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A Week in the Land of Emeralds

December 23, 2019

Colourful Cartagena

A Feast for the Senses

As the designer and owner of Ella Green Jewellery (named for my daughter and the colour of nature), I have been sending a portion of the proceeds from my jewellery business to the Emerging Voices Foundation in Colombia since late 2017.
This is a vital part of why I am in this business. Colombia is rich in minerals and gems, producing the finest emeralds in the world. But I strongly feel that some benefit should accrue to either the community or at least the country the gem was mined in. Emerging Voices was recommended to me by Yianni Melas, a Greek Texan veteran of the gem industry (@gemexploreer on Instagram) who is vocal about the rights of artisanal miners.

After I reached out to him for advice on who or what to support, Yianni told me that of all the thousands of people he met in his decades-long gem career, he trusted Monica Sepulveda the most. Monica, through the Emerging Voices Foundation sets out to care for those that others have forgotten through food, education and volunteers’ time.

I finally booked a flight for a week’s trip to Colombia in October this year. I visited Cartagena, on the Caribeann coast and the much, much colder, Andean city of Bogota.

Colourful Cartegena  

Arrival

The first thing I see as I enter the airport in Cartegena is lush vegetation all along the entry corridors which are only partially roofed. I always feel you can sense if an environment is benign by its willingness to grow its green things close to the humans and to provide soft warm air. A sense of wellbeing filled me and I felt certain I had made the right choice leaving my young family and other commitments to make the trip.

This green assault is a good introduction to the land of emeralds.

Emeralds

Colombian emeralds - the finest in the world 

I had heard that there are men in Bogota that will sell stones out of their pockets that they have mined themselves but I decided not to give this a go on the basis that this gringa is not skilled enough yet not to be taken for a ride doing this. Instead I visited a charming little store on my last day in Cartagena with some inexpensive emerald specimens in the window. There being a visible fixed price was a huge incentive to step in. Roberto, later joined by his sister Emily took me through the emeralds and I picked out a few. Roberto then sheepishly said “I want to show you my favourite stone in the whole store right now”. He then took out a beautiful specimen (leafy green, good clarity - perhaps without treatment) which cost USD 15,000!

Food

Arepa

In Cartagena, I had the pleasure of dining in the world's only prison restaurant run entirely by women. It was featured in Time Magazine's “World's Top 100 Greatest Places” last year and you have to make a reservation. All the cooking and waitressing is done by the inmates. Our waitress's T-Shirt read 'I believe in second chances'. The proceeds go to Fund Acion Interna which promotes rehabilitation over mere incarceration. The food was good too - the highlights were ceviche of tilapia in light coconut milk with coriander, pepper, red onion and fried plantain for texture.

Touch

There are 50 elderly ladies being looked after by the Missionaries of Charity in the house in Bogota. Mother Teresa founded the charity and the sisters wear the distinctive white robes edged in blue. The ladies have been abandoned by their families and would otherwise be on the street. With 5 million internal refugees in Colombia due to the economics of cocaine, lots of families have been kicked off their land and have flocked to the cities.

The ladies are particularly petite. I sat at the back of the service and observed at least two pairs of feet swinging inches above the floor.

Their hands are what I remember most as it showed how well looked after they were. Several ladies took my hands in theirs which were just so clean and soft, some with pretty, sparkly nail varnish. Having looked after my mother and father at the end of their lives, I remember how Important it was to spend time gently cleaning and holding their hands. When all your words are used up, it is a beautiful way to communicate your love and respect for an elderly person. At lunch (served promptly at 10.30 a.m!) I helped a blind lady called Lucy and it felt as though she was reading my soul through my hands - very humbling.

The Foundation

The kids room in the Foundation

The Emerging Voices Foundation supports 2 houses in Bogota. Out of respect to the children and for their protection (boys aged 6 - 14), I did not take photos of them. Instead, I took some photos of their quarters which helped me see how they live. Their beds were impeccably made - like a barracks. This is a change for them as most come from troubled families and for some, an 8 month stay here is a chance to avoid getting caught in the penal system for minor infractions.

Thank you Colombia for a sublime week. You are in my heart now and I will be back one day with my family!

Eimear xoxo




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