Happy Valentines?: Gemstones lead to deaths in India

At least now I have a good excuse for not buying Annie jewelry this year for Valentine’s day. If you’re appalled by this practice, sign the National Labor Committee’s petition.

Watching this video reminded me of an experience I had in Nepal. I wrote a column about it years back. I dusted it off for your reading pleasure.

The Kathmandu Caper
By Kelsey Timmerman

On the streets of Kathmandu- Motorcycles weave in and out, cars honk their horns repeatedly jockeying for position, pedestrians scurry for their lives frogger-style while covering their nose and mouth from the dirt and stench. Tractors lacking gas caps slosh fuel this way and that, cows and dogs dine side by side on piles of trash. Chaos reigns supreme, but none lose their cool.

Amid the ruckus I stood with my glowing blonde hair, a foot taller than anyone else. In all the commotion, wide-eyed, I sought the security of my guidebook.

A man approached. He was tall for an Indian, had perfectly combed black-blue hair, and a sparkle in his eye. I half expected him to break into song and dance, get the girl, or shoot someone, in the spirit of the popular Bollywood blockbusters produced in nearby India.

“Do you need some help?” His English was better than mine.

“Err…where is the Austrian Air office?” I needed to change a plane ticket.

“Follow me. I consider myself, somewhat an ambassador of the city.” As we walked he was constant chatter. My inner voice was every bit as chatty, This guy wants something. You are like that deer in the Far Side comic who displays his bulls-eye birthmark to his buddy who responds ‘Bummer.’ Try not to look like such a target you idiot.

He looked me square in the eye, “Don’t worry I am not after your money. I have my own business.” His words were less reassuring than alarming. He looks at your light skin and blonde hair and sees green, you moron.

We found the airline office and I said bye to Ricky and wished him good luck. Pushing open the door to the office I said under my breath to myself, “And you thought he was going to try to rip you off?”

With my plane ticket in order I stepped back onto the streets of Kathmandu. Ricky stood across the street chatting with a buddy. He waved and then without looking ran across. My inner voice gloated in victory, Told you dumb…

“My American friend, how is everything? I would like to buy you a cup of tea?”

Murder, rape, and slavery, were just a few of the scenarios running through my head. Don’t be such a wuss I want to see what his deal is.

Ricky looked across the street, shot his buddy a wave and a wink, and then hailed a cab.

The cab stopped in the middle of the street. Ricky paid and then we ran out like a couple of bank robbers. We were in the tourist part of the city known as Thamel. Ricky ran a comb through his greasy hair as we passed by rundown shops filled with generic camping gear such as “The Nepal Face” in the same design as “The North Face” gear. In Thamel nothing is as it appears.

Ricky led the way into the restaurant and gave the sole employee a nod of greeting. Words were not exchanged and Ricky showed me to a booth in a dimly lit corner. Two teas were brought to our table.

He put his elbows on the table and then leaned in over his cup of tea. Welcome to Ricky’s office you schmuck. Ricky was dialed in and it was time to work on the naïve American. “I export precious stones and carpets, but I have met my exporting limit for the year. You seem like a nice man and I would like to help you make some money.”

Oh, I see. He is not after your money; he is trying to make you money. What a nice guy?

I sat there with a blank look staring at the cream coagulating in my tea. “All you have to do is take my stones or carpet to another country and upon arrival give them to one of my contacts who will give you US $6,000- you keep half. ”

He continued to explain: where I would pick up the merchandise; how I would carry it through customs; how I would claim it, etc. Every detail was touched on and then explained again. Whoa, sounds like some easy money, Kelsey, and you really don’t have to do anything. Play along. Act interested.

Ricky leaned back in his chair, stretched, and as if an afterthought said, “All you have to do is give me your credit card and I’ll take off US $3,000 so when you meet my contact you keep the entire $6,000 and we’ll be square.”

Play along, please, for me. “I am flying to Austria. Do you have a contact there?” He nodded. “And then London?” Nod. “Dayton, Ohio?” Nod. You must really look dumb if he expects you to believe that he even knows where to find Dayton on a map..

I sat silent. “Come, we go to my shop?” Hey doofus, go with him, but be ready to bale out on a moments notice. No matter how bad I talk about you, you’re my only friend.

His shop was a few blocks away. The streets were crowded with tourists and I felt in no real danger. Ricky stopped in front of a rotting wooden door, no sign or window. He opened the door and sitting on the floor were two Nepalese boys chipping away with hand tools at red, purple, blue, and white stones. Here I thought that precious stones took millions of years to form and then once harvested were cut by highly trained individuals wearing white lab coats in white room, looking through high powered magnifying glasses, working with high tech cutting tools.

You need to get some glasses and maybe grow a beard. Something to make you look smarter. I was beginning to feel a little insulted. “You know Ricky, I hate to have all that responsibility of carrying around your beautiful stones, I’ll pass but thanks.”

“It is no problem. I have insurance.” He was pleading in desperation.

“No thanks.” Kiss my inner butt, Ricky.

I walked away with my thoughts.

 
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