After securing a pair of grants, from The Arab Fund for Arts and Culture and The International Women’s Media Foundation, Al-Arashi began to plan her trip, mapping the locations where the tattooing tradition is most prevalent. While she learned that Yemen, Syria, and Iraq had high concentrations, “they are all in such a deep state of war,” she says, “and I’m not as accomplished a reporter as I’d need to be to put myself in those places.” So she turned her sights to North Africa, and plotted a trip through the countryside in Morocco, Tunisia, and Algeria.
Accompanied by a driver and translator in each country, Al-Arashi traveled from village to village, asking strangers if they knew women with facial tattoos. “Arabs are notorious for being the most welcoming people on earth,” she recalls. “We’d literally just knock on the door of a stranger’s farm, and they’d happily let us in, offer us tea, and talk for hours.”
Through these conversations Al-Arashi got to know a cohort of older women, mostly in their 70s, 80s, and 90s, who had tattooed their faces, and in some cases bodies, as acts of beautification, devotion to female goddesses, and appreciation for the lands in which they live.