I have gotten henna, or "mehndi," three times so far. For those of you who are unfamiliar with henna, it is a dye applied to skin that typically lasts a couple weeks, and it can be either red or black. My first experience was a small hand-drawn black henna design on the back of my hand. I liked it, but I was ready for it to be gone once it started looking like my hand was just dirty. A few weeks ago, I got my first red henna, hand-drawn by a Pakistani girl, that covered my wrist and stretched all the way to the tip of my finger. My most recent experience involves my Yemeni language teacher ("S"), and it's worth sharing about.
S and I have a system during our lessons. She teaches me for about an hour, we take a break for tea and snacks, and then I help her with English for the rest of the time. Last week, our lesson basically went out the window when I commented on her fresh henna and she noticed the remnants of mine.
S got so excited to explain how she does her own henna. Instead of drawing the designs by hand, she has sheets of sticker stencils, which are from Yemen if I understood correctly. She proudly showed me the different stencil designs, and then I saw the idea click in her mind. She ran to grab a fresh tube of henna and offered for me to pick some designs from the sticker sheet. I didn't want to use her stencils because I was sure that she had a limited supply of them, but she insisted.
So I ended up with new henna on my finger and the back of my hand, adding to the leftover design that the Pakistani girl drew. Then S motioned to my foot and indicated that Yemeni women also apply henna to their feet. I was a bit unsure about that. How was that going to work, and how would it look? Again, she was so excited and kept insisting, so I went for it. She took one of the bigger stencil stickers and wrapped it around my heel and the sides of my foot.
I had to get back home for something that afternoon, and I was worried that the dye wouldn't dry fast enough. Normally when designs are hand-drawn, you have to let the thick globs of henna dry completely before peeling and washing it off, and that can take a while. The cool thing about these stencils is that you spread the dye in a much thinner layer over the sticker, so it doesn't take nearly as much time to dry.
Now to the part that surprised and humbled me. In addition to applying the designs for me with her own supplies, S gave me a new tube of henna and a full sheet of stencils to take home with me. Not only that, but she also washed my foot for me! Once the dye was dry, she led me into the bathroom, motioned for me to put my foot into the base of the shower, knelt down, rinsed my foot with cup-fulls of water, and scrubbed the excess henna with her hand. I was and still am blown away by the fact that this friend from a different faith was willing to kneel down and serve in such a kind and humble way.
I couldn't overlook the biblical imagery of this, either. I don't know yet what the Lord will teach me from that experience, but He has my attention.
*The picture above is the design the Pakistani girl drew for me - before it dried.