Pedro and I took a trip down to Rabat's medina for a wander yesterday— naturally we left the labyrinth of shops with things we had no intention of buying (a set of carved wooden frames and a carpet bag). I suggested we stop by the overpriced tea garden in the Oudaïa before heading back home— it's a pretty place that overlooks the water, shady and cool, with a fig tree in the centre. On the way up to the entrance of the Oudaïa, I was approached by several women in djellabas with syringes who offered to paint my hand with henna for a small fee. I declined as politely as I could, when suddenly a large woman in a pink floral djellaba materialized out of the shrubbery.
"Bonjour madame, une fleur pour vous parce-que vous êtes belle!"
You know when people smile at you but their eyes do not? I did not want this "gift", and tried to be nice about the whole thing but before I knew it, she had my arm in her iron grip and was scribbling all over the back of my hand. I tried to pull away, told her to stop, but it was futile. Once my hand was covered in a mess of lines, she let go, and with a grin, told me to pay up.
"Non! Je vous ai dit que je ne voulais pas!" I was stern, but she insisted that I only pay what I wanted to pay her, and added that she was working to support her many children. I handed her a five dirham coin, which for some reason prompted her to switch to English— no, the five was not enough. What did we have? Euros? She would take that, she could make change. I did not budge. Eventually she relented and sauntered off, her syringe poised for the next attack. Had I actually wanted my hand hennaed, or had she drawn something a little less 'abstract', I would have felt more generous. I really did not appreciate being grabbed and forced into an orange squiggly stain that will last two weeks or more. Oh well. There was mint tea in the shade to think about.
I had forgotten the coolness of wet henna on skin, the spiced smell, and the way your skin itches ever so slightly when it dries and cracks off. I loved marking my hands with it when I was young. I remember once, many years ago in Dubai, my cousin Rania took me to a salon to get the most beautiful, intricate patterns drawn on our palms. The petals and leaves of flowers bled a vibrant red-orange into the lines of my heart, head, life, and fate. I rubbed olive oil into the designs each day, wanting them to last as long as they could.
The ocean brought salt on its breeze, and a waiter dressed in a blue bluer than its depths weaved in between tables, little glasses of amber-coloured tea balanced precariously on a silver tray.