Jess just appeared. She lives in Nairobi, bought a home in Charleston, and one day, out of the blue, came to visit. Turns out, sitting on our rooftop with coffee in hand, I learn that Jess is working with artisans in Kenya and Ethiopia and when we wondered aloud if she knew of women who could bead a sandal, she quickly linked us to the Maridadi Handcrafts women in Malinda, Kenya, so that now we're dancing in some fancy beaded toe numbers with a lot of hand-love in every stitch.
Women in Africa don't weave. Not historically, anyway. Men weave. Women spin, dye, build baskets, and . . . bead. So, when I went about finding artisans in Africa, I was immediately drawn to the robust tradition of beaded jewelry. African elegance.
The women of South Sudan beaded sunny saucer earrings for Ali's new collection, bright as the day and as fun as it gets. The Masai women of Sidai beaded us leather wrap bracelets like Ali has worn for years and wide, widely wildly popular cuffs. And a beaded clutch? Ali's favorite black and white and yes, daredevil red from the Masai of Antassia. Perfection.
The language around beading comes from the word for prayer, bede, because prayer beads count one's inner thoughts - as in a rosary. I like to think these women across Africa are counting their highest thoughts with each stitch, each knot, each bead . . . their heritage and their hope.
And when I wear the sandals of Malinda, as I will in black and in white, I, too, say a prayer of thanks that I can walk this earth in such hand-shaped beauty, and with these women by my side.
All the Best,
Susan Hull Walker