Last week, a friend of mine suggested a few of us girls should go and get henna tattoos. She had been to a henna salon here in the city and recommended it. I was really excited because not only did this sound like an awesome cultural experience but I also would be able to leave the house without a stroller, diaper bag, and my two lovely childrenJ.
I got a ride from a friend to the henna salon. It took us a little while to find the salon, as it was behind a huge building, in a small shopping area that was tucked away in a little parking lot. We were meeting a few other friends at the salon but since we were already late we decided they must be inside waiting for us. We stepped inside the small shop and there was a partition in the doorway blocking it from the rest of the room. As soon as we stepped past the partition and into the room there was suddenly complete silence. Everyone in the salon stopped what they were doing and turned to stare at the only fair skinned women in the room, my friend and I! It was, in fact, so awkward that we both started slowly moving back behind the partition to rethink what we were doing.
The entire city here is very much a melting pot of people from many surrounding countries. There are actually lots of people from the UK and New Zealand, even America. In the mall, seeing people in thobes and abayas is normal but yet there are lots of people who look like and are dressed just like me. But, in the henna salon, the only women present were about 15 women in black abayas. The girls working in the salon, were mostly all Indian, and wore pink uniforms. It was just a little culture shock for a moment.
My friend said “well, we’re here, we might as well get started.” I sheepishly said, “ok”. Back out from the partition we went. I followed her right up to one of the girls working as she asked if we could get henna tattoos. They said, yes, have a seat. The room was full of red leather couches. There were rugs and a few mirrors as decoration on the wall. The floor and couches had lots of black bits and pieces scattered about. We had four girls working with us. I paid 60 riyals for the tattoos on my feet and my friend paid 100 riyals, as her tattoo was larger. The girls asked us what kind of tattoo we wanted and we just said, they could do as they like. It didn’t take long at all for them to draw a beautiful and quite intricate design on our feet. The henna was in a tube, like toothpaste, with a small tip. It was amazing how fast they worked and how detailed the designs were. They went to school in India to learn how to tattoo and then came here to work. Once they finished we had to sit very still and let it dry.
It stayed really quiet in the salon. My friend and I kept saying how we wished they had a little music playing while we waited. I am not sure if the women felt shy because we were present or if they just prefer to get their tattoos in awkward silence. When the henna dries it cracks and falls off or you can gently scrape it off. That is why I saw lots of black pieces of dried henna on the floor. The women in the salon had their robes pulled up on their arms and legs as several of them were getting the tattoos up both arms and up to their knees on both legs. I think if you wanted the tattoos in other places than your arms and legs you could go upstairs and be more private.
As our tattoos were drying the other friends that we were meeting finally showed up. They didn’t show any hesitation and came right into the salon, commenting on everyone’s tattoos. They even started taking pictures of some of the tattoos. I had brought my camera but felt entirely too weird snapping photos like a true tourist. Of course, as soon as I got brave enough and took a photo one of the girls working asked me not to take pictures of her face and wanted me to delete it. So that was the end of my photo session. Our friends ended up getting tattoos on the far side of the room behind a mirrored wall. They left soon after their tattoos started to dry. My friend and I stayed for two hours waiting for ours to dry. No wonder some of the other women had fallen asleep on the couches! We gave up waiting and asked if one of the girls could scrap off the henna for us. No one seemed very interested and so we decided to leave anyway. Mine did smudge a little on the side from my sandal but it isn’t too bad. All in all it was a really neat experience and after this one wears off (not sure how long that really takes) than maybe we can plan another girls night out at the henna salon!