How pearls gave me an education

“When our hearts are breaking, they’re also more open to love. When we’re worried about tomorrow, we’re also reminded that the only thing we can control is this present moment. When situations are so overwhelming that we feel pushed into a corner, we learn to rely upon faith in the Universe.” Aysha Ahmad

Just as pressure creates diamonds, and irritants create pearls, so too do upsetting situations bring us valuable opportunities for growth.

Every stressful situation you’ve experienced has made you the strong person you are today. Each stressful event is an opportunity to notice the patterns in your life and learn about the choices you’ve made. Your hurts are the irritants that turn you into a pearl.

Just as you’ll become a pearl―something beautiful that you can offer to others―the Ahmad family also offers pearls to the world. Whether coincidental or not, their life is very similar to the pearl process of creation. And the hurdles they cross will cultivate six pearls for the world through their children’s education.  

Maldivian Pearls
Maldivian Pearls; photo credit: Oliwia Papatanasis

How a Pearl Comes to Light

Last year I spent a month in the Maldives. One day during my visit, I decided to take a walk in the small village on the island on which I was living. I came upon a little open-air stand. Inside, a lady stood with a big bucket of oysters, and the next to it was a box with ropes of pearls. She began to explain the story of how a pearl develops. She conquered me with her style of speaking and her lovely eyes. Her name was Aysha and we quickly become friends.

She started her story by telling me that, at some time in the course of the oyster’s development, a foreign substance such as a grain of sand gets lodged into the little muscle and irritates the oyster. In response, the oyster covers that irritant with a secretion. The longer the irritation is there, the more the oyster coats it. Pearl oysters vary in size and can be quite rough and ugly. Yet what is happening inside is a combination of rainbows, moonlight, and bits of flame.

Once the oyster accepts the irritation as part of itself, the pearl begins to develop. The worst storms, gales, even hurricanes will not dislodge it. As time goes by and this oyster is finally pulled up from the bed where it has been for many years, it is opened to reveal a beautiful pearl.

We ended our conversation with my buying a rope of pearls. It was the first time in my life that I had the chance to see real, raw pink pearls.

Me and Aysha (with colorful clothes)
Me and Aysha (the one with colorful clothes); photo by me
Maldivian pearls
Maldivian pearls; photo credit: Oliwia Papatanasis

Later, in the quiet of my hotel, I meditated on the story of how a pearl forms and realized – it’s just like the story of our lives. Something comes into our spiritual lives; it comes because the Universe has chosen us to become something special for it. It is not natural to ourselves and so involves penance, prayer, sacrifice, and acts of love – things that are not always easy for our human natures to accomplish. The longer the substance is there, the more it can irritate. 

Sometimes we are asked to do things that we really don’t want to do. For example, maybe we have to take long trips, or persevere under very, very difficult circumstances. But we offer sacrifices so that finally, when we get to the end of our lives, we will be able to open up our little spiritual oyster and give the Universe our special pearl. The longer we stay committed and the more we do, the more beautiful will be the pearl that each one of us can give.

You too are working on your little pearl for the Universe. In this case, the pearl’s name is called life. The Universe has picked you to carry it. And the finished pearl of your life will be a unique gift to the Universe—one that no one else has.

There is no greater honor than that of being a part of the Universe’s art studio as he crafts his masterpiece. Whether it is a piece of art to be displayed here on earth or in heaven, it is sacred.

Raw Maldivian Pearls in Aysha's home
Raw Maldivian Pearls (at Aysha’s home); photos by me

Pearls, Children, and Education

Being there in the small shop, under the shadow of a tree in the heat of the island, I was having an intense moment of clarity; I knew that this story would not end with my departure as a simple customer who loved pearls. A lot of questions came to my mind that day and later in my room I had a strong feeling – I had to find out more. I didn’t knew what exactly I wanted to find out, but i knew that I had to hear her story.

I returned to the shop with some gifts and I asked Aysha to tell me more about her life.  

Aysha has six children, all fruits of her love to her husband. With pride in her voice and a tear in her eye she confessed:

“Yes, we are very poor, because here pearls cannot be sold and we don’t know how to sell them online or in a big market. We just sell to a few tourists that come on the island, but this doesn’t help us to have a decent life. We love to cultivate pearls, this is what we’ve done since we were kids. This is not an easy job and it doesn’t come to fruition quickly. We do hard work, we must have patience, we have to struggle for clients and tourists here, and we cannot sell at the real price of the value of a pearl. But I am happy and I know one day Allah will bring us better days.”

That was the moment when my mind started looking for solutions for how things can be improved for Aysha and her family. I’d had all my life a love affair with these small jewels, and now, the Universe had brought to me a story via my beloved pearls that I had to help to be written. 

three of Aysha's kids
Three of Aysha’s kids; photos by me

She was not asking for money, although the situation was close to desperate (in one small room, eight souls are living and creating some of the most exquisite jewelry in the world: what a paradox!). She was not even asking for help. She just shared her story with me and showed me her hard work. But I was meant to hear this story; there in the sunshine of the Maldives I made the commitment to help them to sell their life’s work. 

It was remarkable to me that under the same sky that oversaw the luxury of Maldives, there is also poverty at its highest level. These pearls―considered a luxury product and sold at amazing prices by those with technological and marketing savvy―cannot in this family support six children and their education. Yes, I know we always live a paradox, but we are not used to paying attention to it, the way I did that afternoon.

Aysha wants nothing more than to be able to sell her pearls at a decent price so she can invest in her children’s education. “As you know, in Maldives everything is expensive. I don’t want anything from anyone. I just want to have money to send my kids to school. That’s all. They have to get education because they need to have a better life than us. This is something that pushes me every morning to move on. My kids and a better life for them.”

That was the moment when I decided to turn this story into a project and created Maldivian Pearl Stories.

The Life of Pearls

It is said that health and longevity follow those who are adorned with pearls, as they symbolize unblemished perfection, modesty, and purity. The unparalleled beauty of nature’s lustrous pearl has aroused passion, desire, and fascination from all ends of the earth since before recorded history.

People once believed that pearls were directly connected with the moon and thus possessed magical powers. Pearls have been referenced throughout ancient mythology, folklore, and even biblical scriptures. Amazingly, the oldest-known gem that was worn as jewelry is a piece of pearl that dates back to around 520 B.C. This astoundingly ancient artifact was discovered in the sarcophagus of a Persian princess and put on display in the Louvre Museum in Paris. Cleopatra once crushed a pearl and dissolved it in a glass of Egyptian wine-vinegar, just to show Marc Anthony that she could have the most expensive meal in history.

The Romans considered pearls to be an absolute, quintessential symbol of status, and during ancient Roman times, the value of pearls was tremendously high. It’s even believed that a Roman general once funded an entire military campaign just through the sale of a pair of his mother’s pearl earrings. Another belief is that Caligula, in 41 A.D., famously made his horse a consul to his vast empire and adorned it with a lavish pearl necklace.

The Greeks held pearls in very high regard, as did the ancient Egyptians and Romans. The ancient Greeks used pearls for romantic customs and ceremonies, since pearls were regarded as symbols of love, devotion, and marriage. The Greek word for “pearl” means “unique”, further testament to the fact that no two pearls are alike.

Worn by brave knights heading off into battle as symbols of strength, spirit, and protection, pearls were seen as a magical icon throughout the Dark Ages. However, by the time of the Renaissance, pearls had evolved into a symbol of wealth and social status. Laws would soon be passed, declaring that only nobles could wear them in public, despite a surplus of pearls being imported and available.

Simultaneously, around the turn of the 20th century, natural pearls became more affordable and accessible in Europe, thus allowing people to more easily acquire pearls. Pearls were commonly given at that time as the “ultimate wedding gift”, due to the virtue and purity the pearls represented. In the Eastern world, pearls were being used in Hindu and Islamic marriage ceremonies as well; pearls were a representation of innocence and perfection for these cultures.

Pearls today are much more affordable and available than before, but there are still extravagant pearls being bought and sold today, demanding remarkably high prices. In 1917, a French jeweler by the name of Jacques Cartier famously bought his “Cartier” store on Fifth Avenue, New York, with just two incredibly exquisite pearl necklaces. Some 40 years later, one of these necklaces fetched $157,000 at an auction.

Today, pearl-lovers are spoiled with affordable prices and higher quality standards (compared to generations before). In fact, even the most modestly priced cultured pearl can rival the quality of an extravagant and expensive natural pearl. Because of this, pearls can now be worn and admired by all ages and nations.

Pearls are soft. On a scale of zero to ten, with zero being talc and ten being diamonds, pearls are a three. So the old adage is “last on, first off” – when you get dressed, you put on your clothes and make-up and then your pearls last, and take them off first when you get undressed. Pearls will collect perfume and perspiration – you can even collect DNA off of pearls. So you need to wipe them off regularly and they should be moistened a couple times a year with soap and water. They’ll wither if they’re left in a box or vault.   

The Maldivian Pearl Stories Initiative  

Pearls reflect light and they’re organic; the way they come out of the shell is pretty much the way any craftsperson or jeweler will display them. You can’t change the shape of them like you can gold, for example, which you can mold to whatever shape you want, or diamonds, which are cut and faceted. Pearls are as close to natural adornment as it gets. They have a natural luminescence—they literally light up your face when you wear them.

Like pearls, education never goes out of style. It is something that should be accessible to all children, no matter where in the world they are born and live their lives.

This story’s aim is to convert Aysha’s jewellery designs from objects that are simply beautiful to talismans with the power to transform lives, helping as many children as possible gain access to education.

Maldivian pearls
Maldivian pearls; photo credit: Oliwia Papatanasis
Maldivian pearls
Maldivian pearls; photo credit: Oliwia Papatanasis

Aysha’s pearls represent more than just jewellery. They are Pearls of Wisdom, and all proceeds from the sale of Aysha’s pearls are donated to her family through the Beauty & Mind education initiative. It’s part of Maldivian Pearl Stories’ vision―and a big part of my passion for pearls.​ And maybe later Maldivian Pearl Stories will offer women across the world ready-to-wear, high-quality pearl jewellery designed in the Maldives. Who knows!?

Through the Beauty & Mind educational initiative, Maldivian Pearl Stories is committed to empower six children with education and then hopefully to empower as many Maldivian women as possible.

So here is what I ask of you:

Maldivian Pearls
Maldivian Pearls; photo credit: Oliwia Papatanasis

These are only few of the reasons to have Aysha’s pearls on your neck. The price is far under market rate, because Aysha just wants to have enough to finance her work and to pay for her children’s education. The big business profit is not a factor here. She really wants to create value and happiness for her clients and her family.

So please purchase at least one rope of pearls and have a piece of Maldivian beauty for yourself. Aysha’s raw pearls come in ropes of 105 in pink.

Maldivian pearls
Maldivian pearls; photo credit: Oliwia Papatanasis 
Maldivian pearls
Maldivian pearls; Oliwia Papatanasis
Maldivian pearls
Maldivian pearls; Oliwia Papatanasis

Our life has heartache, setbacks, pain. But what does the oyster do? It turns its pain over and over, smoothing the edges and giving it a beautiful shine so that one day it can offer something beautiful to others. Aysha’s pearls do more than just offer their beauty to you; they will also grant education to six children. Is not that many times more beautiful?

That is what we should aim to do with our own and other’s hurts, with the grace and guidance of Universe. It definitely is not an easy process; it can be as agonizing at times as if salt water is touching wounded hearts. But in the end, it is worth it.

In some areas I see that pearl already, healing or giving a positive voice for education. In some other areas, we are still turning our own grain of sand over and over, waiting for the day that peace and beauty are there to offer to those going through something similar.

“Sometimes life is full of pain, but as a pearl, you will shine more brightly when you understand the process and the meaning behind your pain.” Andreea Bondoc

Tag Cloud:

children  / education  / Maldives  / pearls

By Andreea Bondoc

Serial Entrepreneur, Writer, Traveler

2 Comments

  • muhammad majid rasheed

    12 May 2017 / Reply

    Brilliant initiative and very well written. Those beauties are real magic

    • Andreea Bondoc

      12 May 2017 / Reply

      Thank you so much! yes they are magic, and the color is unique. The pink ones are not so often found

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