by Nicole Duciaume
ChildFund Regional Sponsorship Coordinator
Americas Regional Office
As I finished talking to Daniel, Venkatesh and their father, a neighbor vigorously calls me over to her house. She wants to show me her craft – henna.
The problem: I fidget – a lot. So I’m not sure I’ll be able to sit for a long time while she slowly draws henna on the palms of my hands. However, my worries are short-lived when she shows me her henna stamp collection.
To create each stamp, she cut old rubber-soled shoes, usually discarded flip flops, and cleaned them to provide a good drawing surface. After drawing an elaborate design (such as leaves, flowers, fish, vines, hearts, suns, temples, bugs), she traces out the “empty space” with a razor blade or knife to create a stamp of the remaining, now elevated design.
She has a collection of more than 100 stamps, guaranteeing a unique combination for my palms. She takes her time picking through the collection, her husband offering suggestions as well. After choosing a large stamp, she dips it quickly into the dye, centers it and stamps it on the palm of my hand.
She then carefully selects a second stamp for each finger and a third stamp for the empty spaces. She repeats the process for my other hand, but with all different selections. In all, it takes about 10 minutes. This is her livelihood, and on the streets outside the settlement she charges 5 rupees (approximately 11 cents) per customer.
I am so excited with my henna hands that she immediately wants to take a picture with me, so that I will always remember her.
This is just one example of the generosity I’ve found in this settlement. So often marginalized in their own society for being gypsies, they are excited we came from many different countries to visit with them and learn about their lives.
The children clamor to have their photos taken. The parents share their crafts and talents with us. We all share quite a few laughs as we tell each other about our customs, traditions and families.
I tell my henna artist friend that I would remember her even without the photos, but I am certainly glad I have them so I can share her story, along with Daniel’s and Venkatesh’s and so many others I’ve met while in Chennai.