Pili Hussein wanted to make her fortune prospecting for a precious stone that’s said to be a thousand times rarer than diamonds, but since women weren’t allowed down the mines she dressed up as man and fooled her male colleagues for almost a decade.
Pili Hussein grew up in a large family in Tanzania. The daughter of a livestock keeper who had many large farms, Pili’s father had six wives and she was one of 38 children. Although she was well looked after, in many ways, she doesn’t look back on her upbringing fondly.
“My father treated me like a boy and I was given livestock to take care of – I didn’t like that life at all,” she says.
But her marriage was even more unhappy, and at the age of 31 Pili ran away from her abusive husband.
In search of work she found herself in the small Tanzanian town of Mererani, in the foothills of Africa’s highest mountain, Kilimanjaro – the only place in the world where mining for a rare, violet-blue gemstone called tanzanite takes place.