Posted by: adventuressetravels | December 30, 2011

Henna: Art in the Palm of Your Hands

From the outside it looked like chaos. Women in long robes danced as their comrades rounded their mouths in perfect Os and warbled in their wild Bedouin joyful cry.  Musicians beat animal-skin drums and sang in their wild ululating cries.

I sat on one of the pillow-covered benches to the side of the festivities, entranced.

Before long a petite slip of a girl, her corkscrew hair pulled in a severe bun sat down next to me.   When she turned to me I cowered in shame.  At any time my French leave

s something to be desired.  When I flew to Morocco I felt the building excitement of going to a new country, but doubts tickled at the back of my mind.  By the time we had landed the apprehensions had coalesced into a tangible fear – I hadn’t taken or practiced French since University, years earlier.

Hajamina, my “Moroccan Mom,” who had taken me to the wedding couldn’t speak any English, but she was patient with my dreadful Fren

ch.  More than that we had spoken in the quiet of her home, not surrounded by drums, wild ululations, and noise of a wedding.

To my surprise and delight, not only did the girl speak English fluently, but she embraced the opportunity to practice it.  I laughed when she told me her name was Salima, which is apparently a common name in Muslim countries.

So Sally and Salima sat and talked.   A few minutes later a sweet-faced middle-aged woman came over and introduced herself as Salima’s mother.  When I marveled at the intricate designs on her hands, she

told me that it was henna, and that there was a woman here at the wedding who would gladly decorate my hands.

We looked around but the woman had already gone home.  I was disappointed, but the spirit of the wedding carried me away and I forgot about the henna.

Later that evening, after hearing that I loved the henna, Hajamina told me that a woman who did henna designs would come to her home in a few days.  This was better because I would see the whole design process.

True to her word, on Saturday a short plump woman, her hair tightly covered by a thick black head scarf ca

me to the apartment.  She went directly to the kitchen to prepare the henna paste, heating herbs over the stove with a little water.

When the thick sepia-colored paste was prepared she brought it to the living room and sat in front of me.  I watched, fascinated as she picked up a little syringe and stuck the needle into a spoonful of the paste and sucked the mixture into the plastic body of the syringe.  With a deft movement she took my hand.

The paste felt strange as it went on my hands with light touches, the needle point never touching my skin.  I watched entranced as leaves, flowers, and flourishes appeared on my hands as she free-handed an intricate pattern.  The woman gazed intently as she worked, confident in her art.

When palms and backs of both hands were covered, and the woman finished, Hajamina brought a blow-dryer to dry the wet henna more quickly.  The hot air blew over my hands front and back, front and back for five minutes.  Was it done yet, I wondered?

Not even close.

The henna artist painted over the drying henna with a clear fluid.  It would set the dye better, Hajamina explained.

Then back to the blow dryer for a while.  But I had plans in the evening, how long until I could wash the paste off?

I should leave it on as long as possible for as much of the dye as possible to seep into my skin.  If I could I should sleep with it on.  When the paste was completely dry it would flake off by itself.  To make the color last even longer I should spray my hands with perfume.

I didn’t have any perfume, but even so the color stayed tenaciously through camel trekking in the Sahara, trips to hamams, or bath houses, and all sorts of other adventures.  The beautiful artwork on my hands lasted more than three weeks before the colors faded away.


  1. These are all such beautiful henna designs! Your floral henna is particularly entrancing. Amazing artistry.

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