By Jo Adeyemo
“You ok rasta?” “How are you Jah woman?” Those are some of the greetings I’ve been getting from strangers (always men) walking down the street over the last few months. It comes with the territory I guess. Though more and more Zambians are getting dreadlocks, or locks as I prefer to call them, they’re still enough of a rarity to draw unwarranted attention. And of course, there are certain assumptions that come with locks. One of them being that your locks mean you’re a particularly religious or spiritual person. While my locks have nothing to do with religious faith, they do represent me having faith in myself.
It’s almost a year since I started the process of locking my hair. And shortly after doing this I found out I was sick; it was serious but not life-threatening. My condition had been caught in time good time and I didn’t require any hospital stay but I was not totally out of the woods yet and I had to be diligent to ensure that my condition didn’t worsen.
I had several miserable months before this and a few more to follow. Finding out about my condition, however minor, was like the straw that broke the camel’s back. I’d become more reclusive; my social life was almost non-existent and I’d failed to find decent employment for over a year and I missed the life I had abroad. I wanted to give up on many things including my hair. Why bother doing more than the most basic things required to take care of my hair when there were more pressing matters at hand? To do so felt somewhat vain and unnecessarily costly, especially considering upcoming medical costs.
But rather than give up, I decided to have faith and hope in myself. Faith that I’d recover and get through my rough patch. I also concluded that I would go on with my lock journey. At that critical time I needed to take care of myself and making an effort with my looks was one way to do that. After all, how we present ourselves physically can have a bearing on the way we feel internally. Furthermore, locking my hair was a way to be unapologetically me. I’d thought of trading in my afro and twists for relaxed hair and/or weaves especially seeing as those styles might do me better for job interviews. For years I’d wanted to try locks but I held off on it because I worried what people may think of me.
My patience has been tested for the past year. I thought my super kinky hair would lock in six months but that wasn’t the case and contrary to what many people think, taking care of locks can take quite a bit of time and effort. There were periods I thought of going back to having loose hair or even relaxing it again for the sake of convenience. But I learned to take a step back and just enjoy the journey rather hope to rush to the end.
And as I looked in the mirror a few seconds ago as I chuckled while recalling one other thing that has changed. For the guys that hit on me, locks give them some extra openers. “I like your dreads,” and “How long have you had dreads?” seem to be the preferred go-to phrases now. Increased attention can be a bit daunting for a shy person such as myself but ultimately it’s been good for me. Strangers have often struck up conversations with me that started with a question or comment about my locks. All in all it’s been a great journey and I look forward experiencing the rest of it.
Looking at my locks after nearly a year of starting this journey, I think of what things were like at the time I started with them. I look in the mirror and remember that I endured some pretty bleak times and that I can endure any bleak times ahead.
*Jo is a Lusaka based writer. She blogs infrequently at Badafricana.blogspot.com