I grew up in the large village/small town of Daloa in Côte d’Ivoire. Not exactly a megacity, although there were a few two-story buildings, and located right smack-dab in the middle of the country itself. So it’s a bit surprising that there was such a mix of nationalities and ethnicities. I say ‘a mix’ because to say ‘a blend’ implies seamless homogeneity.

Within Côte d’Ivoire there were more than 60 distinct ethnic groups. In addition, most laborers and domestic workers came from nearby countries like Mali and Burkina Faso. The corner boutiques were run by Mauritanian men in long flowing robes. My school was (ahem) a mix of French, Lebanese and Ivorian students.

Among all these, the nomadic Fulani women always stood out to me.I would see them at the market, often wearing deep blue indigo and adorned in gold jewelry. Traditionally (which when speaking of the Fulani can mean for several centuries) a family’s wealth was stored in the form of hammered gold jewelry worn by the women at all times. It could be traded if needed, given as a dowry or passed down as an inheritance. Money that moved with you, literally.

As most little girls are, I was fascinated by the jewelry and all things sparkly. In particular, I loved the twisted flat earrings that dangled from the Fulani women’s ears. For some, the twists were just a small flash of gold from under their braids, but some ears were pulled and taught from the weight of their wealth.

Bass at his workshop. Photo by Wendy Spivey.

Last spring I went to My African Heart JewelryMy African Heart Jewelry to pick up a gift for (yet another) friend leaving Dakar. We’ve lived here seven years and so while we are not nomadic in the slightest, it seems as if everyone around us is.

As I waited while Bass finished the last polishes on the gift, I wandered over to a display case. I saw a pair of the beautiful gold earrings I had admired on Fulani women for years and smiled. But then I saw the perfect pair for me.

They were the same twisted, hammered shape – but in silver. I had never seen them in silver before. My entire life I have felt like I’m not quite the same as everyone around me. In America, I feel African. In Africa, I feel American. And in France… well I just felt wrong all the time. 🙂

These silver earrings express me, my African heart, in a way that I never would have thought a piece of metal could. I don’t know who Bass had in mind when he made them, but they are forever for me.