Tiala, loving nothing more than to cook, prepares a dinner for me of Naga-spiced chicken and vegetables. I frankly find black pepper a little overwhelming, so when I turn fiery red and sputter and cough and start gulping wine, she kindly washes off my dinner under the faucet with all of her precious spices and hard work going down the drain, muttering about wimpy white people who can’t stomach anything interesting. She’s right, of course. But would I ever refuse an invitation to Tiala’s table? Oh no. Because in every bite is not only some major heat, but the taste of love.
After dinner, I show Tiala a circle shell I found, once a form of currency in Papua New Guinea, and ask if she can make it into a necklace wrapped in crimson Naga beads. I take off my silver and black choker and wonder if it might be crafted with wooden beads. We discuss tassels, cuffs, clutches, all manner of ornament and she does not even think of saying No. The answer is yes, of course, and with enthusiasm. Tiala goes to the end and beyond for Ibu. And each piece is made, like her dinner, spiked with love.
A month later, Tiala heads back to India, putting our dinner conversation to work with artisans from Delhi to Dimapur. Growing up in Nagaland, a far far Eastern state of India bordering Myanmar, Tiala knew a privileged life as the daughter of a respected tribal elder of the Ao people. When she left home for school in Darjeeling, she met Harry, an American in Delhi, and stole his heart with her sass and brass; they've spent the last 44 years going back and forth between Philly and family in India, making jewelry for the trade and amassing a significant collection of Naga textiles and fine old beaded jewelry.
Tiala emails excitedly to say she has found a treasure trove of old bone bangles in the best quality she’s seen in years. Would we like to offer them in our Market Finds? She finds women in Nagaland who are eager to make Charlotte Moss's designs into beaded necklaces, earrings, tassels; to weave clutches and ruannas for you. Tiala spends months at a time in India working to provide Ibu with treasures . . . because she wants to. She wants to be muscle in the movement.
Our whole team loves Tiala and her rather fab husband, Harry, also on the Ibu bus. We love her skill, her perfectionism, her passion for the Ibu mission, her personal connection with the women of Nagaland who have almost lost their weaving skills but for her and Ibu. We love the saucey taste of love in everything she cooks up. Cough Cough. Gulp. This is one spicy woman we couldn't live without.
All the best,
Susan Hull Walker