The Pearls of Our Lives

“My mother loved pearls.”

“During my college vacations, I returned home to Ramallah.  We sat together at her dining room table, stringing pearls and talking about my life in the US,” said Lina, Juman Pearls’ designer, to the gathered women.

We were at the Anamil 296 Gallery to hear women artists describe where they found their inspiration.

“I got married and moved to Saudi Arabia.  My finance studies were, how shall I put it? Not wasted, but I did not get the opportunities I wanted.  After a tearful visit, my mother sent me home with a bag of pearls.  She said pearls saved her life after my father died, perhaps they could help me.”

Pearl by pearl, Lina sorted through her bag to design pieces inspired by the particular pearl’s luster.  Working with eastern-province goldsmiths, she created jewelry she imagined elegant women, like her mother, Wedad, would wear.  With each sale, her confidence grew.

Together the mother and daughter traveled to Hong Kong to bargain for cultured-pearls, diamonds and other gems.  Wedad loved stringing pearls, while Lina loved designing.  Their “pearling business” grew and before they knew it, they needed an official name.  They named their company Juman Pearls, after Lina’s only daughter.

Since antiquity, legends say within each pearl was life – everlasting life.

Gilgamesh, British royalty and Jacque Cartier found their way to Bahrain, the land of two seas where the tiny, high-quality, juman, pearls were found.

Bahraini Pearls at Qal at al-Bahrain UNESCO World Heritage Site

“The pearls round Arabia on the Persian Gulf…are specially praised,” wrote the Roman, Pliny the Elder.

By the 1930s, pearl buyers flocked to Japan for Mikimoto’s less expensive, cultured pearls, and the Bahrain pearl divers lost their livelihood. Today 95% of cultured pearls come from China.  Rumor has it, the Japanese have returned to the island in search of Bahrain’s now-elusive, natural pearls.

Like other pearl merchants, Lina eventually made her way to Bahrain.  And as life happens on the island, one day, while she drafted designs, she discovered she sat side-by-side with Bahrain’s preeminent, pearl trader, Mahmood Pearls.

“Your designs are wonderful,” she was told.  “Could you create a line for us featuring Bahraini pearls?”

Lina was thrilled to be invited to build a collection around such legends.

She confided to our group that day, “I never knew how expensive Bahraini pearls were.  And now, after so many oyster beds have been reclaimed, few pearls are big enough to make into necklaces.  A single-strand, pearl necklace is about $40,000.”

No wonder the pearl trader only gave his wife one.

“On a gold chain around her neck, she wore a round white pearl, a gift from his father; it shone like the moon in the night sky.” from The Little Pearl Merchant.

Mahmood Pearls will be debuting Lina’s designs at Jewelry Arabia.  Perhaps you will find your own moon, wrapped in gold, to hang from your neck.


Since the 1990s, Juman Pearls has found favor with Saudi Arabia’s high-end buyers who seek unique pieces that are not mass-marketed.  Lina also designs for expatriates who are tired of the traditional, 22K gold bangles and want more up-scale treasures.

For the first time, Juman Pearl’s designs will be for sale in Bahrain.  In conjunction with Mahmood Pearls, one of the oldest jewelry companies in Bahrain, Lina created the Arabesque collection with Bahraini pearls set in gold.

Juman Pearl’s showroom is at Desert Designs in Al Khobar, Saudi Arabia.  The entire Arabesque Collection, featuring cultured pearls set in gold, is on display at the showroom.  The website is


The biggest jewelry show in the Middle East starts November 19th at the Bahrain Exhibition Center.  Look for Al-Mahmood Pearls.


Out of It – A Novel

Out of It by Selma Dabbagh

In 1973, Mahmoud Darwish wrote,

“Gaza has not mastered the orator’s art. Gaza does not have a throat. The pores of her skin speak in sweat, blood and fire.”  – Journal of an Ordinary Grief

In its review of the novel Out of It, the Egyptian Independent said author Selma Dabbagh’s “portrayal of Gaza is, in some ways, not so different from the gaping wound Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish presents.”

The wound still hasn’t healed.  In fact it has turned septic and widened as now five generations sit within its weeping gap.  But 30 years later, Gaza has found an orator.

British-Palestinian, Dabbagh is like one of the “PLO Brats” she created;  the English-speaking, Diaspora who carry Holy Land DNA in their blood.  The granddaughter of a politically active Palestinian, Dabbagh grew up outside Gaza where her story takes place; yet she carries the memories of place and of the wounds her father sustained in a 1948 Jaffa attack.  Dabbagh’s intelligent, urbane characters promise to give readers an alternative view of the Palestinian OTHER.

I haven’t gotten a copy of the book – yet.  But I am excited to see my friend, fellow bookclub member and former Bahrain resident return to the island to talk about her debut novel.

It wasn’t so long ago when conversations about our toddlers were interspersed with her laments about the difficulty of finding the creative space to finish her book.  But her acclaimed talent and perseverance prevailed against potty-training and garden birthday parties with bouncy castles.

In the land of unexpected coincidences, Selma, featured on the cover of this week’s GulfWeekly, tells of her Bahraini good luck when we met Egyptian novelist Ahdaf Soueif  at a Shaikh Ebrahim Center lecture in 2008.  In 2011, the stars finally aligned and international publisher Bloomsbury UK took on Out of It.

Selma Dabbagh was at the 2012 Dubai Literary Festival.  It was a great opportunity to meet this engaged, articulate and passionate Palestinian.

The US version will be published in August 2012 and an Arabic translation is expected in December 2012.  The WORDS bookstore and cafe has her book in stock.

To get to WORDS take the exit at the Burgerland roundabout towards Budaiya.  WORDS is located in the Palms Square shopping center located between the third roundabout and the fourth roundabout (Al Osra) on the Budaiya Highway. Phone number is 17 690 790.

One Day I Will Become a Thought

Poppies on mountain outside Bethlehem

One day I will become what I want

One day I will become a thought

that no sword or book can dispatch to the wasteland

A thought equal to rain on the mountain split open by a blade of grass

where power will not triumph

and justice is not fugitive.

– pg 10 from Murals by Mahmoud Darwish


Tales by Chapter

%d bloggers like this: