During lockdown in May 2020, Kiota Bristol asked me to write a piece for their podcast. I was really missing the ritual of getting my eyebrows threaded at the time, so decided to write about this.
On my way to get my eyebrows threaded, I’m smiling in anticipation of where I might find Amina. Sometimes she’s in the upstairs of a pizza shop, sometimes at the back of a hair salon. Today she’s in a health centre. I walk to the back of the building, past a kitchen, up a set of stairs, past more rooms, and to the end of a corridor towards the smell of jasmine.
I’m ushered in and sit down on a green plastic chair besides another woman. Amina wraps a piece of cotton thread around one tooth and ducks her head back and forth, chatting in Urdu through her teeth. The woman sitting besides me leans into Amina gesticulating and pinching her fingertips together. They switch between languages, and I catch the word ‘Auntie’ in English.
I settle into the chair and my body relaxes. I feel seen here.
Amina hands the woman a mirror to check her eyebrows. “Perfect, Auntie”. The women walk towards the door, finishing their sentences as they leave.
“Come, my love”, Amina says and taps on the massage table. I lie down and close my eyes. Women before us have shared this same experience together for over 6,000 years; as beautification, as ritual, or as rite of passage. This moment is ours.
Women before us have shared this same experience together for over 6,000 years; as beautification, as ritual, or as rite of passage.
Amina smells my hair, makes an ‘mmm’ sound, and asks me what shampoo I use. She places her warm palm on my cheek and whispers “Bismillah” before beginning (in the name of God).
I think of being with all the aunties in my life, huddled around a stool at the back of their kitchen in Algeria. Nacera begins clapping and singing a song, moving her head to the music. We each hold out our palms to be daubed with a red sun of henna.
We each hold out our palms to be daubed with a red sun of henna.
Amina exhales and swivels around to my other side and carries on. “30 years, my love,” she proudly exclaims, telling me about her threading experience. She follows the outline of my face with her index finger, explaining that she scans the face of each person to get the perfect arch.
She sits back in her chair, and sighs “Alhamdulillah” (Praise be to God). I sit up and we talk about recipes we’ve made recently and our favourite spice mixes. I gather my belongings, and walk towards the door. ‘Take care, my love’, Amina calls after me. I open the door and step back into the world a little more sure of myself