India Arie sings, “I am not my hair… I am not your expectations no no, I am not my hair… I am a soul that lives within“. I agree, I wholeheartedly agree. Especially when it is a voluntary fashion choice, I definitely will agree! But Lord oh Lord when the choice is involuntary, I get the urge to rewrite the beautiful Ms Arie’s lyrics to that of a dirge in memory of my crown.
You see, once upon a while, not too long ago, I had a full head of beautiful locks. Well-tended, natural, healthy and to die for locks. I loved my hair. I was proud of my hair and I was my hair and my hair was me.
You need to understand my journey. The story of my childhood and my hair stories is not one filled with lovely pig tails or smooth cornrows. My hair journey was filed with wooden combs that wouldn’t get through my nappy hair. I honestly have nothing against nappy hair. God’s honest truth I don’t, but when you have to endure hot combs heated over naked flames that burn your ears and make your eyes water, I can assure you, it is highly unlikely you will be feeling all warm and fuzzy about your hair.
I dare you to imagine how the chemical treatments I had to endure as a child treated me, they actually held a personal grudge against me! How else do you explain the burnt scalp, pungent smell and still nappy hair. This was not and has never been my cup of tea and trust me when I tell you that the only reason I was so determined to endure the torture to straighten my hair was hardly in the name of giving me silky locks. No no no it was simply to get a comb through my tight-fisted curly hair and have me look presentable and less like a wild child.
After a childhood, that felt like a life time, of having an unruly sisal plantation on my head, I adopted locks and they proved to be an elixir for my hair. I could finally feel like a complete woman. I finally had something that other ladies ‘oohed’ and ‘aahed’ about. I was finally complete as a woman! Judge me if you will, but I was proud to have some enviable quality. And so I went about my normal routines and phases of life, wooden combs and burnt ears all but forgotten, that is until a dice was rolled somewhere in the land of the gods.
Now I understand why ABBA sung ‘…the gods may throw a dice, their minds are cold as ice‘! My crowning glory succumbed to the stresses of life. I refuse to acknowledge that I may have inherited some type of male pattern baldness. Surely the gods cannot be that cruel?! Anyway I am not male, so baldness should not apply to me; this must surely be the work of some scheming god somewhere.
Who pulls out a woman’s hair? Right at the crown of her head forcing her to cut it all off? Why at the ripe age of 40 odd something years am I back to looking for wooden combs to manage the few tufts of hair that the gods left on my head? How, I moan, is it 2017 and we still don’t have products that address my sisal plantation inspired hair? I suppose I should thank the heavens for the horses that have lost their tails and also thank the heavens for the Caucasian and Asian ladies who have happily given to the cause of lost hair. I quietly console myself that at least these donations help to cover the unacknowledged male pattern baldness, never mind the itchiness, occasional crookedness and once in a while falling off in mid-conversation antics of the hair.
If you meet me on the street today you will likely congratulate me on my natural look. You will praise me for going back to my roots, for being true to my African heritage and you will no doubt notice that my aged countenance has rolled back by a few years. I will gladly smile, my Colgate enhanced toothy smile and ‘demurely’ say thank you. I will on occasion don the horse hair to retain my dignity and so that you stop staring at the shiny patches on my head that reflect light that painfully blinds you.
Once the rigors of my day are done, I will race home and try the latest remedies. This month, cow dung, blended with coconut oil and washed off with offal soup to inspire my retired follicles. Last month, it was snail powder mixed with egg yolk and natural yoghurt to get the soon to come strands of hair smoother than the hairs of a young maize stalk. On Sunday’s and during Lent, I feverishly pray and fast that I may be back in favour with the gods and that the dice will be cast in my favour once more and the hair will be back.
Sometimes in the quiet of the night, when the regimens of the day are completed and after a nice warm shower, I stand in front of my mirror and wonder if the hair will be back. I stifle a sniffle as I stare at the shiny patches, this must be the reason my beloved’s warmth has suddenly turned cold and harsh; it must be why the children in the village burst into giggles every time I go by or maybe it is the reason for my aged mother’s sad eyes even as she tells me I am beautiful. How can I be beautiful or even a woman without the hair?
I stifle another sniffle and tell myself to have a little faith, just a little faith like a mustard seed. No time for self-pity, I tell myself, a little faith and a concoction of products will do the trick! I drop to my knees and quickly set about my earnest prayers to the gods. After all, I tell myself, a constant and healthy dose of feverish prayers and beating of the breast never hurt anyone! It worked for David and all the other prophets in the Bible, why wouldn’t it work for me? It may be the only way for me to truly be well on my way to being a whole woman again.
The dawn is here and today the sun appears to be in a good mood, it’s a day for the horsetail. You never realise how brutal the sun god is on our heads until your poor patches are roasting like young maize cobs on an open fire. Today is another day and I start with a breakfast of champions; a blend of sour porridge, young spinach leaves, chicken broth and crushed red peppers. I hear it is an old remedy known for growing the hairs on a young man’s chest! I’m sure you see the connection. I am now more confident than I was going to bed. I happily race out with my horsetail flying behind me and a faint waft of God knows what from my champion’s breakfast. Out into the world full of hope.
And so continue my days, it’s been close to three years now and I think I am beginning to see results but I do not want to speak good tidings aloud, the naughty ones may pick them from my mouth and run off with them.
India Arie is playing on the radio and I ask the Driver of the old bus to increase the volume. Once more I hear her words “I am not my hair… I am not your expectations no no, I am not my hair… I am a soul that lives within.” I think of the beautiful Ms Arie, she is the epitome of a fresh and amazing woman, but I still cannot possibly agree with her strong, natural and independent woman lyrics. I am quite vain, you see, because I am my hair.