The power of one - an over used phrase perhaps, but one which demands we quash all devotion to obstacles about why something can't be accomplished all by ourselves.
Young Kashmiri girl sits begging outside a
temple in Srinagar. Courtesy Ed
Atop the Himalayan Mountains, away from public scrutiny, one man, a Kashmir Sapphire trader, goes quietly about his business far from any outside notice. Almost ten years into his unusual life choice, American Ed Cleveland, owner of Kashmir Blue, (www.kashmirblue.com) settles in to life high in these remote and forbidding hills as though he were born for the experience. When asked why he chose of all places the troubled Jammu and Kashmir state in which to live, he responded that when he got there - it seemed like a natural fit for him. There is something to be said for that feeling of being in the right place at the right time. For anyone fortunate enough to experience such a sensation - it makes one feel as if they are at the center of the universe.
Cleveland has made deep inroads into the local life of the lands' tribal cultures living often less than harmoniously in this ancient locale. Serendipity brought him to the area a decade back after he completed his military service. Interested in off the beaten track destinations, Cleveland investigated this Indo-Pakistani region as a cultural vacation of sorts. But the populace, their exotic lifestyle and rich culture, and the breathtaking beauty of nature all around captured his heart. The harsh realties of struggling to live in this foreboding corner of the earth fraught with political strife, desperate poverty, and a grueling terrain also took Cleveland's attention. And so he decided to stay and do something about it.
Learning the sapphire trade provided him the means to stay - having a heart for the tribal communities gave him a cause. First off he built a small school near Lake Dal and became its initial teacher. Today though, his gaze is firmly fixed toward the many practical needs of all the inhabitants there. One of his projects, Agape Kashmir provides a safe haven for orphaned or abandoned children in which to flourish. He also organizes several regularly scheduled medical missions to remote villages along the sapphire trading route. Long harsh winters can drop 25 feet or more of snow around the region. The isolated inhabitants are offered medical aid and other practical support through Cleveland's efforts. All this resulted from one man simply looking around, seeing a need and then responding by putting one foot in front of another.
Cleveland gets around. He navigates a complicated route across the nation calling on cutters and dealers when he comes back to the US each year. And he can be spied at trade shows, particularly the annual Tucson GemFair. Dealers, designers and couture jewelers have learned to trust him. Bumping into Cleveland at an ultra-high end booth at Tucson, the proprietor declared, "If you want to know anything about Kashmir sapphires, Eddie's the man." I suspect he's also expert on some other treasures as well.