Thursday, 4 January 2018


"I was 31 when I ran away from my abusive husband’s home and made my way towards the Mererani mines at the foothills of Mt. Kilimanjaro. I had heard that a few grams of the famed blue stone—the lucky Tanzanite—sold for thousands of Shillings.

When I arrived in Mererani, I was told that women were not allowed to enter the mines. I didn’t know if the law forbid women or the men didn’t think women could do the job. I secretly followed some men into a mine and watched them dig and sieve the dirt for raw tanzanite. I thought to myself, I can do this too. Why should it matter that I am a woman?

That day I took on the name of Mjomba Hussein (Uncle Hussein). My ski cap hid my hair and part of my face. I abandoned my skirt for loose trousers and long sleeved shirts. I worked alongside men for 10 – 12 hours every day; they never suspected that I was a woman. I drank Konyagi (local gin) and joked with the men about which village women I liked.

The miners treated me as an equal and even sought my counsel. I was able to convince them to stop harassing the village women.
After almost a year, I found two clusters of tanzanite stones, 1000 grams and 800 grams each.

That’s when my life began to change. Soon, I purchased more tools, employed miners to work under me, and could buy farm land with my savings. In the early 90s, I had enough money to apply for a mining license and to my surprise, the law didn’t prohibit women from mining!

Today, I have 70 employees working for me, 150 acres of land, 100 cows and a tractor. I have sent 32 children from my family to school. I want to work with younger women to teach them how to do business in the mining sector.

I never had anyone to guide me and had to live with a false identity as a man, just to access the mines. It doesn’t have to be this way for the next generation.”

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Olufunmilola Aduke Iyanda (born 27 July 1971), better known as Funmi Iyanda, is a Nigerian talk show host, broadcaster, journalist, and bl...