I have always had an ardent appreciation for artful henna. To me, henna is exotic, beautiful, and a fun way to express yourself not often found in American culture (consider it the distant and oft-forgotten cousin to the more popular permanent tattoo). In Morocco, on the other hand, henna is a must for brides and a popular way to commemorate special occasions. I have always wanted to have elaborate henna done on my hands and feet, so I, along with the rest of the TIME girls, was extremely excited when Alex and Lizzie’s host mom Amal invited us over for an afternoon of henna and refreshments.
On a drizzly Saturday afternoon, we all trooped over to their apartment for some henna fun. Amal’s sisters were there with their toddlers, who ran circles around the rooms of the house while we sipped tea, patiently waiting to have our hands and feet adorned with henna.
One of Amal’s sisters laid out her henna supplies in front of us on a tray – a roll of paper towel, cotton, syringes, and cups of liquid – and motioned for me to sit next to her on the couch, the first person of the group to get henna. The henna was in a plastic bag, and she filled her syringe with the brown paste and started on my feet. She worked quickly and deftly, artfully swirling thin lines of the paste on the top of my feet, around my ankles, and up my calves. After completing both feet, she moved on to my hands, applying henna to both the tops and the palms of each hand. We were all amazed at the beautiful designs she quickly created without making one mistake.
As our henna dried to a darker hue and crackled on our skin, Amal came over periodically with a glass of unknown liquid and dabbed it on the henna designs, rewetting the art to help with the darkening process. For our group, getting henna took the whole afternoon, but that didn’t bother us. Homestays often made it difficult for us to hang out on the weekends, but thanks to Amal we had an excuse to all be together and enjoy each others company. When we all had been painted like Moroccan brides, Amal bundled our hands in cotton and through French, broken English, and lots of pantomime, instructed us to keep the cotton on until the next morning and to wear socks to bed. Functioning the rest of the night proved challenging (How were we supposed to eat dinner with the cotton on our hands? we wondered) but this minor inconvenience was overshadowed when we awoke the next morning to beds full of henna crumbles and beautiful designs on our hands and feet.
We may now be in Egypt, but the memories of this special day have not left us – literally (the henna on our hands has long since worn off, but the designs on our feet are more stubborn). And as we progress through TIME, as the days before us dwindle just as quickly as they have come, we will always remember this girls-only afternoon of Moroccan hospitality, lots of tea, and the earthy smell of henna.