day with a cautious idea brewing in my mind only to return three weeks later upon my return to Arusha to implement my plan.

Before returning to Arusha, I went to Shambarai and the Merelani Hills just south of Kilimanjaro, the only place in the entire world where this alluring stone is found. I learned that the stone, named after Tanzania, had only been discovered in 1967, its beauty and splendor hidden beneath the hills in the shadow of Mt. Kilimanjaro, only to be discovered one day by Maasai herdsmen who noticed these magnificent sparkling crystals dancing in the sunlight.

Upon my return to Arusha my "romancing the stone" continued. I took to the streets checking out the tanzanite possibilities. I went to the Cultural Heritage Centre huddled inside an electrified fence on Dodoma Road; I went to Tanganyika Gems Ltd. across from Lookmanji on Joel Maeda Street; then to The Craft Shop on Goliondoi Road and to The Real Arts Centre next to Jambo's Coffee House and finally to the plush Arusha Hotel where the gemstones were housed in a vault situated catty-corner from the front desk in the main lobby. All the while I was pestered by street hawkers who knew I was in the hunt and who offered "the best deal ever" if I would follow them to undisclosed locations to take a look at "specially priced stones." You’ve got to love those street hawkers. Persistent, they are!

At each of the locations I visited, I realized how pricing was rarely, if ever, fixed and depended upon ones bargaining skills. As is prevalent in African culture, most gem salesmen have mastered the "but how am I going to feed my family" line of persuasion.

And so, I found my way back to Lookmanji's and there, after two rounds of bargaining, made my first tanzanite purchase, an oval, double-A, violet-blue stone which I brought home to be fashioned into a ring for my bride. I have since returned to the Lookmanji Shop on every trip I have made through Arusha, each time bringing another customer or two from members of my teams, one of whom bought four stones in one visit. And though I am hardly an expert on gemstones, several people have even entrusted me to make purchases on their behalf. That, I must say, was pure agony for me.

I have often wondered about the street swindlers hawking safari tourists in Arusha ... especially the ones attempting to deal in the gemstone market. They are no doubt trying to make a living in a difficult environment, but to do so dishonestly and intentionally so, strikes me as not only deceitful, but criminal.  It is one thing to hawk a made-in-China trinket or a non-authentic Maasai spear or a fake carving mass-produced in some remote alley way shop. But to be hoodwinked into purchasing a fake or at least majorly inferior stone is quite another. And yet it goes on day after day. Obviously, there are deceitful people in all cultures willing to cheat in order to get ahead or make a buck. Such, it seems, is the nature of any society or culture.

Wealth gained hastily will dwindle, but whoever gathers little by little will increase it. [Proverbs 13:1]

Bread gained by deceit is sweet to a man, but afterward his mouth will be full of gravel. [Proverbs 20:17]

But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. [I Timothy 6:9-10]

So says the Lord. Have a great weekend ...