By Samba Yonga
My hair springs back into place as his strong hands stroke my hair, he speaks to me about changing into the lower gears of life and slowing down to take a look out of the window. For the first time in a while I am aware of my hair, somehow someone else touching it has made me realise that I actually have hair on my head.
My hair, I never pay much attention to it, for the sake of convention I keep it neat and tidy but for the most part it is just an extension of my head. I am not one of the fortunate who obsesses and worries about how to wear my hair. As long as I can wake up and run my hand through it and it looks fine, I am good to go. I am impatient when it comes to hair and anyone who knows hair knows they have to be patient with it.
I inherited my hair from my mom, it’s thick, it’s kinky, it’s dark and it grows long-for African hair anyway. For a long time it was a source of irritation. When I was young it hurt when combed and as an adult I had to put twice as much effort to manage it because of that. It can never stay in place, curly, dark, long and tight, it falls to my shoulders in locks, it sways this way and that, only comfortable in one form, shaggy. It can never be tucked in place for long unless it’s bound and gagged in knots.
Being made aware of my hair that day made me examine it more closely, I went to the mirror and held bunches of it in my hand and for the first time noticed how the tight curls formed a neat hairline on my forehead progressing into intricately laced locks that have been growing-without too much prompting from me-into a kind of tapestry of art, with crinkles, loops, waves and ringlets weaved into one divine strand of hair of which hundreds more populate my head. People frequently compliment my hair its bushiness and raven blackness, I usually smile tightly and offer a muffled ‘thank you’, it was only that day I realised that I had not been appreciative of the art work that I carried with me- that I had mistreated it, and let it ‘gather dust in a corner’, so to speak.
After years of conditioning on how great hair is straight, long, smooth hair, I subconsciously mistreated my own hair because in my mind I thought I was fighting the brainwashed projection of beauty and yet in reality what I was doing was perpetuating another misguided projection of ‘beauty’.
My natural hair, I thought, was a way to show that I will not be enslaved by trips to the salon, spending millions on hair products and always worrying about it getting damp just to be considered to have beautiful hair but what I turned out doing was confirming the idea that natural hair is not beautiful by forgetting that it had a beauty that I was neglecting to expose.
This is a lesson I have learnt well and strive to teach by making the effort to frequently curate my complex mass of tapestry.