- Country of Origin
Posted by Rusty James on June 13, 2017
Today I got to play celebrity (again). I always forget how rare white people are in remote areas of Indonesia, and it takes a few moments of adjustment to put on my white guy fame hat. This stop was quite special. We landed in a small village in central Sumatra where wild coffee, rubber trees, and chalcedony mining are essentially the only forms of sustenance. We took a jungle hike to go check out the chalcedony mining. We walked about thirty minutes into the jungle from the village and arrived at the area where they had dug test holes all over the back side of the mountain. We approached a hole they were working. A small fire was burning to keep the bees away, which doubles as a stove to boil jungle coffee (see the videos posted later--wow!). Two miners were hard at work on a hole that was at least 5 meters deep (15 feet). They dug this hole in three days. The dirt is a red mud, soft and easy. There's a make shift pulley system made of rubber and a few buckets, and a small man down in the hole working away, while the other guy pulls the dirt up out of the hole and dumps it on down the side of the mountain. We watch them for a while and ask lots of questions. They haven't hit a good hole for aaa color in quite some time. This hole produced about 15 kgs of medium and low quality rock, and I wonder where it's really even worth their effort. When they are hired to dig, they work for about $8/day. It's nearly impossible to tell how good the stone is at the mine. They break off a small chip off the side with a machete to check and see if it has any color. If it looks like it has potential, despite being completely caked in dirt, they shlep it down the mountain for further cleaning. When we went through the pile back at the house, it was more evident how hard the rough is to clean and read. It didn't seem worth it to me for the efforts they went through, but then I was shown some photos of the top grade stuff that the mountain had produced in the past. Holy shit!! This mountain, one of many many purple chalcedony deposits in Indonesia, produced some of the finest purple rock I've ever seen. Chalcedony that rivals some of the best amethyst in the world. I understand why they carry on. When the good stuff was found a few years ago, up to 200 people would go out every day and work their hole. It's been a few years since they hit really high grade stock. Single cabs of top grade purple sold for thousands of dollars in Indonesian markets! My mind was blown at that piece of info, and my understanding of the hunt, the risk, and effort given became much more clear.
There are all kinds of little details that made this adventure so rich. Too many to share in one post. For the first few hours I thought we were just going on a hike to check out some holes. But when we got back to the village we started getting glimpses into how special this trip really was. To me it started as another adventure, another group of sweet people, another chance to buy some rock after traversing the grueling roads and enduring pothole mania and bobblehead bouncing. We were told in the afternoon that we were the first "tourists" to ever come to the village, and the first white face 99% of the villagers had ever seen. The village is 100 years old. Not one white face in a century. That hit home, and a deep feeling of gratitude and inspiration set in. When they found out we would be leaving soon, all three generations of the family we were staying with secretly went and dressed in their nice clothes to take photos. They showed me the place on the wall where the photo would go, next to the pics of the mine owner at the Indonesian rock show where he sold the best purple chalcedony cabs ever seen on earth, next to pics of them with famous military generals who they had met. The neighbors started coming over. One of the older men took the ring off his finger and gave it to me. I humbly declined, but of course was forced to put it on and keep it, to which I replied with many bows and thank yous (having just come from japan I seem to bow to everyone).
The photos were plentiful. First with the kids, then with the main family of the house, and then with the grandparents as an entire family of three generations. They put on their nice clothes ! I'm still in awe of how special this moment was. Tears were shed when we drove away. Love was expressed in English, even though no English was spoken by anyone in the family. I couldn't help but tear up myself. I mean all we did was show up. We didn't spend much money. There wasn't much good rock to buy. But to these people the effort to come meant everything in the world to them. They waved until we were out of sight, and the children screamed goodbye until we couldn't hear anymore.
It's moment like these that remind me that the rocks, the exhibitions, the work, the struggle to sustain self employment in times when markets are down, the haggling, the hellish drives and flights, the jet lag, the challenges around food and sleep, the bugs and sweat, all the bobbleheading in the back seat, the risks that I take to do something as seemingly minuscule as bring colorful stone to market, none of it is as important as the relationships that are formed and the time shared. None of it. The money is a byproduct. The flashy rocks and the notoriety for bringing cool stones to places in the world that they haven't been seen, the number of places I've been and the passport stamps--all of it is secondary to the simplicity of the relations shared. Even if only for one day, to show up with a smile on the face, happy to share time and experience across language barriers and just be present with those who cross my path, it means the world to someone. It can change lives and bring joy. And it means the world to me!
In this messed up world we live in, while we in the developed world are so preoccupied chasing rent, love, or studying textbooks, worrying about the future of our finances, the world we pass on to our kids, the political climate, or the health of our planet, it's easy to forget that in one instant it could all be gone. Even if not in death. I drove away from the village knowing that I will likely never go back, contemplating the thought that it might be another 100 years before another white face drives in to that village. And it changed me. Despite the 6 hours of hell on wheels to get there, only to turn around 20 hours later to go back through that same 6 hours of hell to start the next part of this journey, I can safely say that it was entirely worth it.
In deep reverence for the ability to live this life, I gratefully thank you for listening. Stay tuned.