henna

by

As I walked through the medina in Marrakech, I wondered if I would still have time to get henna while in Morocco. It was our third hour in the medina and we were all feeling tired and ready to head back to the hotel. As we made the our way down the windy alleys, a woman was sitting on a step holding a photo album. She immediately spotted us and starting saying Henna! You girls want henna? Come! Only 5 dirham! Come! We hesitated for only a moment, causing her to jump up and grab our arms. Henna, yes! Come! And before we knew it, we were being dragged through entirely new alleyways out into an open square. We followed the woman to a little setup where there were two other women sitting under an umbrella, both with stained hands and furrowed brows. The henna campsite was right in the middle of other vendors trying to sell us Fes hats or jewelry. We sat down among the women and began bargaining for our henna. The woman who picked us out in the alley before was a ruthless bargain queen. She was lively and animated, waving her hands around and scrunching her face whenever I offered a price much lower than she had hoped for. The other women near us simply watched and laughed whenever I got an Arabic word wrong. There was a group of men sitting by a pile of bikes a few yards away that I had failed to notice earlier. When I made my final offer of 200 dirham-turns out she had lied about the 5 dirham henna-something happened that was unexpected. The fierce woman in the market had to consult with one of the men sitting by the bikes. He gave her the ok with the price and told her she could proceed with the henna. After we had settled on a price, one of the quiet women started on my henna design, which was stunning.

As I sat there I looked around more carefully at the scene. The woman in the market; the independent, vocal, passionate woman I had been excited to see suddenly stomped on my daydream. While she was still impressive and respectable, she was present in a different way than the men. She was the face of the henna sales, but ultimately not the final say. I can’t help but see the parallelism between my interaction with the woman in the market and a “traditional” Christian home. In so many homes that I have known in the Christian community, the face of the family, the one person who holds it all together, is the woman. Without her, life as the household knows it would crumble. What would the family eat for dinner? Who would drive the kids to soccer practice? But in reality the man has the final say in the house and is the head of authority.

Why is it that  women are in fewer authoritative roles throughout the world? But more importantly, why is this fact hidden? Seeing this woman in the market and watching her interact with the head of their group made me think about this larger question.

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