Healing through Henna

We had a henna party at CURE today.

Henna is a plant that is commonly used to make a dye here in Niger and around the world. The leaves are crushed into a powder and mixed with water to make a kind of paste, which can then be applied to the skin, leaving a long-term (but temporary) tattoo. Here in Niger, women get henna tattoos for every possible celebration: a wedding, a baptism, a holiday, or for any kind of party, and sometimes I suspect for no real reason at all, other than the fact that it is beautiful.

I’ve wanted to get a henna tattoo for a while now and I happened to comment on one of our patient’s hennafied hands. Her name is Rashida, and she had an operation on her leg, which is now in an external fixator. She is already up on her feet and walking around with a walker, and seems to be on a quick road to recovery.

It was Rashida’s first session with me in the art therapy room, and she was very reserved and quiet. I told her I thought her hands looked pretty and she suddenly changed. She was very excited and said, “I do henna! Do you want me to do it for you one day?” I said yes. Rashida lives in Niamey and so she isn’t staying at the hospital, but comes in a couple times a week for dressing changes. She said, “I’ll come sometime and bring the supplies!”

This week Rashida came with a small plastic bag of henna, and got to work on my hands right away. Beth Van Hall, our new Executive Director’s wife, has been coming to the hospital to spend time with the kids. She came by the art therapy room and Rashida did her feet when she was done with my hands. Then Aramatou, another patient came and Rashida did her hands as well. We all had a lot of fun in the couple hours it took to finish all the decorating, and by the end Rashida was totally transformed. She was in her element, and was having a great time. It was really funny because she told us that she had never tried putting henna on a white person’s skin before, and she said that it was more difficult than usual because of the hair on my arms. I told her that she was lucky she wasn’t trying to do it on Josh’s arm!

It was obvious that the whole process was empowering for Rashida. I paint our patient’s hands and feet all the time when they are wearing casts. Now she was working on my hands and Beth’s feet. In a way, the tables had turned. And not only that, she was showing us a part of her heritage and tradition, and you could tell she was proud. It was a great way of expressing her creativity and her culture, and she was able to share something beautiful, and leave a part of herself on me, marking me by our encounter. That is what therapeutic exchange is all about, and in that way it was healing.



Rashida working on Aramatou’s arm.







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6 Responses to Healing through Henna

  1. Laura Blystra says:

    As always, I LOVE THIS! Your words of how the tables had turned, with her doing the painting onto you and Beth, is beautiful and insightful. Such beautiful photos, too!

  2. Chuck Kopp says:

    You WOWED me again. The common everyday things of life in Niamey, Niger suddenly take on a whole new meaning and purpose but this account of Rashida’s recovery is tops.

    Then just when I have thought you have said it all and you couldn’t surpass this one, into the scene comes Aramatou, whose story you tell elsewhere in your blog.

    Aramatou’s courage in light of what she has gone through (shame, abuse) and the measure of healing and health she now exudes, is simply phenomenal making her one my favorite individuals who has walked down the annuls of that CURE hospital’s relatively short history.

    I also love your description of how Rasida relates to the difficulty of artistically applying the henna to the white skin of a Caucasian. Thankfully, the African’s way of dealing with issues of ethnicity are merely a matter of fact – no woundedness there. She, too, is now one of the many who is on the road to recovery and as you beautifully describe, she reversed your roles and became the one in charge, the giver, even if it was only for a few fleeting moments.

    The pictures of the genuine smiles on both Rashida’s and Aramatou’s faces beautifully accentuate everything you have written about them.

    Lastly, everyone feels at home in your tiny office where there is hardly enough room to turn around; from the wife of the executive director to the girl who shared her artistry with henna and her love and affection for those who give healing and those, like herself, who receive healing.



    • marcia says:

      Beautifully shared. It reminds me of a quote from John Gregory Brown~~There’s something like a line of gold thread running through a man’s words when he talks to his daughter, and gradually over the years it gets to be long enough for you to pick up in your hands and weave into a cloth that feels like love itself~~

  3. Linda Watt says:

    I think too it is a way for her to give back for all that you have given her. Very cool too! You do amazing things!

  4. marcia says:

    Beautiful women, all of you, and the bond though invisible, strong

  5. Pingback: Healing through henna | CURE

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