In many parts of the world, being a woman is not an easy task. For Pili Hussein of Tanzania, there were no exceptions. She was the daughter of a man who had 38 children in total, from six different women. She was forced to work in the fields with cattle from a very young age and did not have the opportunity to go to school. She later married a man who ended up being abusive and violent. At the age of 31 she ran away from her abusive husband and went in search of work.
Without any kind of plan or destination in mind, she wandered through different places until she finally reached Mererani, a village at the foot of the largest mountain in Africa, Kilimanjaro. This small town is the only place in the world where mining for a rare, violet-blue gemstone called tanzanite takes place. She knew that the best opportunity she had was to live and work as a miner, but she would never be able to do that as a woman. So she came up with a truly cunning plan…
“The women could not enter the mine area, so I entered bravely as a man, as a strong person. I took big pants, cut them into shorts and looked like a man. That is what I did,” said Pili. She changed her appearance, her way of acting, her name and from day one pretended to be a man. She was known as “Uncle Hussein” and no one ever knew her real identity. “I worked alongside men for 10 – 12 hours every day; they never suspected that I was a woman. I drank Konyagi (local gin) and joked with the men about which village women I liked,” Pili continued.
No one ever discovered or suspected that “Uncle Hussein” was actually a woman. She continued to work even harder than her colleagues, and eventually found two tanzanite stones so large that she made a fortune. With the money she earned she helped her family, built new homes for them and founded her own mining company, where she is in charge of more than 70 workers. But something happened that forced her to reveal her true identity …
A girl from the village claimed she had been raped by some of the miners and the police took “Uncle Hussein” in as a suspect. “When the police came, the man who had raped her said, ‘This is the man who did it,’ and they took me to the police station,” said Pili. She had no choice but to come clean.
Pili told the truth but, of course, nobody believed her. So she asked the police to find a woman to physically examine her, to prove she couldn’t be responsible, and she was released straightaway. The well-known “Uncle Hussein” was really a woman, no question about it. How had she managed to go unnoticed for nearly a decade? Her fellow miners were totally shocked! Many of them, in fact, did not believe it until several years later, when Pili got married and had children.
Now Pili no longer needs to hide who she is. “I’m proud of what I did. It made me a millionaire, but it was difficult”, she said. However, “I want to make sure my daughter goes to school, has an education and is capable of living her life in a different way.” What amazing strength this woman has!
For Pili, there were no other alternatives other than to pretend to be a man working in a rough environment where women were highly discriminated against. She showed that “being a man” was nothing more than acting in a way determined by a certain culture — namely by acting strong and tough, not showing weakness or emotions and by behaving rudely. She was able to carry out the same workload as her fellow men and do even more. She was never left behind and never needed help. Pili is a prime example that women can do anything they set their minds to and there is no job a woman is not fit to do.