x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

The origin of henna, and how to not wilt in the desert

Ask Ali: The traditional dye has many other uses, and the resourceful cleanliness of Bedouins.

Dear Ali: I am curious to know what henna is made from and if it has other non-cosmetic uses. NJ, Britain

Salam, NJ: Henna comes from a plant scientifically known as Lawsonia inermis and it is used in medicines, too. Henna grows well in the Middle East because of the hot, humid summers here, as well as in India, and these are the places you'll see it used most.

Henna is greatly valued in this part of the world due to its medicinal benefits. It has been used by Bedouins in the past to treat burns, inflammation of the gums, stomach infections and some tumours. It is also essential in the modern treatment of smallpox and other diseases.

Women and men also use henna paste on their hair to treat dandruff and head lice, while it's also valued to treat cracked feet.

But the most recognisable use of henna is to decorate skin or dye hair. Not long ago, women here had little to adorn themselves with, so they chose henna to create beautiful designs on their hands and legs.


Dear Ali: How did Bedouins stay clean? How would they brush their teeth or wash their hair? JB, Sharjah

Dear JB: Bedouins always found ways to keep themselves clean and presentable. Oral hygiene was achieved in two ways: with sikham, a type of coal known for its bleaching properties that was ground with salt and thyme to give it a more pleasant taste; and with miswak, a twig known for its dental benefits.

The use of miswak dates back to the time of our Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) and many of us still use it today. People often give miswak as a gift or bring it on visits to Mecca or the homes of family and friends and comes in regular or a more spiced flavour. To wash their hair, Bedouins used sedr, known as buckthorn in English and available today at the supermarket. It was ground and mixed with water to make shampoo. It is good for the hair and helps soften it and strengthen the roots. My grandmother saw a shampoo bottle once and said: "Go get me sedr leaves, I'll make my own shampoo!"


Dear Ali: I am hosting a party for around 500 guests and need some advice on how to contact companies that may want to sponsor it in return for free advertising and exposure. Thanks. RW, Abu Dhabi

Dear RW: Interesting local business question, so let me remind you what's important to consider when approaching a company. First, identify the purpose of your event. The word "party" suggests alcohol may be served, so be aware of how that might reflect on potential sponsors. "Event", "gala" or "dinner" might be a better title, and if alcohol is involved, know that the type of companies you should approach will be limited.

Government-backed companies or those that are associated with Islam will generally not be associated with alcohol. You'll have better luck with private entities such as soda, car, internet and mobile companies, travel agencies, credit card companies, banks, apparel groups and so on. Start by visiting their websites and introduce your "event" from an attractive marketing standpoint, and choose firms that are more likely to be aligned with the purpose or theme of your event. Let potential sponsors know the demographic of your guests so they can best assess if it's worth getting involved. Good luck and have fun.


Language lesson

Arabic: A'shab

English: Herbs

In Bedouin times, our people relied heavily on natural herbs and plant extracts to clean, beautify and cure themselves whenever needed. A "markaz al teb al sha'bi" is a traditional medical centre, and the next time you're at a pharmacy you can try asking for "teb sha'bi", which means herbal remedies or medication.