Lets talk about hair… Baby!

When people meet me for the first time, one of the things we generally end up talking about is my hair. This is because I live in Nigeria and have a different hair texture than most. And the fact that I am dark skinned adds to the confusion, if I were light skinned, it would be assumed I am mixed race and that would be the end of it.

I mean all kinds of people have inquired about my hair: black, white, mixed race, you name it. My experience has been quite varied.

An example is the day two white girls came to me looking apprehensive but with some kind of determination in their eyes. I was suddenly wary because I wasn’t sure I wanted to part of any quest that required both apprehension and determination. It had been a lovely evening. After apologizing profusely for the possible offense they would inflict on me, they asked if my hair was mine, I said yes. Then they apologized again before asking if it was natural, I said yes. The relief and joy on their face was really amusing. One of them went on to say “You have just made my day, my week as a matter of fact, I am just so sick of seeing these wigs and it is so refreshing to see this, keep it up”. I just said will do because really what else could I say. When I was heading out that evening, I didn’t stand in front of the mirror, point to my hair and say, “Hey you! Be inspiring today.”

The truth is, personally, the hair discussions I have had with people has told me more about them than any other discussion we’ve had. Like a mixed race girl who seemed a bit unnecessarily upset that her hair is, as she said ‘ like iron sponge’ while mine is really soft. This told me more about her than any other thing she could have said.

The whole world is obsessed with hair and unfortunately we have been given a prototype: long, full bodied and silky. The one thing we underplay or under show(I guess) is the need white women also have to live up to this standard. I know this not only because of the clip on’s and tracks occasionally showing on Britney Spears head but because after the compliments, after the ‘can I touch’ requests, what follows is the white women saying to me,  “I wish my hair could be this full”. We really are all in this together.

It doesn’t help that for centuries hair has been used to define and validate people especially women. It almost seems as if with a head of full long hair, you are assumed to have been touched by something special. Like you don’t have the same struggles as everybody else. It is even all over the bible, you read stories and see how sacred and important hair was and is, especially long hair. From Esau to Samson, Mary Magdalene and when reading some of the descriptions of the people of those times. In 1st Corinthians 11:15, it says, “But if a woman has long hair, it is a glory to her for her hair was given to her as a covering”. So yeah…

I have accepted the effect of the importance of hair. However, we need to know, accept and understand that in the greater scheme of things, it is not the most important.

Growing up, I didn’t care too much for my hair. It felt like an Alien who sat on my head whose language I would never learn to speak. It grew in a strange way, it didn’t do anything I wanted it to do (which by the way was lie down flat) and it brought a lot of unwanted attention. The attention was partly admiration, partly animosity but I was mostly called a liar.

“You are lying. You are must be mixed with something. Indian?”

“You are lying. Let me check your hair, Its either a wig or weavon.”

“You are lying. Where is your Father from? And your Mother?”

“You are lying. What brand of relaxer do you use?”

And these are not the most annoying statements but I can proudly say I’ve never lost my patience. This is because intrinsically I understand the obsession with hair and just bear with it.

Somehow having a different hair texture wasn’t top priority at home. In my house, we all have different hair textures, so you just knew someone’s hair was curlier, silkier, one never grew straight, one couldn’t be combed easily and the list goes on. And in primary school, kids didn’t know the difference so no one questioned me. My first experience that fully brought the awareness of my texture was my first week in secondary school. I was called to the principal’s office and she had a pair of scissors in her hand.

The principal was furious with my mom and I couldn’t understand why. She was yelling about us not reading the school’s guidelines and my mom’s audacity in relaxing my hair knowing fully well it was unacceptable. She asked me why I relaxed my hair before resuming and I tearfully told her I didn’t know what she was talking about. Lucky for me, before the scissors descended on my already low cut hair (one of the school’s criteria) a neighbor from my street that was a senior in the school, arrived and defended me. She wasn’t fully able to convince the principal but struck a deal which was to let my hair grow for a month and if a different texture appeared, undergrowth as we call it, then I could be suspended or given the appropriate punishment.

Undergrowth checks was also one of the annoyances I endured, especially during University from people that believed I was lying about my hair. The history of the University experience is too long and not for this particular post but I may touch on it some other time.

This post is about the fact that people think I am lucky to have ‘Non-African’ hair texture or ‘Oyibo’ hair as we call it here but this is what you do not know.

Taking care of this hair daily is akin to waking up every morning and being forced to solve a freaking quadratic equation. Did I tell you I have four. yes the number 4, different hair textures on my head? So every day to take care of my hair, I have to solve for w,x,y and z. This is because the textures do not do the same thing or react the same way to water, the weather and products and I’ve had to learn all these along the way.

Oh did I also tell you they do not grow at the same pace? The back hair grows slower, so no matter what I do, it will always appear shorter than the rest. It is also very curly and coily, so it shrinks very well and mostly appears as half of its length.

The hair at the sides grow a wee bit faster than the back. The hair in the middle grows a wee bit faster than the sides and the hair front and center grows twice as fast as the back. No matter how I cut it or shape it to look even, give it a month and voila! it is back to being uneven.

I have also learnt to apply product differently because one part of the hair absorbs well and the other doesn’t. If I do not do this then parts of my head will look soaking wet while some other parts will look extremely dry.

People always tell me to be grateful that I do not have to deal with relaxers but I personally feel what I have to deal with is its own challenge. I am however grateful not because I fell specially endowed but because I see my entire life as a gift. My heritage, my nationality, my physical appearance, my mental health, my creative abilities, my perspectives; all that is uniquely mine is uniquely mine and I refuse to have it any other way.

As for my hair, I am learning daily to work with it and make it… almost do what I want.

For example when I want it to look short and shrunken, I do not put any product at all.

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When I want it a little bit longer and the curls to loosen up, I know just the right amount of product to put.

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But most times I just braid it up because I do not want to deal with it for a while; even mathematicians need a holiday.

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Other times when I am bored and feeling some Aaliyah vibes, I use it to play around.

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Its hair, it shouldn’t be so serious but God forbid I should tell you how to feel about yours.

Who else has more then one texture? Let me know, for I am sure we are many; just stop paying attention to the prototype, study your own hair and you may just be pleasantly surprised.

Imsomnia? Don’t watch an Adam Sandler movie at night and 6 other things not to do!

So true especially getting up to write ideas.

psychologistmimi

Imsomnia? Don’t watch an Adam Sandler movie at night and 6 other things not to do!

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Ever since I moved back out to California, I have been having a hard time falling asleep. I don’t even think about falling asleep early. And it is not like I am up all night working or stressing about things. California just has reset my biological rhythms. Whether that is a good thing, time will tell.

Here are some quick tidbits I have learned the last few months as to what not to do when having a hard time falling asleep:

1. Do not, under any circumstance, watch an Adam Sandler movie if you want to eventually sleep. His movies tend to be so bad that you cant help but stay up and watch the whole movie. It is perverse, I know, but true.  The last few weeks I have caught Blended and Just…

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Woman: The Great Expedition.

Russian Writer Fyodor Dostoevsky in1839, as a young boy, wrote a letter to his brother. That letter contained these words:

Woman is a mystery: If you have spent your entire life trying to puzzle it out, do not say you have wasted your time. I occupy myself with this mystery because I want to be a woman.’

The underlined words are those I have taken the liberty of substituting. When Dostoevsky wrote this, he wrote ‘man’. I have simply reworded to apply to me. Before I stumbled upon this words, I had been trying to define a persistent feeling; and the moment I read this sentence, I knew that feeling had been captured.

I have always been a bit obsessed with the female psyche and some people have found this strange, especially since I am female. My gender’s behavior had been a bit of a head-scratcher for me (as I am sure my behavior is to everyone else). This might be because growing up, I was told I looked like a boy, So I guess I started to mentally and emotionally function like one. It took a lot to make me cry and in my opinion, if you asked, going to the market was the worst form of human cruelty. It didn’t matter that my head was full of long hair and I was soft and fragile but because I look like my dad, I was somehow compared to the male gender. Thanks to the evolution of my face, those days are long behind me. However, I have to acknowledge my near scientific fascination with the mystery called the female is as a result of ‘dem days’.

Over the years, thanks to the beauty I see around me and certain writers and poets, I have come to love being female. I have also embraced all our craziness. Now i can go through a roller coaster of a day, i.e. sad in the morning, optimistic by mid-day, explosive by early afternoon, weepy at night and not be the least bit exhausted. I just love being female now. My evolution will happen this way: first and always I am female, then a girl, later a woman and finally one day I will be an old woman.

A poem that has helped me along this journey is one written by Eve Ensler. She is the famous playwright of The Vagina Monologues. Her poem I Am An Emotional Creature is one of the best I have ever read .This is perhaps the loudest call I have heard for females to embrace their complexities. The lines I love in this poem are :-

I am an emotional creature

Things do not come to me

As intellectual theories or hard shaped ideas

They pulse through my organs and legs

And burn up my ears…

I love that I do not take things lightly

Everything is intense to me

Even though these are some of my favorite lines, I am not really emotional and things do come to me as intellectual theories and sometimes as hard shaped ideas but the theme of the poem is not to be ashamed and embrace your natural tendencies; and so I have.

I am in the woman stage of my life. I have left childish ways behind but not my child-like spirit; it feeds my creativity and provides me with the naivete I need to sustain and accomplish my goals. I have taken up more responsibilities and look forward to extending my family. When I hear people say, “having my own family” it just does not totally sound and feel right.

Other women have come before me and paved the way and this makes me glad. Sometimes I study women who have ‘conquered’ the world to see if they have embraced womanhood and how they show it. I realize through watching them that womanhood cannot be given a single definition. There are women who have found themselves and let go of their self-consciousness. Their oblivion as they walk and let their saggily wiggily bellies accompany them is evidence of this. They haven’t let themselves go but having a six pack is obviously not crucial in their scheme of things. Their lack of vanity and confidence can shame any young girl hiding her love handles in a loose top.

There are also those that have found and stored up wisdom along the way. I identify them by how they understand me when I am rambling and struggling to get my points across. Hours later, my head still reverberates with the simple truths and guidance heard from them. Then there are the warm and maternal women who spread their arms and give me a welcoming hug at our first introduction; one can never have enough loving mothers.

There is no need to get stuck being a girl; it gets ridiculous after a certain age.

I look forward to my progress in the woman stage. Not so much for the saggy belly but for the warm hugs I hope to give out and the wisdom I hope to have acquired along this journey of womanhood. With a bit of luck, anytime I meet a young bewildered girl, I should at least be able to point her in the right direction.

The emotional and physical inconsistencies along the journey are just the aggregates that turn and metamorphose a girl into a woman.

… Yeah, I also studied Geology in the University and sometimes it seeps into my writing, so there you have it.

Your Nigeria Is Not My Nigeria.

Stereotyping when done in words and not in deed, doesn’t bug me; bear with me, I have my reasons. One of which is: I believe stereotyping raises a lot of very important questions and if we still have questions, then we do not have the answer yet. And we must learn to explore our questions instead of get emotional and irrational about them.

Have you ever heard the phrase or statement, ‘Nigerians love to answer a question with another question’ ? if you haven’t, let me give a rundown of what a conversation can look like.

Person A: Can I come to your house tomorrow?

Person B: What time do you want to come?

Person A: Is 3pm fine with you?

Person B: 3pm in the afternoon?

Person A: Isn’t 3pm in the afternoon?

Seriously, the questions can go on forever before an answer emerges and I am not exaggerating. We, Nigerians, have mastered the art of the question. I used to wonder why we did that. I always thought it was for clarity sake or to be on the same page or something but after our recent elections, I have come to the conclusion that it is because we are too emotional to deal with honest answers. Especially, if the answers are direct, brutal and instant. Somehow and somewhere along the line during our development as a people, we pushed reason to the side and let emotions be the driver of our lives.

Could it be because of modernization? I would like to believe we reasoned more back in the time of the kingdoms and when tradition ruled the land. This is because all the local stories and folktales I have heard celebrated being wise and intelligent. Most of these stories seem to indicate that being wise was a precursor to great decisions and fair judgement. But we have totally lost this; the ability to logically reason things out before our emotions get in the way.

Can we say it is because of religion? Jesus Christ my personal person as we say in Nigeria and my hero, even though a lot of the time didn’t really give straight out answers; he presented things in a way that encouraged us to ask, seek and knock. He was quite brutally honest and candid though when it came to his answers. This is me speaking on the Christian side of things.

As a country, we are so segmented, segregated and sectional (proud of my ‘S’ usage son!) but we refuse to accept this fact. The recent elections just showed our tribalism and how normalized our stereotypes are to the point that they were used in arguments as proof.

However, we do like to claim to be proudly Nigerian, but what does that even mean? I do not know anybody that dresses Nigerian, I do not even know what it means to dress Nigerian. Some may say when we wear Ankara or printed fabrics , we dress Nigerian. Really? Aren’t those fabrics from Denmark or Holland or Somewhere far off? Isn’t our textile industry broken down and virtually non-existent? What really makes us proudly Nigerian? Is it when Chiwetel Ejifor is nominated for an Oscar and we claim him and share in his glory? Because I know we are very vocal and quick to distance ourselves from the international criminals and terrorists that emerge from within. So what is ‘Proudly Nigerian’ really?

When I was going to do my one year youth service, I asked around about what to expect especially during the three week orientation camp. The most reoccurring advice I got was, “Beware of the Igbo girls on camp.” It got really scary when an Igbo girl who grew up in Jos told me the same thing. I wondered why everyone was particular about Igbo girls and I asked “Why not Yoruba girls?”. The only answer i got was you will find out when you get to camp and boy did i ever.

My bunk mate was nastiness wrapped in human form. I can’t even go into the details of how low she stooped to make my life miserable. The worst thing she did was wake up in the dead of the night to pee in my bucket of bathing water. Did I tell you she was Igbo?

I would like to say my experience was enough proof of this Igbo stereotype but on the bunk next to me was another Igbo girl; one of the sweetest people I met on camp. She observed the drama going on between me and my bunk mate and took it upon herself to protect and look out for me. My nickname in our apartment ‘Yankee Bunkee’ came from her and I loved chatting with her. She gave me some perspective as to the general reason for the nastiness but now that I have explored further, I have my own theories which I would share another time.

The stereotype for my people, Plateau people is that we are very lazy and stupid. This stereotype is based on the fact that we are not hustlers and every other tribe comes to our state to enrich themselves with our resources while we watch. Is this true? I do not agree it to be entirely true and this is how I try to educate people who say this.

Most Plateau Indigenes are land owners. I can boldly say at least 90% of the population owns land where ever they come from or have access to it. A typical Plateau person can go to their village and have a piece of land that they can claim as theirs or that belongs to their family (immediate and extended). This means they can farm on it and earn money or explore it in some way so the need to migrate to another state and ‘suffer’ yourself as we see it, isn’t really there.

Plateau parents mostly cuddle and smother their kids, this should be a good thing but notice i said kids. A typical Plateau parent for some reason doesn’t encourage their children to grow up. I don’t know the reason for this and i am still looking into it. Somewhere in our history, something must have happened but I don’t know what yet. Now this means that the things it takes to be a proper grown up has eluded a lot of us. Hopefully as we accept this truth, the next generation will be spared but I am afraid it may not be the case.Because really, have we accepted this truth?

Contentment was also slammed into us from day one. If you have in excess, living/appearing humble is the way to go. It is so easy for us to sniff out and judge the materialistic and vulgar amongst us. And with the hard and heavy ‘righteous’ judgement ready and easy to be dispersed; a lot of people do not want to deal with it.

So we don’t aspire to much because we have enough and that is good…er…enough. This should be a good thing to be content but it is not an excuse to not be productive. It is also not a reason to let our gifts, talents and resources to be depleted and go to waste; to whom much is given, so much more is expected. We are up to the task but squandering our blessings and this is truly worse than actually being lazy and stupid.

I bet my bunk mate in camp heard I was Plateau and naturally assumed based on a stereotype she could oppress me. On the very last day of camp due to my highly elevated ways of putting her in check, she met me and instead of apologizing for her mean ways, she said “I can’t believe you thought it was right to let us go three weeks sharing a bunk without knowing each others names.” I just shook my head and walked away and to this day I do not know her name. I only refer to her as ‘The mean Igbo girl that was my bunk mate in camp,” and I am right in doing this. But would I be right in telling everyone going to camp to beware of the Igbo girls? I don’t think so.

We have 371 tribes in Nigeria, do we even want to assume the number of stereotypes floating around? Even with 3 major tribes and religions, we still haven’t solidified ourselves enough to find a common ground. Is it a wonder we almost killed ourselves online over our choices during the elections? Or am I the only that doesn’t really know what it means to be truly Nigerian?

So many questions yet to be answered…