We met Hanthenthe when we saw a performer adorned in her henna tattoos, and had to ask where she got them done, we were in the general Coastal Region after all, and what’s cooler than having henna tattoos even if they’re just temporary?
She walked us and a group of our new friends to the salon with her husband in tow, he has two wives, they schedule their time with him and that night was his night with her. She barely talked to us, even when we spoke directly to her. I tried every trick I had picked up from the few days I had spent around Hola Town getting withdrawn women to talk and failed.
We finally gave up and let her work on our hands as we watched on in awe, everything she drew was either from memory or from some artistic place in her mind. Her husband, who was waiting outside, finally grew impatient and strolled away and then it happened. The timid, girl with the tiny, barely audible voice we were struggling to get some information, any information from her, shook off her shy demeanour and said in a loud, full of character voice, “now we can talk,” and amidst our laughter, we listened to her story.
Hanthenthe was born in the Tana Delta, amongst 10 siblings, including her. When she got to her second year of primary school, the infamous El Nino rains had just began and Tana Delta being the vast flatland that it is, and so close to Tana River, is prone to immense amounts of flooding. Their school flooded for several days and then was completely drowned by the torrential downpour of the 1998 El Nino rains, forcing them to leave the Tana Delta for Hola. By then, the cold season, coupled with extreme poverty had taken its toll on her family, and she lost 6 of her 10 siblings to Pneumonia, TB and other infections related to exposure to cold weather elements.
Once they got to Hola, her father found difficulty in finding and keeping a job, and her mother was undergoing “extreme sadness” from the loss of her children and therefore found it hard to stay motivated enough to find work to take her remaining four children to school, so that was as far as they went with their education.
From as far back as she can remember, she has always loved to draw, creating abstract and object art on anything she could find, books, scraps of paper, the soil on the ground, you get the drift.
Just before her 13th birthday, a suitor fell in love with her, and asked for her hand in marriage with a fairly good bride price to offer that her father could not resist. They got married and she had given birth to the first if her four children before she had turned 14 years old, and the other three followed in close succession. She has been married for 15 years.
The 23 year old entrepreneur had by 11, started experimenting and practising with henna tattoos designs on her friends and family along with braiding hair with extensions. She started doing henna tattoos and braiding while still at home with her parents to help generate some income to help take care of food and clothing. After four years of practise, she started charging for her services and opened an account that she used to save 50% of her earnings to open up a business to help sustain her family. She learned the hard way, not to rely on one source of income.
Once she had saved up enough, she took a trip to Mombasa and bought equipment to start her salon, bought start up infrastructure, and hired a space to start up her salon. Her husband, who drives a boda boda (motorbike), helped add onto her savings to speed up the opening of her salon. She hired three employees and with referrals from existing clients, her husband, friends and family, she has maintained a steady flow of clients, which keeps a roof over their heads, supplies food and helps take her children to school.
Our henna tattoos were done by now and we were soon distracted by the beautiful, artistic henna designs. That and the effort of keeping your hands from touching anything that might distort our designs concluded our interview process. Hanthenthe left a mark, literally (haha), and in our hearts and minds.