Tying the Knot in a Meaningful and Memorable Way (Without Losing Our Savings or Sanity)

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Guest Post: The Ring Thing Part I

By Sanyamakadi

As an international development worker, I have lived and worked in some of the poorest, most volatile, and most culturally fascinating parts of the world. When I got engaged, it was very important to me to get a functional, responsible--and yet still beautiful--ring. I knew one thing immediately--I did not want a diamond.

US jewelers will not sell diamonds unless they have been “Kimberley certified” as not coming from a conflict zone. The only problem with this is that the Kimberly Process doesn’t work all that well. It is very easy to smuggle diamonds across porous borders from conflict countries to peaceful ones. A brief overview of the situation can be found here. The article even mentions a country close to my heart, Guinea, where I was a Peace Corps Volunteer for three years. At that time Guinea was not a conflict country, but it bordered war-torn Sierra Leone and Ivory Coast, both large diamond producing countries. In the years since the Kimberly Process was implemented in 2003, Guinea’s diamond production has gone up 500%, which, as they say in the article, raises some eyebrows. Having a jeweler show you a certificate to prove your diamond is not financing war or human rights abuses unfortunately doesn’t mean very much.

Even if diamonds (and precious stones and metals in general) really are conflict free, that doesn’t guarantee that they were mined in humane conditions. Living in a small village in Guinea I saw many men leave their families to strike it rich in the diamond mines...they would funnel their family’s meager resources into mining, leaving women struggling to feed their families, and children pulled out of school because they were unable to pay their fees or were forced to work to bring some money into the household. In the communities surrounding the mines, women turned to, or in the case of young girls, were forced into, prostitution, a lucrative business with so many men so far from home. There was a Peace Corps guesthouse in a ‘town’ nearby, across from which often stayed a European diamond trader known only as “The Lion.” We would sit outside under the mango trees and watch the line of patient, desperate men as they waited to make their pitch to The Lion, in hopes that he would buy their stones. The prices he paid would feed families for weeks, but would be nothing compared to the profit he would make reselling the stones in Europe. The pictures are of The Lion, and the surrounding town, and were taken by my friend Erin.

To give the whole picture I should mention that there were some parts of Africa, such as Botswana, where diamond mines do meet minimum labor and human rights standards and represent an important part of the economy. And stores like Tiffany’s pride themselves on having true ‘conflict free’ diamonds, coming from their own mines in Canada. While this may alleviate human rights concerns, it does not negate the toll from mining on the environment. Nor, for me, did it change the most basic argument--I could not do what I do, going into tiny villages in rural Congo, or Sierra Leone, or wherever, with a ring on my finger valued at more money than the inhabitants of those villages would ever see.

Sanyamakadi means “eyes blinking in the sky” and is the Malink√© word for “lightening”, which was one of the first she learned as a Peace Corps volunteer in Guinea. She loves to travel, create adventurous food, and fly kites. After 5 years overseas she returned to the US and happened to meet the love of her life at a swing dancing class, and now spends many happy evenings dancing around the living room with him and her new son.

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breylee {rocksinajar.com} said...

Thank you for posting on this very important topic. I had a conversation about this with my boyfriend yesterday and hope that he understands my sentiments when it comes to diamonds. I think sharing this with him will help. I am looking forward to post #2. :)

emily said...

Thanks so much for posting this. I learned about conflict diamonds and the Kimberly Process in college and decided years ago that I would never get a diamond. It's also worth considering avoiding inherited, heirloom and/or used diamonds, as merely wearing them can "promote" diamonds to those who are not aware of the social, political, environmental and humanitarian implications of their production.

liezl said...

Many thanks for sharing your experiences and insights about this very important topic! As we all make decisions about our weddings, it is vital to reflect on the true impact of our actions. Thank you for reminding us to be conscious and socially responsible. My now-husband took our values to heart in choosing my engagement ring, a simple (yet striking) trio of peridot stones. I'm happy to see more people buck the trend to spread awareness of these issues.

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