Twenty years ago, when I turned 18, the freedom that 'adulthood' afforded me seemed pretty thrilling. I wasn't desperate to go out drinking with friends, but I really did want to be able to vote and travel! And travel I did.
A few weeks after I finished my A-level exams, I took two or three trains, a ferry, a bus, and another ferry to get to Iona, a tiny island on the west coast of Scotland. I had visited many times in the past as a guest at the island centres run by the Iona Community, but what I always wanted to be was a volunteer. Volunteers, or 'vollies' as we were known, got free room and board on the island and a small allowance, in exchange for working in the centres.
I worked in the kitchen of the Abbey. During breaks, I would sit with friends in the cloisters. In the mornings and evenings we had short services with different themes, and many of the hymms we sung were from South Africa. The Iona Community has a strong peace and justice focus, and it was there as a teenager that I first learned about the massive humans rights abuses that had taken place under colonialism and apartheid. The hymms we sung often had themes of justice, including economic justice.
While I was there as a vollie, I felt a strong desire to write to Fergal Keane, and thank him for his book 'Bondage of Fear'. Reading it had been a further push for me to spend some time living in South Africa, and after my two months as a vollie were done on Iona, I flew to Cape Town and spent six months volunteering at a school for children who have disabilities in Lansdowne. I had written to him to thank him for that push, and he sent back a fairly standard 'thanks for your letter' letter. On the back of the envelope, though, he had felt inspired to hand-write the words "have a wonderful time in the Beloved Country".
Nine years later, my life looked a little different. Having completed my degree in Glasgow, Scotland, I'd moved back to South Africa at 23, and spent a few years volunteering and doing short contracts, trying to figure out my calling. Much to my surprise, it became apparent that my calling was to begin a small company making beadwork. Those words from Fergal Keane resurfaced in my mind, so that company was called Beloved Beadwork. A little while later, I began playing with a design of small cylindrical pieces of finely woven beadwork, connecting together. And the name for them, too, seemed obvious. I named those designs 'Iona', after the beautiful cylindrical columns that edged the cloisters in Iona Abbey.
I really love the subtly and restraint of our Iona Earrings. They are our most delicate earrings. If you choose to wear a pair yourself, I hope you'll enjoy them a little more, knowing the story of how they, and Beloved, came to have their name.