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Sara Al Mheiri: Scarred to death
July 11, 2014
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“Just give me one second, I swear I put it here!” I say, whilst rummaging through my desks as six girls watch my every move silently. I finally locate the plastic bag, squished behind my books, highlighters and random bits and bobs. I yank it out and roll it open. You could practically cut the air from how thick the anticipation was. Aha! Here it is. I pull out an Umm Khammas decorated small white tube.

For those who don’t know, Umm Khammas is the infamous character from the highly beloved Ramadan show called Freej. And that small white tube is children’s henna. I had bought it from Dragon Mart, in Dubai, to bring back for my friends here in the States. I didn’t buy the typical henna as I thought it would get squished during that 14-hour flight and make a mess everywhere. So I found, by accident, a better solution.

It came in a similar tube to toothpaste and seemed easy to use. I also bought spray on tattoo designs in order to make it easier for everyone. Plus, I had no drawing skills of my own, who would want a squiggly flower that a four-year-old could draw better? In hindsight I could have probably just bought henna off (only in ’Murica) BUT I had wanted to bring real henna from the motherland where it is actually used for cultural purposes.

We had planned a girls night in, with popcorn, movies, gossiping and of course, the henna.

It was a replacement for painting nails. None of these girls had ever used henna, let alone seen it, so I felt like a proud Emirati, embarking on a mission to create bridges between such vast cultures. My head had gotten too fat, too early. A brave friend decided to go first and started to nervously apply it. I was too busy explaining to everyone else the history of henna and its purposes, acting as a tour guide for our country, when in fact, most of this came from Google. I only noticed when it was too late that the henna was not henna.

That’s right people. Who knew that a sketchy shop behind Dragon Mart, selling a henna brand I had never heard of, would rip me off like that? It was a weird gel like substance that wasn’t brown but a greyish sludge. I began to panic silently and slowly reached for one of the tubes. I quickly googled it and low and behold, the product had been banned in over thirteen countries. It had the worst side effects and all of a sudden, I couldn’t breathe. My friend was going to lose her hand.

I didn’t know what to do so I copied and pasted the article to the other five girls in the room. You could slowly see each one’s face mould into such horror as they realised what was to become of our dear innocent friend. The nervousness had peaked to the point where I began to giggle nervously and then splutter into laughter. I didn’t know what came over me and neither did the others as they all followed my example too. None of us could hold our laughter in and soon, tears were streaming down my face.

My now armless-to-be friend was admiring her handiwork and was looking at all of us with such bemusement and confusion. Until she uttered the words, “Hey Sara, is my hand supposed to get a little tingly?” I am not even kidding when I say that the silence was so powerful and sudden that I could hear my own mother, all the way in Dubai, turn the page of the book she was reading. I did not know what to do at this point.

I should have googled the product before anyone used it. I should have stopped her before it was too late. I should have said something. If I had done any of this, then I would have been able to sleep soundly at night, knowing that my friend didn’t get a third-degree burn on her hand.

That she wouldn’t be getting skin grafts at this very moment. But I didn’t. And thank God none of that ever happened. Instead I blurted it out, she screamed and washed it off. It left a small light brown flower mark that disappeared pretty quickly and she forgave me in the end. Moral of the story, always use cheap henna to educate your American friends about your culture. They will learn and love it so much and help tear down our negative stereotypes. Damn you, sketchy Dragon Mart store.

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Sara Al Mheiri is a young Emirati woman who is currently living
in Boston, USA, where she is specialising in media studies with a
focus on women's studies. Sara is the ultimate nomad who flits
between countries observing new societies and their culture.

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