The Henna Women of Morocco


She is waiting for us. Her face is seasoned with wrinkles from years of the unforgiving Moroccan sun. A powder blue djellaba drapes over her sturdy body.

She offers no formalities when she pulls out her needle. She simply points at its destination and I nod in approval. She she readies her instrument and I see it, the stain.

The paste is thick and the times she’s mixed the henna, untold. But the stain it has made on her hands details the story. When she was a young, girls went to school until age 11. By that time she’d learned all a Moroccan girl needed to know. A woman’s education began at home. That’s where they learned their craft, from the generations of women who came before them. Tradition was their tutelage.

Henna, Photo by Marie Nikodem Loerzel

Her back crouched as her deft and nimble hands festooned my daughter’s arm. Flowers and leaves bloom from her syringe. Her art is effortless and organic. My oldest daughter, age 10, sits transfixed. In another time she might have been her apprentice, destined to be marked by what society has chosen for her. Instead, she’s a customer and henna is a evanescent beauty that she will try on like a party dress.

Henna Hands, Photo by Marie Nikodem Loerzel

When the henna woman is finished, I give her a donation. She is too humble to put a price on her work. She accepts it with a silent grace. The paste must sit on the skin untouched for up to two hours. The longer the henna penetrates, the deeper the color and the longer the tatoo will remain. My daughter must be mindful not to smear the delicate design. As it dries her skin begins to itch and the henna delivers a subtle sting. She flakes it off anxiously, happy to see that some of the orange arabesque remains, however faint.

Ember Hands, Photo by Marie Nikodem Loerzel

I wonder what the henna woman dreamed of when she was 10. Did she want to be a dentist or a veterinarian?

If she had the choice, would she have chosen to be the henna woman?

As I look at my two girls who have the world before them I can’t help but think. What will they choose? Who will they become?

I’m grateful to the generations of women who came before me who laid the foundation for my daughters to live their life unstained by society’s expectations of who or what they can be.

If you would like to help girls in the remote High Atlas Mountains of Morocco get an education please visit:

By Marie Loerzel from Rock the Kasbah

I’m Marie, author of the book, Rock the Kasbah: A Memoir of Misadventure. Not to be confused with the movie or Zooey Deschanel.

I’m a forty-something writer, dancer, world traveler, wife and mother of four who moved back to Colorado from living abroad in Morocco a few years ago. Oh and did I mention I have some serious social anxiety? And that I screw things up a lot? Like a whole lot.

*Originally published over on Reflections from a Redheadhere.

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