Gail Howard's Gem Trade Adventures in Ceylon (Sri Lanka) in 1965 and 1966

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After that warning, I didn't dare bring the heavy, bulky commercial quality gemstones with me. I had hidden them well, but couldn't take any chances. I removed the stones from their hiding places and returned the parcels of stones. I would pay the ten percent smuggling fee and collect the stones in four weeks in Hong Kong.

The precious gems I kept with me. I had poked the precious cut sapphires deep into the styrofoam in my camera lens cases.

Fiaz told me that Mr. Sali knew some underworld thugs who would be only too happy to push this waiter around a bit and beat him up. Even though I was furious with the waiter, I would not agree to that.

Idroos Noordeen told me he had reported the waiter to the hotel manager. I jumped at the chance to add my bit. I called the manager, Mr. Best, an Englishman, and told him that I had been warned not to stay at the Galle Face Hotel but that I had stayed there anyway.

"Why?" he asked.

"I had been told it was 'too public, too much gossip.'"

"Well, that is the way the Ceylonese are. They always gossip."

"No," I said, "This is dangerous gossip."

When Mr. Best realized who I was, I said, "I don't look forward to the indignity of being stripped and bodily searched by a female customs agent because one of your waiters turned me in. Never will I stay at the Galle Face Hotel again as long as he is working there."

Mr. Best explained that two influential businessmen had told him about this matter concerning me and that he had suspected the waiter for a long time but never had a formal complaint lodged against him. Labor laws being what they were, he could not fire him without definite proof.

Mr. Best assured me that within two days the waiter would no longer be working for the Galle Face Hotel. The waiter had worked there for 16 years. To me, that was much more gratifying than having him beaten up. He paid for his greed by losing his income.

When I went through customs the next day, my belongings were thoroughly searched. All agents were assigned to search only me and no other passengers.

I sweated as one agent searched dangerously close to my hiding places. I acted calm and nonchalant, although it was extremely difficult to keep my eyes averted from his probing fingers. But my hiding places eluded him after all.

Agents twirled their fingers in all my face creams, vitamins and powdered brewer's yeast - all of which I threw away afterward.

They did not look in any of my former hiding places and did not find any of the gemstones I had with me. I could have taken everything. I suppose they figured it wasn't worth it to strip me because they knew I had been tipped off.

It was the longest hour of my life.

When the plane landed in Singapore, it was a comfort to see my good friend, Khia Fatt, waiting for me at the airport - and a relief to be out of my smuggler role!

On future gem buying trips to Ceylon, I gladly paid the ten percent smuggling fee - the same as did all other international gem dealers. The peace of mind was well worth the price.

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