Our Own Christmas Story

Our Own Christmas Story

In the spirit of this season of giving, we would like to dedicate this blog to our friends in Madagascar, Tanzania and Kenya and express our gratitude for the support and hospitality they have offered us.  They have opened their doors and their hearts, freely sharing what they have in spite of their less fortunate circumstances.  My life has changed forever as a result of meeting them.

Our Family in Madagascar

About 15 years ago, my travel partner Jochen Hintze from Jentsch Minerals decided on the adventure of traveling to Antsirabe, Madagascar in the hope of finding interesting minerals.  In the local gem market, he stumbled upon a then just over 20-year-old Ando Antoniania and her little daughter Maria whom she was trying to support by selling gem crystals, cabochons and ornamental rocks.  Their friendship flourished over the years, and in 2016 Jochen brought me with him for the first time.  Ando now has three children, and Maria has two.  They live on a little property made possible by consistent gem trading with Jochen, they now have running water and electricity, and last year, with the help of a small loan from Cecile Raley Designs, Ando was able to buy a cutting wheel and hire some help to mine and cut the calcite on her family's land.

A happy reunion in 2018, a big hug from Ando, and a relaxed smile from Jochen.

Her cousin Gael is our driver, his father owns one of the few cars in the extended family. Gael has a degree in computer science, but unfortunately, there are few to no jobs available in computing, so he's trying to figure out what else he can do.

Gael and Yvonne

When we come to visit, we are always surrounded by the entire family - brothers, sisters and cousins.  Someone is by our side to translate, keep track of our purchases, make sure all transactions go smoothly and take us wherever we need to go.  

Ando and Maria (right and second right) watching over our transactions in Antsirabe.

Our Family in Tanzania

In Arusha, our thanks go to Wilson Laizer - aka Moustache - and his family.  His cousin Benuel is our driver and.00000 the van we use belongs to extended family as well. Moustache has been a broker in Arusha for a couple of decades, but with the new government no longer allowing any export of gemstone rough, they've been experiencing hard times.  Despite this, his family invited us to dinner at their house and cooked for us, and Moustache, who belongs to the tribe of the Masai, took us to Masai country for local barbecue.  Moustache translates for us into Swahili and the Masai language from morning til night and accompanies us on every trip.  

Moustache (far right) and some of his Masai friends taking us out to Goat Barbeque

To show our thanks, Cecile Raley Designs has decided to sponsor the college education of Moustache's 18-year old daughter Brenda, who now studies finance at the University in Dar El Salaam. 



My friend Doreen in Kenya

While not directly connected to the gem trade, I sort of 'adopted' Doreen nearly 20 years ago when she was still in high school and trying to figure out how to pay for her education. Her aunt, a Catholic sister that belongs to the Franciscan order, was a student of mine at Felician University, and it is through her that my then department met her family.  When I visited Arusha in 2016, I invited Doreen to come and stay with me in the hotel.  The bus ride from Nairobi is only about five hours, and this was Doreen's first trip abroad in her life.  Doreen and I frequently talk on email or WhatsApp.  She is now the sole provider for her son Immanuel, but thanks to her college education she has a job that pays for the basics.  Cecile Raley Designs sponsors the nanny that is needed to keep Doreen employed.  Thank you, Doreen, for the lovely dinner you prepared for us during our all too brief visit to Nairobi.  I will come back as soon as finances allow.

Doreen and Immanuel (left)

Happy Holidays to all :)