This is a little story from several weeks ago, when I was still on that business trip back in October.
Sudan has some of the best henna in the world. Truly, it’s amazing. After a couple of hours, my brown-almost-black hair is magically transformed to red. It doesn’t stay that way – after a washing or two, it becomes brown-almost-black-with-a-reddish-tint – but I am convinced that the henna makes my hair healthier.
So when I was there, I had every intention of throwing some of the gunk into my hair. I try to do it once every six months or so.
Here’s the thing, though: you can’t find henna just anywhere. You have to go to a little run-down corner supermarket to find it. A big supermarket won’t do, neither will a hair salon – they will have specialised products but not just plain henna. You have to find the place where the locals shop. I tried to find it at a proper establishment and failed; the driver then insisted we go to one of those corner shops.
In the corner shop, I found a woman who had obviously just done henna in her hair. She was properly attired in Sudanese taub. But with the headcovering on a taub, the front of your hair inevitably juts out. It’s really tough to get it all hidden. So I could see the orange tints on her hairline. She’d just henna’d her hair. I think she was a customer not an employee.
And she was THRILLED to find a foreign girl in her local shop, looking for henna. She advised me on which brand to buy – this little shop had three to choose from (unlike the big store, which had none) – and she told me where to go to get henna pictures drawn on my hands. She asked if I use black tea or karkade (hibiscus) to mix my henna, and I told her I use karkade. She approved. She asked if I was sure I wanted red henna, not black henna. I told her I wanted henna like hers, and she was mighty pleased.
This gooey goodness is what I put into my hair. Just because, I’m going to share the ‘recipe’ with you:
– Buy two packs of henna: approx. 400 grm if you have lots of hair like me. Ideally buy the packs of henna from a little corner shop in Khartoum, but as long as it’s a greenish brownish powder that promises to make your hair red, you should be good.
– Cook up a pot of the strongest hibiscus tea you can possibly make. Ideally use fresh hibiscus leaves, but hibiscus tea bags will do, as long as you make it very, very strong. (If you can’t find hibiscus, black tea will do, but then your hair won’t be quite as red. I hold out for the hibiscus)
– Mix the powder with the tea until you make a watery-ish paste, kind of like that picture up above.
– Let it sit and stink up your house for about 8-10 hours. (Yes, it does stink up your house)
– Crack an egg into the paste and stir. This will make it nice and creamy.
– Apply to your hair just like you would any hair dye. (If you’ve never dyed your hair, I’m not sure how to explain this.)
– Wrap your head in saran wrap. No kidding. Plastic wrap. Nice and tight.
– Put a big scarf around that and carry a pile of tissues around with you so that if it starts oozing down your neck you can catch it.
– Wait 4-10 hours – as long as you can, really, without getting ill from the fumes or tired of holding all that weight on your head.
– Wash your hair. Wash your hair again. And again. And again and again and again. Eventually all the henna will come out. Your white towel will get orange streaks but those will wash out. Your head will be beautifully red and your hair gorgeously healthy. It’s worth it.