How I Ended Up Painting School-Kids Like Hindu Brides

by Abby on February 21, 2014

This weekend I will be volunteering at my younger son’s school fair. I am happy to do this. All the parents will pitch in for an hour or two and a good time will be had by all. But I must warn you: if you are ever asked to volunteer at a school fair, DO NOT under any circumstances say blithely, “Oh, just put me wherever you need me.” Because here is how that turns out…

My older son’s first year at a new school, we were all gung-ho to volunteer at the annual spring fair. Well, by “we” I mean me, so even though the 2-hour time slot seemed a little excessive, I showed up promptly for my post. Which turned out to be a bounce-house in a parking lot in the blazing hot sun. Now, as a pale-skinned redhead who had neither thought to bring a hat nor a water bottle, I could see this would end badly. So I asked if I could be transferred to another station.

“Sure!” said the volunteer coordinator cheerfully. “How about face painting? It’s right under that tent over there.” Shade? An artistic pursuit? I could sit down? Done! I headed over to the tent. Which turned out to be the face-painting AND mehndi hand-painting station.

Hindu bride with mehndi hand paintingIf you’re unfamiliar with this term, as I was, I’ll fill you in. Mehndi is a ceremonial art form which originated in ancient India. Hindu brides are adorned with intricate designs painted on their hands and feet using henna, a dark paste made from the ground leaves of the henna tree. This elaborate, painstaking process can take years of training to perfect, and takes the entire night before the wedding ceremony to complete.

“Here you go,” said another volunteer, plopping a tube of henna in my hand, along with a thick book full of traditional mehndi designs. A line of sweaty elementary schoolers was starting to form. I began to sweat, and not from the heat. Here goes nothing, I thought. My first designs were gloppy leaves and wobbly petals. I couldn’t help but take it personally when the kids looked mildly disappointed before skipping off to get an Italian ice. I gradually increased my level of detail, but also the amount of time I was spending on each kid. It was torturous! Didn’t any of these kids want a simple rainbow on their cheek?!

By the end of the 2 hours, I was parched, exhausted, and cramped from hunching over sticky little hands as I squeezed tube after tube of henna into vines and flowers. I immediately vowed to start tipping better at the nail salon. Meanwhile, my husband and sons enjoyed all the rides, games, and refreshments the fair had to offer.

The next year, I wised up. The hubs and I split one 2-hour shift, and armed ourselves with water and sunscreen. “Put us at the bounce house, please,” I told the volunteer coordinator firmly. I learned my lesson the hard way.

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Angie Mizzell February 26, 2014 at 2:38 pm

I would actually love to have some henna art drawn on me one day. But really, you took the thought right out of my head. I would have pulled out a pen and started drawing daisies on their faces. Bounce house? Great idea!


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