Zebala Stories and Tips

Henna for feet

The process Photo, Zebala, Mali

In Bamako I had seen people have their feet henna'd for celebrations such as weddings, Tabaski and big fetes, but I had never had it done myself. I was staying in the rural village of Zebala and one day I talked to my American host, Lucia, and mentioned this. She said that she'd always wanted it done too. So we arranged with the daughters of some Zebalan friends of hers to prepare our feet for the coming Christmas fete. What an experience!

The two young girls arrived at about 8 am with lots of old cloths and plastic bags. We had no idea what we were in for! We sat in state in the mosquito netting covered veranda of my friend’s house. The girls discussed with us what patterns we would like on our feet. The discussion was in Minianyka and French and got quite complicated. The girls started cutting strips of white first aid plaster. With these strips they made complicated designs on the sides of our feet and the top of our feet, leaving the soles blank. Once they were happy with their designs they mixed a paste of henna powder bought from the local shop with water. This made a khaki green 'mess'. This paste was then applied to our feet. Our feet were wrapped in plastic bags and bound up in rags. Then they left! We were told they would be back in the evening. The paste on our feet, together with the plastic bag made walking very difficult, so we just sat. We had decided that this was going to be like a 'spa' day, a day for refreshment and renewal. So we had brought puzzle books, and other reading matter out to the porch with us.

Later on two little girls of about 8 years arrived and asked if they could 'do our hair'. This involved washing our hair and then drying it…and for Lucia who has long hair…plaiting it. This was great fun and there were a lot of giggles. It was getting very hot and one of the girls ran off and arrived back with a huge palm leaf that she used to fan us with. We felt like royalty. Eventually the two big girls arrived back to check if the Henna had 'taken' by unwrapping our feet and scraping a little off. It had. So, they then they scraped all the paste off our feet. To our amazement the skin where the paste had been was orange. They then made up another paste with a powder they had bought in the shop and water. I don't know what the powder was. They warned us that this new paste would tingle a bit but that it wouldn't be for long. They applied the new paste to our feet and wrapped them up again. After about an hour they unwrapped our feet, scraped the paste off and then took the first aid plaster strips off. Our feet were BLACK! We had intricate patterns along the sides of our feet and a design on top. The soles of our feet were completely black, as were my toenails. The girls admired their work and then ran off home to get ready for bed as it was already dark. Lucia and I walked over to her friends compound to show them their daughters' handiwork and our feet were admired by everyone by the light of an oil lamp.

The black feet lasted for a long time. We had to be careful not to use soap on our feet so that it lasted longer. The black toenails lasted a lot longer! Next time I will get them to cover my toenails with plaster.

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