It was a strangely exhilarating experience. Standing in-between a couple of hessian bags hanging from the ceiling I was subject to one of the first pat downs (outside of an airport) of my life. I was in Durban’s A5 Hawkers Wholesaler at the city’s Victoria Markets and had just bought some toothpaste. Now while I seriously thought about storing it in a bodily orifice (because I’m into that sort of thing) I had actually bagged it and was showing it to the security guard as he gave me a vigorous frisking.
I wondered whether an investment in a scanner or two might be a better long-term bet but South Africa’s employment situation is so dire the last thing it needs is technology that replaces humans.
The reason I was visiting Victoria Markets was I had a rather keen interest in acquiring some Tanzanite. Supposedly found only in the foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, it’s touted as being rarer than diamonds. With a lack of time ruling out going to Tanzania to find my own gem, I found myself listening to a gem wholesaler tell me why my wife would appreciate Tanzanite so much more than a diamond. My problem was going to be doing his job with my wife and trying to explain why she should want it more than a diamond.
In the days beforehand, everyone from taxi drivers along Durban’s Golden Mile of beachfront to the waiters at Butcher Boys restaurant - as I happily consumed a South African dry-aged fillet steak washed down with a 2007 Beyerskloot pinotage - had told me Tanzanite was the gem I needed to buy. Even the beachside Hotel Elangeni’s concierge had tipped me off on its rarity and beauty.
The previous evening, across from the hotel, as I sat at the Beach Café with my feet in the sand under a pale blue sky daydreaming and watching schoolkids play chicken with the waves and an unusually nimble roly-poly boy kick a football with his dad, the bartender mentioned … Tanzanite. Earlier in the day I had eaten the wondrous bunny chow - a mutton curry served inside half a loaf of hollowed out white bread at a kind of chain restaurant called Mrs Govinder’s - and the old Indian woman behind the counter agreed Tanzanite was the gem of the future.
The dealer brought out the big guns – his wife and another employee who proffered yellowing and dog-eared newspaper articles reiterating the whole Tanzanite story. They also mentioned the price and I realised I had slipped into the tyre-kicker category. More pertinently, the dealer could see it on my face. He lost interest. I was just another tourist with the artificial wealth that comes with a good exchange rate – good for food and local beer but useless when it came to buying something of real value.
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