23 February 2018

MADE IN SUDAN: Pampering at a psychological cost

(Photo: Sabah El Basha)

As I walked into the beauty salon, I was greeted by a wave of odd smells. A blended scent of henna, hair dye, scrubs, creams and shampoo, sibgha, traditional wax or halawa and a powerful gush of dukhaan among other piquant, inexplicable odours.

I struggled to ignore the smell, and made my way to the counter where a very loud woman was manning the cashier. It took her a few moments to realize that a customer was waiting. Eventually, she did notice me, but failed to restrain herself from yelling at the cleaning lady in my presence. After she was done, she collected my money, gave me a receipt and asked me to wait inside. Something about her made me feel uneasy; perhaps the tone of her voice, or the look of disgust she casually carried around, or the way she was luridly chewing a piece of gum. Either way, I was glad to walk away from her.

The inside of the salon boasted dozens of Sudanese women from all walks of life. Often intrigued by the littlest of things, I couldn’t help but wander off in a daze. Each one of these women had a story; a reason for being here. Three women caught my attention.

The first one was a bride. She couldn’t have been over twenty years of age. Our eyes met for a brief second, and there my mind went again, meandering and contemplating about the circumstances that brought her here. Was she marrying the man of her dreams? Or was this an arranged marriage and she was being forced to marry someone twice her age? Most importantly, was she happy? The blank look her eyes conveyed left me no reassurances. I watched as three women gave her instructions. She obeyed without hesitance.

The second was a girl in her mid-twenties. Her face was shades lighter than her hands, but that wasn’t the only odd thing about her. She peeled some black substance off her eyebrows, after which she washed her face thoroughly using soap. It took me a few minutes to realize that she had her eyebrows tattooed using sibgha, black dye meant for hair and henna. She must have been be oblivious to the fact that it’s a lethal ingredient, I thought to myself, otherwise she wouldn’t have applied it so close to her eyes.

The third was a married woman in her thirties. The henna on her hands and feet was so intricate that it must have taken the henna artist hours to pencil. She was comfortably seated in a angaraib (traditional bed) facing a noisy fan. She seemed to be in a hurry for the henna to dry off, which struck me as odd because she must have been in the salon for hours. Minutes later, my curiosity was remedied. A young woman, possibly her relative, approached her asking how much longer she was going to take, and that they were going to be late for the bika (funeral).

Ya zaboona,” some lady shouted, addressing me. I snapped back to reality. It was my turn to get my hair done.

One Comment

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  • amani bengawi
    18 July 2012 at 12:32 am - Reply

    Maha jameel, jameeel and nice. Subhan allah I have something written before more than a year sent to some of my friends and relatives in the title : sudanese women in scenes, telling my experience in a car carage in omdurman industerial area, where I had my old car been repaired . I don`t know whether it could be published here or not .

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