Making Malas on the Mississippi River

A traditional mala with 108 wooden beads + buddah bead + tassle
A traditional mala with 108 wooden beads + buddah bead + tassle

Okay okay. So what in the heck are malas and what do they have to do with the Mississippi River? First things first, malas are bead necklaces used in Hindu and Buddhist meditation or mantra chanting. I know about these things because of the month spent doing yoga on the Pacific coast of Mexico. So naturally, it makes sense that I’m stringing them up here, 4 blocks north of the Mississippi River in New Orleans, Louisiana. Right? Right…

So what happened was…

several months before the long hours I spent doing Triangle pose in the sweltering Mexico heat, Mike and I stumbled upon an organization in Guatemala City called Creamos that helps lift women out of extreme poverty by teaching them the craft of making paper beads from upcycled magazine paper, turning the beads into jewelry, and then selling what they’ve made. These women live literally right next to the trash dumps, where they normally go to collect metal that they can sell for scrap. Or they don’t even get to do that, because they’re at home trying to care for their children with no income. I’ve seen the dump. I’ve seen their homes. I’ve seen the vultures circling. As a result, I have learned a very strong appreciation for the overall safety and cleanliness of any space I have had the privilege to call my home. The path of these women is long, politically challenging, and sad. And in a nutshell, I love the results that Creamos has produced for these women and their children.

The ladies of Creamos (photo taken from
The ladies of Creamos
(photo taken from

Now back to the Mississippi… I had been playing with the idea of commissioning Creamos to use their skills to make malas, that I could then distribute in the US, providing both a sustainable, upcycled product for meditating yogis and exposure for the Creamos mission. And I decided it was finally time to make some prototypes. With the help of a friend here in New Orleans (who happens to make gorgeous, bayou-inspired, pearl jewelry — how do I meet these amazing people??), I bought some beads and started tinkering while listening to The Adventures of Tom Sawyer — just for a little Mississippi River inspiration. A few strands later, I had my ideas lined out and I placed a custom order with Creamos. I have three paper bead protoypes from Guatemala scheduled to arrive at my house some time in the next week.

A couple of malas I made with stone beads
A couple of malas I made here in New Orleans with stone beads while listening to The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

I’m super excited to see what these gifts from Guatemala will look like. In the mean time, my prototypes will taunt me with anticipation while I move on to listening to The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn a.k.a Tom Sawyer Part II.

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