Meeting My Son’s “Family” in Africa

When the Peace Corps sends volunteers to other countries, there was an original placement of two or three weeks with a family. (I say “was” because I don’t know the current arrangements; this goes back a couple of decades.)

Mark, my son, was sent to Mauritania on Africa’s west coast; I came to visit him.  He wanted me to meet his family; I did.  There were some communication problems, so I kept smiling and nodding and pointing to attractive things about me in their home.  One thing was the pretty hands and feet of the young women in the family, pretty because they were covered with henna drawings.  So, with the courteous and generous nature of Africans, the girls wanted to put henna on my hands and feet.  Of course I agreed.Henna design

I gave them some money; they went shopping for the henna. (I don’t think they call it henna, but that’s the only name I have.) Soon, amid much laughter and delight, everyone was involved in painting me.   Later, when I took a shower, worried that the henna would “run,” I found I didn’t need to worry.  Nor did later showers remove the henna.  But many people with whom I associated there, were likewise decorated, so I didn’t worry about it.

Then I took the plane(s) back to the U.S. Now I stood out, like some sort of wandering minstrel without a musical instrument.  People oohed and aahed, frowned, looked askance (don’t get to use that word often) at my hands, arms, feet, and legs decorated with swirls of henna.

I had a doctor’s appointment scheduled for when I returned—more comments.  Then school started again.  By now, I’d showered many times—that African henna product is persistent.  My students made comments, wondering if I hadn’t showered after working in the yard or something.  I used that experience to try to teach about diversity, but probably failed.

I still treasure the memory of that afternoon of fun the African girls and I had decorating my visible body parts.  I have no idea what they were saying; they had no idea what I was saying, but we all seemed to understand each other.  Maybe—just a thought—maybe the United Nations reps, each country’s leaders, and most of the population of said countries in the world need to have a “henna fix.”

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