At Suuqa Karmel, a vibrant Somali mall located in Minneapolis, I trailed in the shadow of a Somali friend who knew how to navigate the crowded hallways.
The first henna parlor we poked our heads into was filled with female clients, waiting to get henna tattoos for upcoming weddings and other special occasions. So we migrated to another parlor, where we found an open sofa.
Here, henna artist Mulki Muusa greeted us, and offered to induct me into a parallel beauty world where the tattoos are temporary, the artistic vision is impromptu, and the body art is largely displayed in non-public spaces.
Having little interest in getting a permanent tattoo, I felt I had found a compromise I could enjoy. So I extended my right hand and soaked in as much information about henna as I could, while Mussa jumped from me to every other customer that cycled through that afternoon.
Every woman I met in Mussas henna parlor expressed that they held a strong culturally affinity to henna. Its a cosmetic tradition that some remember practicing in Somalia and Kenya, where some lived in refugee camps before migrating to the U.S.
The feel of henna paste drying up and cracking on the skin, combined with its earthy smell, and the camaraderie of sitting in the parlor struck up feelings of cultural pride and nostalgia among the women.
Considering the fact that more than 22,000 Somalis now live in Minnesota, local henna parlors have established themselves as vibrant social hubs. When Muslim holidays like Eid al-Fitr take place, theres no rest for the henna artists.
My 14-year-old interpreter, Hodan Dalmar, coached me through the henna tattoo process, telling me to have more patience while it dried, then demonstrating how to peel the outer layer off once it had finished setting. Afterward, we grabbed a cup of sweet Somali tea and a deep fried pastry before heading home.
I left infatuated with the intricacy of each henna tattoo Id photographed and appreciative of the access that this artistic expression granted me into another culture.
When Muslim holidays like Eid al-Fitr take place, theres no rest for the henna artists.