Dubai-based Fura Gems is hiring dozens of women to help bring De Beers-like discipline to a once violent and wild industry.
Nubia Galeano slips the short-handled pick into her left rubber boot and turns on her headlamp as she enters a steaming, cramped tunnel, one of thousands that crisscross the vast Coscuez emerald mine. The corridor narrows, and Galeano, already dripping in sweat, is soon crawling on all fours.
When she reaches a space so tight her small body barely fits, she pulls out her pick and starts digging. The 45-year-old, single mother of two fills her sack with up to 40 pounds at once and crawls backward until she can stand back up and retrace her steps to the surface.
Outside, she washes the load in a small stream, indifferent to the swarming bugs and the buzz of dozens of other miners around her. Adept at spotting the tiniest speck of green, Galeano quickly realizes she’s come up empty-handed.
She dumps the pile and sits down for a quick rest before entering the mine again. In the course of her eight-hour shift, Galeano repeats her ordeal five times. This is more or less how the world’s biggest, brightest emeralds have been unearthed since even before the arrival of the Spanish conquistadores, who seized working mines from indigenous peoples more than 400 years ago.
But changes are coming. Fura Gems Inc., based in Dubai and listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange, bought mining rights to the Coscuez deposit in 2017 and is moving forward on construction of new, modern mining facilities. For workers like Galeano, those plans hold out the promise of earning a living wage for the first time and, along with it, company-subsidized health insurance.
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