Saturday, December 15, 2012

United Arab Emirates Part VII - Henna'd

There were a number of things that I wanted to do that we didn't get to on this trip (dune bashing, jet skiing, horseback riding, skiing in the mall....) but I did manage to squeeze in a Ladies' Spa Day to get henna with some lady friends from Baltimore who are now also expats in Abu Dhabi. 

Henna is a common offering in spas in the UAE, but we did make an appointment because there were three of us. The appointment was for 9am so, naturally, when we showed up promptly at 8:50 we were told that the henna'ist (henna technician?) only worked noon - five. 

This is something you'll have to anticipate and get used to. Americans, myself included, are sticklers for punctuality. Perhaps it's the German ancestry so many of us share. The rest of the world? Not so much. We learned in Jordan last year that making an appointment or a reservation for something at 5pm actually means anywhere from 3:15 to 7:30pm. Time is not a universal understanding, and in the Middle East, times are always punctuated with In'Shallah ("God willing.") The Lebanese/Canadian tells me that this is also a polite way of being noncommittal.  "Are you coming to the meeting this afternoon?" "In'Shallah." ("Maybe. If I can. Or if I feel like it.")

So, it was not surprising that we arrived on time only to find out that we couldn't get henna'd until noon o'clock. Rather than wait, we decided to go on a journey in the area to find any other spas that might be open and offering henna to three American ladies. 

We got about a block and a half away when one of the ladies from the salon came and chased us down. The henna'ist had arrived (at nine fifteen), specially for us. Gratefully, we all trooped back to the spa.

Spas are for women only, and the windows and doors are protected with screens because, in the spa, Muslim women freely remove their abaya and let their hair be exposed. This is permitted as long as there are no men around. 

Note - I made a complete gaffe when we went paintballing and wakeboarding (more on that later), and I opened the door to the women's locker room to see a Muslim woman standing by the sinks in the process of pinning her hair up to wrap her abaya around it. There happened to be a group of men walking down the hallway right at that moment, and she was positioned close enough to the door that she was exposed as they walked by. She gasped and gave me a terrible look, and I awkwardly shut the door and felt like a cultural lummox. Oops.

The henna was only about $20 per person, and I also got the best manicure I've ever gotten for $7. I mean, seriously. I just asked them to throw on some clear nail polish (because when your hands are henna'd, you don't want Boots No. 7 mauve on your nails to distract), and instead I got a full manicure for a steal. I tipped heavily because I felt guilty.

Henna is a thick, muddy paste that's rolled up in frosting tubes and applied in designs. They have books of designs to choose from (like a tattoo parlor) or, you can do what we did, and look up pictures on your iPhone and show them to the henna'ist. She drew all of this freehand, just looking at photos we'd brought to show her. There are different types of designs too, the Indian styles which are much more intricate and floral; and the Arabic styles, which tend to be more geometric and paisley-like.

I chose an Arabic-style of henna with geometric vines and an almost calligraphic floral pattern.

After being applied, you have to sit very, very still. For - like ten hours. Or probably 45 minutes, but it felt like ten hours.

Also, it gets very itchy as it dries, and it tightens your skin. 

My friend having henna crust scraped off of her.

Once it's dry, the mud-like crust is scraped off with a tissue that has some oil on it to help moisturize the skin. At first, the henna is bright orange.

Like, BRIGHT orange. But, as the day goes on, it gets darker.

Strangely, my fingers remained darker than the rest of the design but were the first to fade. Probably because that's the part of your hands that you wash the most. I waited until the next day to take a shower after getting henna'd and was careful not to exfoliate my hands or arm. The ink remained clearly visible for about ten days, but as soon as it really started to fade, it was gone within a couple of days. The very last traces of henna were the ones on my arms.

In Heathrow on the way home, some guys asked me if I'd been in a wedding and I said no, just on vacation in the Middle East. They laughingly told me a story about some friends of theirs that had knocked off work by pretending to be sick to go to a wedding in India, gotten drunk and gotten henna'd and then had to wear gloves for the next two weeks so their boss wouldn't know they'd lied. Ha. No, but seriously. If you really want henna, be ready to commit to having it for at least two weeks.

I can't remember the name of the spa that we went to, but Time Out Abu Dhabi recommends Al Lulu Beauty Centre, 1st Floor, Al Qassimi Building, Tourist Club Area. 

Just make sure you make an appointment. And be patiently flexible about the timing.


No comments: