Got My Hair Un-did


It took three weeks, a pack of broken combs, some tears, a fair amount of cursing.
But I did it. I combed out all 169 locks on my head and am now the proud owner of a little awesome Afro.
It’s been a few years in the making, the desire to start again. But I couldn’t just cut off 17 years of living and loving and travel and jouvay, you know?
I’m actually really happy I chose to unlock it. It gave me a chance to say goodbye to my locks. To let go of all that I had been through and experienced for all those years.
Hair is emotional.
I talked about it for a couple weeks with my sisters (who gave me the look specially reserved for my frequent mad ideas). On Christmas Eve I started at the centre of my head. My arms hurt. I cried. A few days in I lost all zeal to continue. Somehow I kept going (I started to run out of headties).
As my hair started to emerge in all its mad curly glory I became overwhelmed by a sense of how completely we have been made to hate ourselves.
A thing as fundamental to your sense of being as your hair gets undermined from the time you are born. This was not the case in my house and thank the goddess I had two older sisters to comb my hair for me.
I realized last year that I missed those times with my sisters when they would comb my hair. I think the loss of those rituals between women of different generations is part of the further destruction of community and a sense of (haha) rootedness.
The more of my hair I saw, the more I became excited that I would have those moments again. When someone would show care in my appearance and give me a bad ass hair style that didn’t come out of a bottle or a heating appliance.
When I was in India last year I got questioned about my hair a lot, given that the only people there who wear their hair in locks are Saddhus and the warrior ascetics known as Nagas.
I tried to explain that locks were a totally acceptable way of women wearing their hair, to which the response was ‘and men find this attractive?!’
In truth, locks for me have been a kind of anti-beauty. A deliberate subversion of an idea of what hair should look like for a black woman. Some men find the idea of that attractive. That you are determined not to fit into what society says is beautiful.
But my time with my locks taught me that what is most important is to be comfortable enough in your skin, in your sense of who you are, in your sense of where you are going and where you have come from. I was never a ‘Revlon Rasta’. I wasn’t one of those compulsive groomers. My hair was wild (and still is) and occasionally depending on my mood I tried to tame it into what may have been loosely construed as a hairstyle.
But I feel like I’m into another phase now. One that gives me the room to play with my image. I’m really enjoying my afro, like getting to know a new friend. My hair is so fricking awesome!! I’ve been spending a lot of time just playing with it. Loving it. Anointing my scalp with coconut oil. The variety of textures, the need for care.
Your hair can teach you a lot about your own complexities. I’m loving getting to know myself in a totally different way.

Life is a Practice

But the tide of change is sweeping fast
Destruction everywhere
You gotta hold on to the lifeline
Let’s hold on together
You and me
Have no fear.
River Come Down, Andre Tanker

Life is a practice.  A wise hermit type fellar called Fingers told me that once many years ago in the bush.
It sounds cheesy, I know.
Life is a practice that so many of us don’t even get a chance to make a mess of.
Fingers the hermit type fellar’s fingers had been chopped off by some irate husband.  He spoke expressively and in spurts between pointed silences during which the sea roared a North Coast roar at us.
The stumps on his hands were as disturbing to me as seeing finally the precipices that I had walked past in the darkest of nights, surrounded by friends I trusted to lead me and my untrained city feet through the bush.
Fingers, I came to learn, had made every possible mistake in his own life, and I can’t remember the details but I remember the dreadness and the silence of his eyes.
I guess you get wise after you’ve spent many years in isolation with only your thoughts and nature’s rhythm section to keep you company.
Fingers’ words have followed me for a long time, haunting me to find a meaning for that.
It’s not the wisest thing I’ve ever heard or the most poetic.   But it makes sense in a way that only an old Rasta man with a nickname reminding of his loss can.
I remember Fingers’ words again standing in a river, my ankles being nibbled on by fish I learn are called cichlids.
Life is a practice and some of us don’t have a chance to put the lessons we have learned to anything good.
You try to find the reason for young couple to get washed away by a river.  Or a seventeen year old mother to be mowed down by a truck.  You try to make sense of these things and nothing is forthcoming.
But life is a practice and if we didn’t keep trying well, we better all just lie down one time.
A more poetic man called Martin Carter once put the same thought like this: death must not find us thinking that we die.
We might as well give up now, stop wasting our time to be better people, to be loved and happy and productive.
We might as well stop complaining about the country going nowhere if we are not prepared to do the work to take it forward.
I am still practicing to find my bush feet. I am still practicing to climb rocks and keep patient and believe I can do it.
I am still practicing to feel anything else but anger and powerlessness watching the news.
I am still practicing to not doubt my words even when I think they sound like some cheesy self-help corn soup for the early thirties soul book.
There is that moment of panic when you’re in the river and the water is rushing in your ears and your foot is stuck in a rock and you don’t trust that your brain can work it out for you to get your foot to the other side.  And you slide down and buss your toe and bruise up your boomsie and your elbows and your pride because you can’t believe how ungraceful you are.
There is a moment when nothing makes sense, when the vagrants don’t make sense and the tall buildings and the quarry scarring your view.  Nothing makes sense and you know you’re not the crazy one.
But life is a practice and at some point you learn that the answer is not to try to avoid the problem.  Wheel to come again perhaps, but don’t turn your back totally.
Life is a practice like learning the exact amount of starch mangoes you can eat before you make yourself sick.
Life is a practice and I learn more and more every day that the best way to protect the thing you love most is to know it as well as you know yourself.
From the colour of ripe cocoa pods to the temperament of rivers in a gorge in rainy season. From changing your traffic laws to knowing the names of fish that nibble on your ankles.  You have to know the name of every tree you want to save and the colour of the grief of every child you don’t want to end up a killer.  Life is a practice rushing at you, overwhelming you, tumbling you to your core.  Who is throwing you your lifeline?