The Murder of an African Miner — And His Son’s Quest For Revenge

 Photographs by Charlie Shoemaker


Bruce Bridges was born in Kenya, where his family built a life — and a small fortune — pulling gems from the ground. But when his father was ambushed and his mine seized, he was forced to face a new Kenya — volatile, corrupt, and with no use for its colonial past.

Campbell Bridges spent the last morning of his life testifying before Kenyan police officials about the death threats he’d been getting. It was August 10, 2009, and his phone had been buzzing with warnings from townspeople that an ambush was in the works. Still, Bridges got into his truck and drove the 45 minutes to his gemstone mine, where an angry mob was waiting.

Bridges was a geologist who’d been prospecting the same corner of Africa for four decades. Lately his life’s work had been under siege. For three years a group of pirate miners had been trying to occupy his 1,500-acre leasehold, asserting that, as natives of the region, they had a rightful claim. Recently their efforts to intimidate him had escalated. “It makes no difference if you are legal and have all the documents,” one of them had said to Bridges the day before. “We are going to take the mine by force. We are going to kill you all.”

So Bridges asked the police commissioner for a protective escort to the mine, but he was refused. He then called a private security detail, but when he stopped by its office, the door was locked and no one answered. A group of German tourists were headed to meet him at the mine for a 3 pm geology lecture, and given the newest round of harassment, Bridges was worried for their safety. So the 71-year-old decided to confront the squatters himself. “He was fed up, frankly,” his wife, Judith, said. He brought along four askaris, or bodyguards, including his longtime security chief, Philip Syengo, and Bridges’ son, Bruce, who ran the mining company with him. They grabbed what weapons they could — sticks, belt knives, a wooden club, and an antique bayonet that hung in Bruce’s childhood bedroom. “We didn’t imagine a bloodbath,” Bruce said.

As they approached the property line, they found their path blocked by large boulders and felled trees. As soon as they got out of the truck, 10 to 12 men rushed toward them, armed with spears, daggers, and pangas, long machetes used for cutting brush. The men shouted in Swahili, “Toka mzungu” (“Get out, white man”) and “Afrika sio ya mzungu” (“Africa is not for white people”). Two of Bridges’ askaris ran for the hills.

“We recognized them as the employees of the illegal mining outfit,” Bruce said, “and Dad immediately walked closer and tried to calm them down. I noticed one of them had a bow and arrow and was looking for an angle to shoot at us. Suddenly a throng of men, 25 to 40 of them, charged down from a hill. We were surrounded. It was obvious they were there to take all of us out.”

One of Bridges’ guards, Amos Kiamba, shouted at him to get back in the truck, but Bridges stood his ground. Suddenly one of the gang members shouted, “Kill!” while another swung a blade at Kiamba’s neck. One attacker lunged at Syengo, striking him with a club and gashing his forehead with a panga. A spearman ran at Bridges, trying to impale him, but he grabbed the spear, holding off his attacker with an outstretched arm, leaving his chest exposed. In a flash, a bowie knife plunged deep into Bridges’ chest, making a wound the coroner would later measure to be eight inches deep.

“Mr. Bridges called out, ‘Hey, my sons, someone has done me wrong,’ ” Syengo recalled. “Bruce and I ran and held him, but it was too late. The man who stabbed him lifted his blade to his mouth to taste his blood, victorious. He said, ‘Fuck off. Bridges is dead.’  ”

Bruce chased the spearman up the hill but lost him in the brush, so he ran back to his father, who was now lying in a wide pool of blood. “I was amped on fear and adrenaline,” he said. “Everything was in slow motion.” One of the remaining squatters swung a panga at his neck, but Bruce clubbed his arm out of the way — only the dull side of the blade made contact, tearing open his neck nonetheless. Blood poured down, soaking Bruce’s shirt, but he kept clubbing.

Syengo heard an attacker scream in Swahili, “We have killed one of them. Run so we are not killed.” Syengo added: “They dispersed. We carried Papa Bridges to the vehicle, and I drove to the town hospital in Voi. He was pronounced dead on arrival.”

Bridges was the son of an English father and a Scottish mother but stubborn enough to consider himself an African. He had lived on the continent all but the first three months of his life. People who encountered him on the sidewalks of Nairobi — bearded, cornice-browed, and wearing a safari jacket — sometimes mistook him for Sean Connery. He slept 20 feet above his mine in a tree house and kept a python to guard his stockpile of gemstones. He wrote lyrics about East Africa’s boundless terrain and the flying-saucer clouds above Mount Kasigau, then set them to music on his guitar. He could bend a quarter with his fingers. He had a competitive streak he instilled in his children. He started an annual track-and-field day at their private school in Nairobi so that Bruce and his sister, Laura, both of whom hold records decades after graduating, could be immortalized on the cafeteria wall.

His accomplishments as a geologist were legendary. In 1967 Bridges discovered two gemstones that became the most significant additions to the colored-stone market in more than a century — a dazzling blue variety called tanzanite, and tsavorite, a green garnet rarer, more brilliant, and more durable than emerald. Taken together, the finds were more than career-making, but tsavorite would be his lifelong pursuit. “Tsavorite was like a family member to him,” Bruce said. A Tiffany’s ad from 1974 debuted tsavorite, featuring Bridges and crediting him as the resourceful explorer without whom the gem would have remained a secret. Industry executives considered naming the gemstone for him, apparently enamored of the marketing slogan suggested by his wife — “Campbellite by candlelight” — but Bridges pushed for tsavorite, after southern Kenya’s East and West Tsavo National Parks. “Kenya has taken me in,” he explained at the time.

But the Kenya that allowed a man like Bridges to, quite literally, put down a stake and pull his fortune from the ground had changed radically since his arrival. Though the country achieved independence from Great Britain in 1963 and had long functioned as an oasis of stability within Africa, the past decade has brought the sort of trouble that plagues many of its neighbors: tribal feuds, rising government corruption, a tense relationship with Islamic fundamentalism, and what economists call the resource curse — an epidemic of graft and organized crime that tends to accompany a lucrative extractive industry, whether oil in Nigeria, gold in the Congo, or diamonds in Sierra Leone. And while the tsavorite market remained small, with an annual wholesale value of about $4 million, most of it was generated by Bridges alone, making it a conspicuous source of wealth locally, in Kenya’s Taita-Taveta County, where most people are subsistence farmers. “The saying is that all the land there has been stolen from the people, either by colonialists or by the president’s family,” a U.S. State Department official in Nairobi told me. “In recent years, there’s been a lot of tension over how to get that land into the hands of the native tribes.”

In recent decades, some African nations have undertaken reforms, reclaiming land and resources from the descendants of European-born plunderers in the name of justice. But at times, well-intentioned reclamations have become hijacked by opportunists who exploit anticolonial sentiment for personal or political gain. Bridges somehow considered himself, and Kenya, beyond questions about whether his whiteness made him any less deserving of a mineral lease in a country that had been essentially seized by white Europeans.

Now he found himself on the wrong side of a chasm. “We were able to fly under the radar for a long time,” Judith said. “We had seen this thing through difficult years.

And Campbell was not giving it up just because someone suddenly wanted to steal it from him.”

After Campbell’s death, Judith and Bruce retreated to Tucson — where he has lived part-time since his days as a sprinter at the University of Arizona — but they have returned often, pressing the Kenyan government to mount a case against the killers. “Kenya has a history of mysterious killings like this — assassinations of whites who fell on the wrong side of power — and they’ve usually gone unsolved,” Bruce told me. “It was clearly up to me to make something happen.” Using police records from earlier confrontations with illegal miners, Bruce compiled a list of 18 assailants, but five years would pass before prosecutors charged seven alleged participants in the murder and brought them to trial. By the time I first visited the family in Nairobi, in December 2014, a verdict from the judge had already been delayed for months.

“So much is riding on how the judge rules,” Bruce said. “A not-guilty verdict is a message from the government that we’re not safe operating the mine. If that should happen, the signal is clear that our time is up in Kenya.”

Bruce and I had arranged to meet at the Jomo Kenyatta Airport and were soon riding into the wooded suburb of Langata, passing through two metal gates. The watchman at the entrance to the Bridges’ subdivision carried a rifle; a second, at the edge of their yard, held a bow and arrow. A stone house appeared at the end of a long driveway, surrounded by jacaranda trees and yesterday-today-and-tomorrow shrubs, whose blooms change colors twice over their three-day life spans. Two Rhodesian ridgebacks greeted us loudly. In the doorway stood Judith, a white-haired woman in capri pants and a tailored dress shirt with banker stripes.

“Welcome home,” she said, offering her son a weary embrace. “And this is still our home.”

Bruce, 37, is 6-foot-3 and built like a crucifix, lean but imposingly muscular, with a dutiful, tightly wound manner. When we ate meals in their dining room, he asked me not to sit at the head of the table. “That’s Dad’s place, and it always remains empty,” he said. Bruce often seemed to be trying to reconcile a fundamental difference between his father’s temperament and his own, between a pioneer’s self-reliance and a second-generation tendency toward self-doubt. His father, he acknowledged, sometimes struggled to understand how Bruce’s nerves got in the way of his athletic performance. Despite having won Kenya’s national championship in the 100-meter dash as a boy, he finished dead last in the 2008 Olympic trials a few years later.

“I led for the first 30 meters, but I got so anxious that my glutes filled with lactic acid,” he said. “I locked up.”

The murder has set Bruce on a quest not only to uphold the business his father spent his life building, but also perhaps to defend his right to build it. When I asked whether he and Bridges had been apprehensive about facing off with miners who’d vowed to kill them, he dismissed the question: “Nothing ever frightened Dad.”

Campbell Bridges loved Africa for both the land itself and what lay beneath. His father was a specialist in African precious metals for a British mining concern, and the family moved to Johannesburg in 1937, when Bridges was a few months old. Bridges established his first gemstone mine at the age of six, after he found amethyst indicators under their suburban yard. After he got his doctorate, Bridges passed up lucrative offers in the gold and diamond industries to search for gemstones on his own.

He was in a lapidary shop in South Africa when he met a friend who later introduced him to Judith, an American on leave from her geology program at UCLA. “He told the friend, ‘There are no female geologists,’ but we hit it off anyway,” Judith recalled. “A little while into things, he said he was going prospecting in Tanzania for three weeks, and did I want to join him? He had all the aerial maps, so we camped out.”

They arrived in the city of Arusha in 1967 to find bazaar stands teeming with samples of a translucent purplish-blue stone. The first specimens of tanzanite had surfaced nearby earlier that year, but it was still a local find. Bridges bought several jerricans full of rough stones, brought them to New York, and landed a deal to procure as many as he could. Fueled by a lavish promotion that featured Elizabeth Taylor wearing a pair of eight-carat earrings cut from stones that Bridges had found, the market for tanzanite thrived, with 2 million carats’ worth produced within a decade. Bridges profited, of course, but his involvement lasted only a couple of years before the Tanzanian government nationalized the entire mining industry, in 1971, shutting out independent and nonnative operators.

So Bridges turned his attention to tsavorite. He’d first encountered the mysterious green crystals in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) back in 1961. “Attempting to dodge a charging cape buffalo, he had jumped into a gully and noticed them flashing in the sunlight,” Bruce said, recounting the oft-repeated lore that had long since made its way into the stone’s marketing plan. Bridges discovered more tsavorite in Tanzania and traced the strike into southern Kenya, where he was able to purchase mineral rights. “The stones didn’t stop at the border,” Judith said. In 1971 he built his own mine in what is now known as Taita-Taveta County and began production.

“Tsavorite really was a ‘new’ discovery in the sense that, up until then, it had probably only been seen by the native population, which wasn’t aware of the commercial potential,” said Peter C. Keller, president of California’s Bowers Museum and author of Gemstones of East Africa.

The introduction of the two stones had a major impact on the gemstone market, which until then had considered “precious” only diamonds, rubies, emeralds, and sapphires. Tsavorite’s price rose steadily, from $150 per carat to $750, where it hovered. (Today a one- to two-carat tsavorite of high quality may sell for $4,000 per carat retail, about a quarter of what a comparable emerald can fetch.) The biggest problem, paradoxically, was inventory: There simply wasn’t enough tsavorite in existence to establish much demand. The heat and geologic disruption that created the stone, millions of years ago, were so violent that they also broke most of it apart. In any given year, as few as 15 to 20 pieces larger than three carats tended to surface.

It would take decades for tsavorite to become economically viable for Bridges. To scrape by, he opened a jewelry store in Nairobi and sold other minerals from his personal collection. “It was frustrating to Dad that the world didn’t catch on,” Bruce said. “Occasionally, when prices were low, he wouldn’t sell at all. He’d say, ‘Do you have any idea what this is?’ ”

Among the handful of whites attempting to make a living off the land in the region, Bridges stood out for hiring natives as managers. Many remained in his employ for decades. “Campbell knew that you cannot succeed at a business if you don’t get along with the locals,” Judith said. The Bridges didn’t see themselves as nonnatives dedicated to plunder, which is how their eventual usurpers would characterize them, but as rugged settlers who somehow managed to thrive in a hard country.

To many in his cohort, Bridges and his family were living an anachronistic existence from the moment they set up shop in Kenya.

“They didn’t automatically fit in with the professional tribe here, Campbell being a bit rough,” said his friend Peter Paterson, a beekeeper whose father directed Kenya’s medical service during British rule. “And that was an odd time for enterprise people to come and seek their fortune, after independence, when many Europeans here were being pressured by the government to sell their land for a pittance and leave the country.” Jay Hewitt, another friend, explained the underlying dread of many nonnative Kenyans: “Having everything taken from you is in the back of everyone’s mind,” she said. “Did Campbell see it coming? We all do. We simply don’t talk about it.”

Bridges’ fortunes began to change in November 2005. He had been working at what he called his Scorpion Mine when he hit upon the largest cache of his lifetime, a melon-size nodule containing five kilograms of top-grade tsavorite. The first day’s haul came to more than 25,000 carats of finished gemstones, at least a hundred of which were five carats or larger. (A conservative estimate would put the overall retail value around $7 million.) Bruce recalls his father struggling to remain stoic in front of their employees. “You don’t want to alert anybody to what you’ve found. Word gets out.”

It was a giant breakthrough, but it came at what would prove to be the worst imaginable moment in Kenya’s recent history. The coastal region had become one of several tinderboxes of intertribal hostility, fueled by disputes over which ethnic clans had the right to the land and its bounty. Two years after Bridges’ Scorpion bonanza, there was a disputed presidential election in Kenya that instigated a national political crisis marked by riots in Taita-Taveta and other areas. And in a local electoral race that came to define the mood, an incumbent member of parliament — Bridges’ friend Basil Criticos, a sisal baron from a Greek family — lost his seat to a well-known agitator named Naomi Shaban, and his land was set upon by more than ten thousand squatters.

“It caught us off guard,” said Criticos, who eventually agreed to sell and donate vast parcels of his property to the government for the resettlement of natives. Still, Bridges considered himself immune to a similar ouster: “When I tried to discuss Campbell’s safety with him, he said, ‘Oh, no. The people are with me.’ ”

It wasn’t long after the region’s political tumult erupted that Bridges became aware of bandits digging on his concession at night, and it was immediately evident they were a different class of criminal than the penny-ante poachers he’d countenanced in the past. “They were organized and connected,” said Jim Walker, one of Bridges’ directors at the time. “They materialized out of nowhere.” The interlopers professed a legal claim to the mining rights, posting what prosecutors later determined was a bogus license to develop Bridges’ mine. Twice when Bridges complained, the local authorities arrested some of the pirates for trespassing and confiscated their tsavorite haul — only to quietly release them soon after. Even the name of the mining company the newcomers had started, Tia Akili, was menacing. The direct translation from Swahili is “Put wisdom,” but in spirit it means something more like “Watch your step.”

As Tia Akili’s occupation of the mine continued, a local representative in Kenya’s parliament, Calist Mwatela, began voicing his support, holding a press conference to declare its presence on Bridges’ territory as “authorized by law.” One day Bridges and his employees were physically threatened by Tia Akili’s miners. He wrote down the license plate number of the car in which they drove away and learned that it was registered to Mwatela’s wife. When Bruce obtained a filing from the company, he saw that it listed Mwatela as the majority shareholder.

And that wasn’t the only powerful politician associated with Tia Akili. Shaban, the area’s other member of parliament, also began defending the company’s presence. She said Bridges and his refusal to surrender the tsavorite mine had created “a feeling of unfairness” among natives, and that “locals felt they were being shortchanged and harassed” by the white family’s presence. In time Bruce learned that Shaban was a cousin of Daniel Mnene, the man who ran Tia Akili’s camp at the mine and who investigators believed was a partial owner. In court she would refer to Mnene as her “uncle.”

“We think we are dealing with small-scale miners, but when we sent somebody to investigate, we realized this was a cartel,” a high-ranking official in Kenya’s mining ministry told me. (Shaban did not respond to requests to discuss the case. Mwatela declined to be interviewed, citing a lawsuit he has brought against several Kenyan newspapers for their reporting on the mine. “My reputation has been injured,” he wrote in an email.) Tia Akili’s high-level support shocked the Bridges only in the sense that for once they found themselves on the wrong side of the people in power. “We’ve been around warlords before, but they always had a Western bent,” Judith said. Still, they continued to feel that their long-earned sense of belonging would prevail.

Indeed, after some deliberation the Kenyan mining commissioner upheld Bridges’ exclusive prospecting license. On August 6, 2009, the office sent an eviction notice to Tia Akili, giving them two weeks to be off the land.

Bridges was killed four days later.

The case against Bridges’ killers would likely have remained cold without the efforts of Philip Syengo, Bridges’ chief bodyguard. Syengo led a search for the culprits and turned several over to the police himself. I met him early one morning as we set out on the seven-hour drive from Nairobi to the mine, where he was to deliver the employees’ payroll from a large wad of cash entrusted to him by “Mama Judith.” Although she and Bruce felt that trying to mine tsavorite while the case hung in limbo would be unsafe, it was similarly unwise to leave the facility unguarded. So they kept a skeleton staff around to dig up yellow tourmaline, an inexpensive stone used to make beads.

Syengo is a hulking man of 45 with babyish features that were at odds with his warlord getup: gold-rimmed sunglasses, camo baseball cap, and most power-conferringly, a Ceska pistol that fishtailed from beneath the hem of his shirt. He said he’d often addressed Bridges as his father “because in the years that I worked for him, he gave me money from his pocket for two donkeys so that I could carry water into my town and make for myself a small farm.” He added, “For him I would do anything a person can describe. My son I have named after him: Bridges Syengo.”

Syengo tended to attach a strategic twist to his every action, and most of these involved turning distinctions among Kenya’s ethnic tribes to his advantage. In the front seat Syengo folded a red plaid blanket around his shoulders, which he said would lead people to mistake him for a Masai. (He is of Kamba descent.) “Other tribes think Masai are stupid,” Syengo said. “That can be useful.”

The A-4 highway swept past the concrete plants of Nairobi’s outer ring and cut across the savanna. Less than a hundred yards away, zebras and giraffes ran wild. We stopped to buy tomatoes from a roadside stand, where Syengo was greeted by a group of children. “When I was following the attackers, I use these totos — the kids — and they tell me everything,” he said. “For two months I asked if people had seen him. Finally I got a call from a hotel in Nairobi. I arrived, and his food was still on the table — he had just left. But I located him in the city of Voi, not far from the mine.” Syengo found a second defendant praying at a mosque in the mountains.

We reached the mine camp at dusk. We sat around a battery-powered radio at suppertime and ate bland cornmeal mash called posho and sikuma wiki (“push the week”), a budget-minded dish of collards and leftover vegetables. In the morning we walked through the tsavorite tunnels, 150-meter corridors cut into the crotches of hills. They were empty and primitive-looking, full of bats and lined with long plastic bags that served as ventilation hoses. Nearby, in teams of two, barefoot men in coveralls fed mounds of alluvial soil through a sieve, then poked around for bits of tourmaline. Full-time employees, I was told, earn about $120 a month.

It was never far from anybody’s thoughts that the mine was in a state of siege. There were scarcely more miners (six) than guards to protect them (four), including an askari with a bow and arrow and two young officers from the national police force, whom Syengo was paying to moonlight for him. They took turns keeping watch all night, trading off their lone machine gun and exchanging a beret and a set of fatigues.

One afternoon, as our truck passed the shantytown of Mwatate, about 10 miles from the mine, Syengo stuck his head out the window to stare at a ragged-looking man sitting on a boulder. The man, upon recognizing Syengo, looked down at his own feet until we rumbled away. “OK, that was Sammy Mwachala, one of the accused for taking the life of Bridges,” Syengo said. “Right there, at large, as God is witness.” Mwachala had been on trial with the others and was presently out on bail, awaiting the judgment. The following evening, we learned, a mob had set up a blockade just outside the mine camp, hoping to confront Syengo, but by then we were already headed back to Nairobi.

Bruce and Judith took separate benches along the wall of a wood-paneled chamber and watched Judge Maureen Odero of the Mombasa High Court deliver her verdict. It was the week before Christmas 2014. Odero found four of the seven defendants guilty and sentenced them to 40 years, but when she acquitted the remaining three — including the Tia Akili manager related to Secretary Shaban — Bruce broke into a sweat and Judith let out a shriek. Eyewitness accounts that had placed him at the scene of the stabbing were unconvincing, Judge Odero explained.

To the Bridges, it amounted to a split verdict. “The most politically connected men walked, but we can carry on,” Bruce said. Three weeks later, he reopened the mine for tsavorite excavation. But since then, the mine has been beset by nothing but problems. A new lot of gangsters had set up camp at the site in an attempt to seize the operation. In June, Syengo was kidnapped at gunpoint and released on the condition that he would lead them to Bruce and Judith, who countered by moving Syengo to a safe house. (“It was hard,” he admitted. “But I am still pushing life.”) A few months ago the Taita-Taveta County Assembly, under pressure from Mwatela, issued a report recommending that the local government turn over the mine to Tia Akili.

How exactly the ground moved on the family has remained difficult for the Bridges to parse. They say it’s impossible to ignore the degree to which the country has been consumed by its war with Al-Shabaab, the Somalia-based jihadist group that has claimed responsibility for hundreds of civilian massacres throughout Kenya. The Bridges family and employees have reserved their roughest disdain for ethnic Somali — Shabaab-affiliated or not — as the true source of Kenya’s unrest. The Somali, who are traditionally Muslim, are indigenous to what is now Somalia and Kenya. When Syengo and I were leaving the tsavorite camp, our truck had passed a group of men and women on dirt bikes whom he recognized as Somali. He warned our driver not to offer them a ride. As far as he was concerned, “Somali killed Bridges.”

And while Al-Shabaab claimed no role in Bridges’ murder, several of the attackers were from increasingly Muslim-leaning tribes — including Jarso Jilo Salat, the man the government alleges delivered the fatal stab to Bridges. (Salat has not been captured or charged.) “From the way he carried himself,” Bruce said, “he appeared to have received Shabaab training. He understood lateral movement, how to fight on a 360-degree plane.”

Bruce offered this late one night in his parents’ dining room. I brought up the attacker who had slashed his neck during the melee and whom he’d described fighting off, forcing the shaft of his attacker’s spear across the man’s chest, “crushing his rib cage.” I asked if he was among the men on trial.

Bruce stared at me, then chuckled. “It would be hard to bring a case against him now,” he said.

For a moment I was confused. Was he saying the man was dead and that he’d killed him? Bruce nodded. “Yeah,” he said. “It was kill or be killed.”

Bruce was comfortable with his admission — or perhaps it was a boast — and when I inquired about evidence and culpability, he seemed to have thought it all through. While he’d made no mention to the authorities of any of the gang members having died in the fight, neither did the defendants’ attorneys.

“They didn’t even acknowledge they were there at my father’s murder, so why would they?” Bruce said. As for a police report — of a body discovered at the scene or of a missing person — there was apparently none, but Bruce had an explanation for that, too. “They found hyena tracks when the police got there an hour later, and this was a man who lived in the bush. He probably had no address.”

I noticed that his victim’s name appeared in early court filings, on a list of alleged participants. I also read, in a statement Bruce had provided to the court, a description of their brawl that matched what he told me but that ended abruptly, with the man lying “motionless and bloody” on the ground, and Bruce’s counter-violence provoking “screaming” from the attackers and hastening their retreat. It was a difficult claim to verify, but it gave him evident comfort. A lead prosecutor on the case identified the man by name as a suspect who has never been located. (Syengo confirmed Bruce’s version of events.)

“If you call my old coaches and ask, ‘Why did Bruce fail at track and field?’ they’d say it’s because he got too scared to run,” Bruce said. “But as far as this is concerned, I wasn’t. I didn’t shut down.”

Judith, who’d sat silently until now, finally spoke up. She volunteered that if Bruce had known what was happening, he’d have likely taken matters into his own hands even sooner, and just as fatally. Her son’s actions were not merely self-defense. “Well, you didn’t expect them to carry through when they shouted at you,” she said. “If you had, you probably would’ve struck first.” It was clear she wasn’t hearing this for the first time.

Bruce paused to think. “When people say revenge doesn’t feel better, well, it definitely makes you feel better,” he said. “It was pretty bloody satisfying, actually.”

The following morning I returned to the house, and Bruce retrieved a few loose tsavorites from his father’s vault, to show them off when the light was best. The largest was just shy of three carats, “medium-dark,” in an emerald cut. In the glare of their backyard, the broad planes of color were so primary and saturated that the stones resembled something manufactured, like candy or toys. “This is what brought my father to East Africa and what’s kept us here,” Bruce said proudly. Yet even he was aware that for his family to continue, the fight to remain in Kenya would mean signing on for a life of conflict.

“What my father would have preferred for us, and for tsavorite, is not necessarily a legacy this country is interested in,” he added. “I don’t want to be the one who says after three generations in Africa, ‘OK, my family is no longer African.’ It’s a part of you. It’s what we do. But if I were a smart businessman, I’d just get out. They’ll get us eventually.”

He slipped the stones into his pocket and walked back inside, up the stairs to the vault off his father’s study, to restore them to their proper place.

Eric Konigsberg is the author of Blood Relation.