Most of my Somali female students dress in a way that almost fully covers their bodies and arms – either they wear the large, billowy direh dress, paired with the hijab Muslim headscarf, or they wear the full niqab veil which hides everything but their eyes and hands. Yet, despite all these yards of fabric concealing their skin and obliterating the natural shapeliness of their bodies, the Somali women still find ways to be attractive and alluring.
These expressions of beauty include brightly coloured and patterned robes made from silky, fine quality fabric; bling accessories like flashy handbags; sexy shoes such as sandal wedges or low heels (there is a limit to what one can walk in over the rough, unpaved roads here); an excess of (often gaudy) make-up; and, my personal favourite, hands boldly decorated with beautiful henna designs.
What I like about the henna here are the designs. The henna I have seen on women’s hands and feet in places like India, Morocco, and Tunisia was delicate and detailed, an intricate burst of finely painted swirls. But the patterns they paint here are much bolder, with thick lines, sold blocks of colour, and a geometric motifs.