My mother's "Enga"

COURTESY Ayesha Hadhir Al Mheiri

Bedouin women rolled dried fenugreek, rose petals, nutmeg, and cloves into soft cotton, open-weave fabric, then stitched them closed, creating delicate, fragrant necklaces for infants. They caringly fastened these "enga" by tying the end treads together behind the neck. These scented sachet-like adornments were known to have a pacifying affect and were believed to help support babys' necks.

For generations, Emirati women have used their scarves or "shayla" for purposes other than simply covering their hair. They even twist their scarves into donut-like pillows to gently shape the heads of newborns. My mother learned how to make these little pillows at the age of sixteen when she gave birth to the first of her many children. Eventually, she mastered the art of making shayla pillows for babies. For decades she has been making them for her children and grandchildren as well as for the offspring of her extended family and neighbors. These pillows are believed to perfectly shape babies' heads.

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