Thursday, January 23, 2014

The Goldsmith

If you've ever been to Bahrain, the odds are pretty good you've been to the Manama Souk.  The first time I went was in (gulp!) December 2002.  (Just a few months after the 9/11 attacks.)  The United States Navy has been in Bahrain since the late 1940's, but due to cultural differences and general common sense, I (read: any female) was not allowed to go anywhere without a "liberty buddy."  There is no way I ever would've found the souk without a liberty buddy, given the lovely, honest taxi cab drivers that Bahrain is so well known for... unless you can convince them you're a Brit, Aussie, or Canadian.  Good luck with that- the British presence in Bahrain predates the U.S., and they also see tons of Australians and Canadians in a multitude of capacities...  I guess you could just make friends with an expat or local and let them do the talking.
Manama changed a lot since that first visit.  There are lots of protests and demonstrations that gather in the area around the souk entrance in the evenings.  Since I prefer to shop alone and could easily go weeks without seeing the sun thanks to my workaholic working hours, I didn't make that many trips to the souk while I lived there.  I did enjoy my time in the souk though.  Love the noise and the bartering and wandering around slightly lost...  By the way, vendors can tell when you're lost.  But, I digress.

On my first trip to the souk, I bought gold jewelry.  Gold prices were low and I had money burning a hole in my pocket for the first time in my life.  I'd show you a picture of what I bought, but it was all stolen from my home in Hawaii, a few summers ago.  

This time, my search was not for finished jewelry, but for supplies.  There are some very beautiful stones in this part of the world, and you can still get some very good deals if you shop around a bit. 

Just some of the Yemeni agate I brought back!
A childhood visit to Yosemite sparked a lifelong interest in stones... and it goes hand in hand with making jewelry.  In all honesty, I don't wear a lot of jewelry.  If I had money when traveling, I'd buy jewelry that was either characteristic of the region, and that marked something special in my own life like a promotion or milestone birthday.  So now that my skill level is high enough to make my own jewelry, I decided to shop the souk for supplies.  A co-worker mentioned he found "a guy" in the Gold Souk with a lot of "really cool old coins and stuff with a couple of rocks like [I] was looking for."  So one day after work, we went.  Um.  The entire front display of the store was strands of beads and stones.  There was one small tray of interesting but not valuable coins.

There was an old man minding the store who offered me some tea, which I took.  (It's considered rude not to- I wish someone had told me that during my first trip!)  After chatting a bit, I asked him if he had any cabochons.  He showed me jewelry with cabochons.  I said I wanted to see plain cabochons so I could make jewelry.  He said, "Sure, I make for you."  I said, "Ok, you make for me one, but I want to practice too."  And then he lit up... "You make too?"  Out came the satchels of rocks.  I had to laugh.  If you're a crafter, you have a stash- the stash that stays in the box under the table or in the closet until you meet someone else with the same hobby... and that's when the stash comes out! 

As it turns out, the old man is a goldsmith... his family has been doing this for generations, and his work is displayed in the Royal Palace and the National Museum.  He also mills and rolls his own wire and sheet, which is just AMAZING.  So even though his English was not great and my Arabic is almost non-existent, we drank tea and looked through his collection for hours over the next several weeks.  I brought him a few of my beach glass pieces, and he was  thrilled because none of his daughters learned metal smithing.  Much of what we talked about needed pictures and demonstration due to the language barrier, but he was nice enough to help me solve some of my more difficult challenges in design.  

Near the end of my time, I picked out my favorite stone and asked him to make me a pendant.  He asked me what style, I told him pick what he thought was nice.  This is the finished product.  I typically wear VERY simple, small jewelry.  But I absolutely LOVE this piece.  The work is exquisite.  Well worth every dinar, and something I will always treasure.

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