Firestone Tire International Co. sent me to Sierra Leone to sell earthmover tires to the diamond mines. I flew to Freetown, the capital and home of the Firestone tire distributor there.
The distributor provided a car and driver and we drove to the Kono District, the prime diamond mining area of Sierra Leone. (A 760-carat diamond was recently found in the Kono District.) The distance from Freetown to the mine headquarters was about 150 miles of dirt road and took five or six hours.
Because of the mines, the road was fairly good and there was little traffic. The road passed several villages that were mostly mud huts with tin roofs, no inside plumbing, and electricity only if the chief or a trader had a generator. Houses were along walking paths since there were few if any cars in the village.
As we neared the diamond mine property, we came to a typical village. Sitting outside one of the mud huts was a luxurious new Mercedes Benz sedan. The distributor explained that the car belonged to a Lebanese buyer of illicit diamonds. Legal diamond mining is done by loading dirt from the site into a 40-ton dump truck and delivering it to a centrifuge that washes and spins the mud and debris away, leaving diamonds behind.
The dirt road between the mining area and the centrifuge was about three miles long, very smooth and intensely maintained to prevent any dirt falling from the truck since it might contain a diamond.
Two jobs with the mining company were eagerly sought after for prestige and fringe benefits. The first was loader operator who scooped up the diamond-laden ore and dumped it into the truck going to the centrifuge. The second was driver of those trucks. The greatest fringe? The loader operator would overload the truck especially at the sides and back of the truck. Family and tribe members of the loader operator and truck driver would hide in the jungle near the pristinely maintained road.
As the truck approached their hiding place, they would throw large rocks onto the road. The driver would purposely run over the rocks, hoping to spill ore from his overloaded truck, and friends and family would then rush into the road and search through the spilled ore. They would then disappear into the jungle, hopefully with diamonds for the Lebanese trader.