The air was cool and dry, what there was of it. There’s not much at 12,000 feet in the Hindu Kush Mountain range of Afghanistan. Jed (the names have been changed to protect the innocent) had gone there to check out the new Emerald finds that were being worked there since the Russians had withdrawn their troops. It’s a funny thing, but there’s not a lot of mining activity going on when there are rockets and bullets flying overhead.

“Why is it always so dark in these tunnels?” he thought to himself. He had seen the vein that contained the crystals, “most impressive”, he thought. Some of the finest he had ever seen. Now came the fun task of making their way out of the tunnel. The only light came from the occasional ‘used tin can’ filled with oil with a lit wick protruding out of a small hole in the top. The guide had a large flashlight in his shack, but the batteries had run out 5 months ago, and, since the Soviets had left, there was no one to steal new ones from.

There was only about fifty yards to go before they would be outside, still, no light was visible from the entrance. Then it hit, a large blast of dynamite exploded nearby. The tunnel shook and filled with dust and the oil light went out.

“Now this is dark”, he thought, he was torn between staying put and risking another blast, or making a run for it and risking massive head injuries from unseen protrusions of rock sticking out into the mine tunnel. After the dust settled, he realized how quiet it is after an explosion, in a tunnel, in the dark, under a half mile of mountain in remote Afghanistan. The only sounds he could hear, were his own breathing, (much too fast) and his guides cursing under his breath trying to find the lantern and light it again.

Mining conditions in these mines are very primitive and unscientific. The miners simply pick a spot on the mountain and start blasting. These tunnels snake into the mountain twisting and turning at will. Often, when one tunnel hits Emerald, all the other tunnels in the vicinity will turn towards it. Blasting their way as they go. Sometimes, these other tunnels will blast right into the first tunnel!

This is what worried Jed. There had been four blasts already since he entered this tunnel, and they seemed to be getting closer. “It’s funny”, he thought to himself, “a person’s other senses get so sharp when your sight is taken”. Smells he had not even noticed before were now almost overpowering, the burning oil, the distinctive smell of the gunpowder from the dynamite. And, of course, the fact that it had taken him 6 days of walking and fighting with ornery mules over the mountains to get here without a bath also came painfully to his senses. Heaven only knew how long it had been for his guide.

Finally, there was the swish of the match lighting and once more they could see. “It was better in the dark” he thought. They started walking again, a little faster this time. At least as fast as one can walk without appearing scared and at the same time dodging low hanging rocks and stepping over piles of loose rubble left on the floor. They could see the entrance now as yet another blast rocked the cave, the guide bolted for the entrance so Jed knew he could too, and bolt he did. He was never so glad to get out of a mine before in his life.

As smoke belched from the mine behind them, Jed wondered if someone had broken through or not. But, he was sure that he was not going back in to check. As they wandered down the steep path to the ramshackle miners camp, he thought to himself, “if people only knew.”

Every time you look at that gem on your hand, remember,  chances are, it was taken from the earth in a similar way.