Thursday, January 14, 2016


Poor Mr. Austin had caught a bad cold the moment we arrived in Sudan. and by this point I think it was probably a full-blown sinus infection. Fortunately, three of the Five Musketeers (Areej's three brothers, and two cousins, Omar and Ahmed) are physicians, and they kept him well-medicated. What he really needed though, was some rest. Hubby too! So, the morning after the Big Henna Hooplah, I let them sleep half the day away, while I caught up on my journaling. I finally roused them around 2:00, and we headed downstairs for another of our hotel's sumptuous buffets. Afterwards, the driver picked us up and took us back to Habooba's house for the real henna party. I found an interesting article about Sudanese wedding traditions, including a bit about the henna customs, here.

Actually, they had already been working on the bride's henna, as well as other female family members, for quite some time when we arrived. It can be a very lengthy and exhausting process. In fact, the poor henna artist was actually taking a little nap when we arrived! Most Sudanese women now use a black dye instead of natural henna, since it shows up better and dries quicker. However Areej, being a chemist herself, is very, very cautious about what she puts on her skin and hair, and did not want to use the chemical dye. Can't say that I blame her. The henna artist had already applied one layer of henna on her arms, hands, legs and feet before we arrived, and was now going over it all with a second layer, to darken it from rusty red to a blackish red, hopefully. Most of her female relatives were shaking their heads in disapproval.

The poor bride has to be a contortionist for this! Doing the hands and arms is no problem. Just don't sneeze or scratch your nose. The front of the legs is fairly easy too, because you can sit up comfortably for all those parts. However, when it's time to do the bottom of the feet and the backs of the legs, you have to find a position that not only gives the artist easy access, but also prevents you from smearing any of the other parts, which are still drying. Believe me, it ain't easy!

Meanwhile, in the room next door, we had not one, but two, grooms getting their henna tattoos -- Austin, and cousin Omar, whose wedding would be the week after theirs. While the women's tattoos are painted on with something akin to a pastry bag, in very artistic patterns, the groom's henna is very different. It is mixed to an almost clay-like consistency, which is then molded and shaped across their palms and around their fingers. For both the bride and the groom, there are some strong smelling oils involved, which seemed to irritate the men much more than the women, causing some tears and sinus issues.
Habooba assists with Omar's oil application.
Speaking of sinus issues, the grooms' clay-like henna takes a couple of hours to dry and harden, and they aren't supposed to move their fingers at all during that time or everything will crack. As soon as they told us that, I said "Oh my gosh, Austin! What are you going to do if you need to sneeze or blow your nose?" He looked a wee bit horrified at the thought. Sure enough, a short time after I went back to the other room to have my own henna applied, I heard a humongous sneeze. Thankfully, it was Omar, not Austin! I later heard that he just stood up, aimed it for the empty floor space in the middle of the room, then one of the women cleaned it up without blinking an eye. Oh yeah, did I mention that the aunts and female friends were all there to sing and drum and ululate in support, throughout the process? All in all, it was quite the adventure, and my beautifully delicate wrist cuff design lasted through our week in Barcelona as well!

Curing Our Henna


P.S. Next day I noticed that Areej's henna designs were now tar black, even though when I left the night before they were still quite red. When I asked her about them, she said Habooba came in to give final approval, pronounced the henna color "Ugly", and that was that. The black dye went on!

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