Last Updated on June 5, 2009 by Christine Kaaloa
Getting an illegal guide in Fez
Margaret wanted to experience mendhi, so we asked our 15 year old guide, Outman for a recommendation.
Okay, he was an illegal guide and underaged. Not very socially-responsible of us, but it was a tough call and who’s to say what’s worse. At first, we were reluctant to take on as a guide. But his English was better than our older “official guide” the day before, who spoke as if he had a rag in his mouth and then held his palm out for tips!
As I said earlier, there are many young boys who work illegally, offering their services as guides. If caught, they are punished with two days of imprisonment and who wants a kid to be thrown into jail? Also, the alternative job we heard about and witnessed youth doing for money was working in the tanneries. Extremely back-breaking labor with very little money, not to mention, toxic fumes.
Our youth approached us first, by steering us clear of bad salesmen and giving us local tips of how to haggle low. Basically, he told us how much Moroccans actually pay for some of the items we were shopping for! If you’re Margaret and always looking for a bargain, you’ll find this honesty hard to part with. As for me, I just felt we could trust him– he never set a fee and didn’t expect a tip– and moreover, I liked that I could understand his English.
We made sure Outman knew of the repercussions of his actions should he get caught and whenever we saw the police was near, we’d separate from him and meet up later. Honestly, we genuinely liked the kid, didn’t want him to get in trouble and trusted him not to rip us off. We hired him for two days.
When in Morocco, why not try Mendhi?
The alley we took to get our mendhi done was dark, but Outman assured us it was friendly and safe. He was taking us to a Berber house and to his friend’s mother, who does mendhi.
No harm. Experiencing mendhi and seeing the inside of a Moroccan home was an exciting cultural experience for us!
Mendhi is used in many countries as a symbol for female rite of passage, adornment and/or celebration. The most common use for mendhi is pre-wedding celebration, where the bride gets the front and back of her palms decorated. Mendhi is a temporary tattoo which lasts anywhere from a few weeks to a month, depending on the quality of the henna. Neither Margaret or I, were getting married, but tourists often get them for souvenir purposes so we felt it was okay.
The mendhi is made from henna powder which comes from crushed leaves. It’s mixed into a paste and then it’s ready to be squeezed on. The woman doing Margaret’s henna prepared most of it in front of us. She then created her own design. The design doesn’t seem to hold much symbolic meaning though.
Margaret & I getting Mendhi @ a Fes Henna Souk, Morocco
After applying the henna, it must set for about 20 -30 minutes. When it’s ready, it will just flake off.
I’m personally not into mendhi because I’m not into permanent or semi-permanent designs on my body. Watching it was good enough for me, but the mendhi lady was kind enough to do my pinkie for free. It was non-committal enough, so why not?