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5/10/08 Henna

Fellow PCT J** told me earlier that watching me type is distracting. My hands are covered with brown-stained leaves, flowers, vines, fans, swirls, and zigzags, so the movement of my fingers is eye-catching. Apparently. :)

Sunday afternoon, B**’s host sister henna’d my hands. She spent the better part of two hours on it, and the patterns are gorgeous. Each part of the hand is independent – no two fingers are alike – but they still harmonize in fascinating ways. She was incredibly thorough, too. When she started, I’d thought she’d do a simple pattern in the middle of my palms, but she just kept going and going. Towards the end of each hand, she would turn it this way and that, looking for more open skin to decorate. When the side of a finger looks like an inviting palate, you know you’re being comprehensively coated. :)

I left the henna on overnight, and put my hands in mikka bags, but the bags weren’t tied, so they slid up on the backsides of my hands. This means that my palms are covered with a bright orange design, the backs of my fingers are dark brown, and the backs of my hands (the backsides of my palms, to be accurate, but I don’t think that’s a real expression) are light brown. My wrists are so pale that the patterns almost blend in with my freckles, which are more or less the same color.

In the morning, I removed the henna itself – which is a paste made from a plant – which had dried into black, crystalline lines across my skin. As I flaked it off, it looked exactly like chocolate jimmies. (Chocolate sprinkles to the non-yankees in the crowd.) They were really well stuck on, so I ended up spending the better part of an hour prying them off my hands. Once I had more than 80% removed, I went out and used water to try to get the rest off. (I’d been trying to avoid using water, because the water isn’t working well this week – a pipe burst in the kitchen, so they’re keeping it turned off most of the time.) It took another 20 minutes before the black was gone and my hands were just orange-brown.

As I type this, it’s been a few days, and it’s still dramatic and dark. It makes me happy. Henna usually lasts for 3-6 weeks, depending on lots of factors, like how often you wash your hands and how long you left the henna on. Since mine was overnight, and I used rubber gloves when I did laundry (since Tide can erase henna like nobody’s business), I expect it to last for quite a while. :)

Oh, and one other aspect of the henna experience – you’re helpless while it’s drying. Anything you touch with your hands can get dyed orange, so you don’t use them. Someone else had to tie my shoes. When my phone rang, a (female) friend had to pull it out of my pocket for me. I had to eat with a spoon (in a culture that virtually never uses utensils). As H** told me, "Brides have to accept that they can't do anything for themselves." Because brides, like departing friends, are always henna'd. :)

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Think local. Act global. Learn more about the Peace Corps