Henna… chemical celebration!

A good Sudanese wife will do this regularly. Her hands will always be decorated. From the day she weds til the day when she cares no more about being married, she will have henna drawings on her hands. There are other culturally unique obligations that a married Sudanese woman has, but I’ll save those for a more private venue.

What you see above is called the “working woman’s henna”, which means that it’s not actually henna. It’s actually a dye which does much the same thing as henna, but darker and faster. Because it’s chemically manufactured, anyone with sensitive skin and allergies is advised against using it. Sounds great, doesn’t it?

Well, I only did it once so it can’t have done too much damage, although my hands did itch a bit. I did it because my goddaughter was getting baptised and I wanted to do something to celebrate her special day with her. In many parts of the world, henna is used to celebrate something special. The last time I did henna on my hands was at a wedding, for example.

A friend asked me if I might not scare the little baby away with black markings all over my hands. That was a fair question… but I decided to try anyway. And I was thrilled to discover that not only did it not scare her, but it actually fascinated her. The little five-month old had a blast trying to study my fingers and figure out if the black stuff was edible. (Don’t worry, those oh-so-dangerous chemicals had long crusted and been washed off, and only the colour remained!)

This was my first time doing Sudanese-style henna. I feel like I’m writing this blog in the mood of the girls who decorated my hands for me: brusquely. I arrived at the beauty salon and knocked several times before they answered. Apparently they’d been napping. The first girl got about the business of mixing the chemicals in another room and her sister puttered around ignoring me. As soon as she’d finished drawing the designs on my hand (she’d wanted to make my fingers much darker but I insisted that this was plenty dark!), she and her sister dug into dinner.

This may be the working woman’s henna, but it still took over an hour to dry in the Sudanese desert heat! I was well ready to have my hands in use back by then!


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