Diamond Mines and Halloween – by John
So I asked, how many men does it take to change a light bulb? I was referring to the small, burned out light bulb in the diamond display case in the Jeweng Diamond Mine in Botswana that we visited today. 20. Twenty people. That is the answer, and based on the security procedures, I truly believe it!
The PC took us on a field trip to visit a local diamond mine. This one happened to be the largest diamond mine in the world, and is only 35 minutes away. The DeBeers Corporation and the Botswana Government entered into a 50/50 partnership to mine diamonds for profit, when the worlds largest diamond deposit was discover very shortly after gaining independence in 1966!
Botswana has used its profits from mining to provide universal health care, free public education through college (10 years being compulsory), infrastructure, and pension systems for the elderly and many other benefits to the people of its country. This has jettisoned the country from being one of the poorest countries in Africa to one of the most prosperous and stable countries on the continent over the last few decades.
So much for history! We all got to go see the diamond mine and it was quite a fun experience.
First, contrary to what you might think, there is no tourism industry in the diamond mine business. There is no mine in Botswana that any Joe Public can go check out. The Peace Corps was invited on a very rare and special visit to see the mine. This was very special for us and it was amazing! We were required to provide passports and sign ID documents. The pictures don’t do justice about the size of the mine and the equipment used there. It was quite impressive! But probably the funnest thing about the 3 hour mine tour was all the security. It was more secure than a Maximum Security Prison in the Hollywood movies. We all had to strip of our phones, water bottles, lipsticks, purses, and/or anything that looked like a container. They kindly let us keep our cameras.
We toured the Green, Blue and got a long distance view of the Red Zones. The Blue Zones guaranteed a 50% chance of finding a diamond in any random rock. The Red zone guaranteed that you would be in contact with diamonds! We were not allowed in the Red Zone, but the Blue was cool enough.
We were told during briefing that we could not bend over to pickup ANYTHING, even a pen or camera that we dropped! We were also not to POINT to anything! We had to get an authorized security guard to pick up any dropped items! Not even point? What the hey! At one stop, our guide was explaining about the surrounding rocks we were all standing near, a fellow PCV in our group pointed to something and she was sent back to the bus! We didn’t get kicked out, but were all sternly lectured again about pointing or picking things up. They also told us we could not touch each other, hold hands or kiss. They told us it was best to not look down at the ground, and certainly we should not be kicking rocks or scratching the ground with our feet. It was crazy!
The last stop on the tour was the secured diamond room. The diamonds are housed in a room locked in tunnel inside a building.
The small room had displays and pictures of the mine. The showcase had raw rocks and a whole bunch of real raw, uncut diamonds.
Most of the diamonds were tiny, but some were large and they came in all different colors too. They had a few rocks with the diamonds still embedded. That’s where the bulb was out and we asked about changing it.
After that, we went through the same exits from the mine, as the 5000, full time, 3 x 24 hours shifts go through every day. We got into single file,
men away from women in front of doors with green and red lights above them. Once inside, there were two more doors to exit. We were instructed to go through the door that lit up. While we waited inside our little dark rooms for one of the door lights to come on,
we were being X-Rayed with some high tech rays that could detect the tiniest diamond on our person. Even if you got a clean x-ray you had a 50% chance of being sent through another search room. This was way high security!
One of our guys accidentally chose the wrong door to exit, and that prompted an immediate and automatic physical search! It wasn’t an entirely exhaustive search, as I’m guessing we were presumed relatively honest people, but it was a solid 10 minutes of checking around!
The diamond company has built a huge game reserve around the diamond and we got to see wart hogs, and a bunch of other huge cool looking animals, but we don’t know what they are yet.
What a great experience!