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October 1, 2008 3id Henna

I've gotten henna three times now. Once when I was leaving my training village at the end of PST, once when I was going to a friend's wedding, and once for the 3id. The first two times, I got what my host mother calls "zuaq". She uses the word to mean something like "design" or "decoration", even though my (sometimes inaccurate) Tamazight-English dictionary says "zuaq" means "multi-colored".

But as Ama explained repeatedly, she doesn't know how to do zuaq with henna. So I got the full-palm henna that is sometimes called "married woman's henna". It's not actually only for married women - obviously - but it's sometimes called that because young women tend to prefer the decorative henna to the more utilitarian full-palm henna. It's considered utilitarian because henna is a traditional aid to prevent the formation of blisters when working extensively with your hands. :)

So on the night before the 3id, Ama coated the palms of my hands with a thick layer of henna-mud. It was at least half a centimeter thick. She then had me hold my hands over a burner for a few minutes to dry the mud. I tried to keep my hands flat, but the slight curling of my fingers and subsequently re-straightening of them led to the creation of fine cracks through the mud. (Quick shoutout to the geologists in the crowd: mudcracks can form in only a few millimeters of mud! They also exist several kilometers across, in mud on Mars, but apparently the same principles apply at *all* scales!)

Ama then bound my hands in cloth and then wrapped them in plastic bags, which she knotted around my wrists.

I went off to bed; when I awoke, she untied the plastic and unwrapped the cloth, then helped me scrape off the cracked mud. The pattern of mudcracks was dyed into the skin, making me look a bit like a giraffe, with dark polygonal patches separated by pale lines. (Another PCV said I looked like I had dinosaur skin hands.)

A more charitable view is that my hands look like a mosaic, or a stained-glass window. Regardless, they're eye-catching. :)

Most of the women I visited with on the 3id also had henna'd hands. The exceptions were the close friends of our neighbor Rebha, whose mother passed away a few days ago. Apparently, it would be Hshuma for them to decorate themselves while their dear friend grieves for her mother.

Most of the men and boys in town have a small patch of henna on their right palm. It looks a bit like stigmata, but surely not deliberately. :)

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