Henna has been grown in southern Egypt and Nubia since ancient times and used to dye hair and adorn bodies. Today only a minority of men (usually Salafists) dye their beards red, but many women decorate their hands and feet with intricate designs for weddings. The “tattoos” last for a fortnight or so before fading. Women visitors may be offered tattooing at the Nubian villages on Elephantine, or in Aswan’s bazaar. This is women’s work – and a great way to spend time with Nubian women – but some local guys see it as an opportunity for lechery, so check who’s doing the tattooing. Also beware of black (as opposed to traditional reddish-brown) designs, as these involve the use of a toxic hair dye, PPD, which can cause severe skin damage and allergic reactions.

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