Monday, July 12, 2010

In which I remember that I like my hair

After spending yesterday pondering the theoreticals of race, today I'm remembering of one of the greatest inter-racial encounters that has happened to me so far in Haiti.

I was accompanying an international visitor on a visit to one of the IDP (internally displaced people) camps where we work. He sat down with a dozen women to talk with them and I stood on the outside of the circle listening in on the discussion.

A few minutes in, I felt a light tug on my head. It felt like someone was playing with my hair and hoping I wouldn't notice. I turned around and saw a cute cute cute ten-year-old girl with about six pigtails and big green ribbons tied around each one. That's the typical school get-up for girls here in Port-au-Prince: the ribbons match their school uniform.

She looked up at me, not at all sheepishly after being caught red-handed, and told me admiringly that my hair is so long. If I'd been irritated before that, I couldn't have held onto my wrath. Instead, I smiled, said thank you, then mentioned that my hair used to come all the way down to my waist.

Her eyes grew enormous. "Really? Wow!", she said. Then she added, "But what happened? Did it fall out?"

I told her that no, I had chosen to cut it. After all, it's a lot of work to have a lot of hair.

(For those who don't know: the texture of Black Haitian hair, like that of most African descendants, is such that it breaks and falls out very easily past a certain length; the texture of straight Caucasian hair like mine is such that the more I trim it, the faster and longer it will grow.)

She nodded as if she understood what it's like having long hair like mine, then she asked me if she could cut off a bit of my hair. She held out a little fistful which would have shortened my mane by several inches. I giggled a bit, shrugged, then said, "No."

She shrugged back and ran off to listen in on the grown-up discussion. As did I, although I couldn't help reaching back every few seconds to make sure no girl was holding scissors up to my head.

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