Being Average

Posted: June 17, 2016 in Daydreams, My truth
Tags: , , , ,
selfie time

Playing the ukulele

Amana’s father asked her what it was that she had put on her head. There was a look of disgust in his eyes as he said it, almost as if there were worms slithering out of her scalp instead of her now six-inch dreadlocks; black with golden-brown tips. Amana had had to use the Chinese brand hair dye twice. Her kinky African hair just wouldn’t bite the first time even though the instructions on the box said the dye would work on all types of hair. They must have forgotten to add ‘Asian’ somewhere in that statement. Amana and her friend Jianni had laughed so hard when, after the anticipation of trying out hair dye for the first time in their lives, they had come out of the shower with their hair looking like they had just rode through a dusty town in one of those old, rickety buses. The ones shaped like loaves of bread whose radio was switched on by connecting two naked wires. A week later, they had gone to a different store and gotten a different brand. This one promised a bright, glossy finish.
The last time Amana’s hair had a glossy finish was when she was younger, after a hot-comb treatment. This was years seven through twelve. Calling it a treatment makes it sound way fancier than it actually is. Every Sunday her mother would take out the scary black, heavy, metal-comb, a tub of Vaseline petroleum jelly and the charcoal jiko (stove). She would then call Amana and her sisters, out on the veranda. Each would sit on the ground below their mother who sat on a short three-legged stool and go through a grueling session of hair straightening. Every time that hot metal comb straight from the burning coal came close to the scalp, Amana would hear the crackling of melting Vaseline. Any sort of movement at this point was curtailed quickly by the tightening grip of her mother’s strong legs and a stern warning of ears getting burnt off. It was all worth it though when later, Amana would strut into Sunday school in her lacey, layered dress with a matching purse filled with two shillings for offering and her straight, glossy, shrinkage-free hair. She would proceed to sit at the front and do a hair flip, forget the fact that her hair would never respond, she did it anyway.
At age twelve, Amana opted out of the struggle and cut her hair short. The tom-boy phase kicked in soon after that and lasted all through high school and the four years of her bachelor’s degree at a local university.  For as long as she could remember, she had always admired women in dreadlocks and always wondered when she would get her own. Her father had always been adamantly against it and maintained a strict ‘My house, my rules’ policy.
As fate would have it, at age twenty-five Amana would win a scholarship to study a master’s degree abroad. It was there that her new dreadlocked friend sitting on a stool above her, comb in hand, made Amana’s dreadlock dream come true.
Amana loved her new look. It wasn’t glossy. It wasn’t silky. It wasn’t straight. It was just what she had always wanted. It’s funny how living in one of the fastest growing economies came with an expectation that the locals would have some level of general world knowledge about different cultures and peoples of the world.
Are you born with your hair like that? Do you wash it? Does it untangle when you do? Can I touch it? If I pull it, will it come off? How did you twist it? Can I do the same to mine? Can I take a picture of you?
These are the questions Amana had to answer from the locals for the rest of her time in China, on every subway, cab, train, bus ride she took; in every store, park, office, class she went to. She practically had a script in mind for it.
Yes, all African children are born with their hair locked; it’s just that some decide to untangle it when they grow up. Are you crazy? , I never wash my hair, I just air it out and it’s good to go. Don’t you dare touch it; not unless you want to end up with strands of locks in your hands? Of course I can do it on your hair, we are all born experts. Sorry, in my culture, no one takes pictures, it is bad luck.
Not all she met were like that though, thankfully. Most only asked out of innocent curiosity as they had never had such close interaction with an African. For those who were just plain ignorant and rude, Amana would deliver her lines without apology.
The worst was when she would go looking for part time jobs to supplement the allowance her scholarship gave her. On several occasions, the interviewer would comment that she was too black for the job but have the audacity to ask to touch her hair.
Living in China however was a real eye opener for Amana. She had never been abroad, she only read about life there in magazines, watched it in movies and heard stories from friends of friends who had been there. Amana never envied them, never dreamt the American dream, never desired to take photos on the Eiffel tower or hear the gongs of Big Ben. She loved being Kenyan, flawed as the country was. She longed for change, as any person her age did. Corruption scandals were in no short supply. Millions of shillings were stolen here, billions there. It felt like one of those whack-a-mole arcade games, the scandals being the moles that pop up randomly and the bat being the commissions of inquiry supposedly formed to get to the truth. One mole pops up, you try to hit it and another pops up, you try to hit that then the previous one shows up again, you go back and try to hit that then three pop up at the same time. It’s exhausting just thinking about it but sadly that is how many of our beautiful countries operate. Amana was an optimist though even when her ex-boyfriend, Tafiti said Kenya would soon fall, Amana would just shrug it off and tell him he did not know what he was talking about. She would tell him that change was coming, and if she were lucky, she would get to be part of that change. But at times, she wasn’t sure.
Amana had read many writers refer to corruption as a cancer eating Kenya from the inside out. Her mother had died of cancer when she was 18; breast cancer. It kept recurring over the years; she fought so hard, she was just fourty seven when she passed. Towards the end, it ate into her legs, one after the other; she eventually had to use a wheelchair. While she was on chemo therapy, one night she had asked Amana to help her shave her hair, it was falling out. Amana never saw her mother cry, not over the cancer. She was the strongest person she knew. She moved to Eldoret, a city pretty far away to try herbal treatments that some doctors were experimenting with there. Amana wasn’t there when her mother passed on but she remembers the call. Your mother is dead, her father had said. She didn’t hear anything else, just passed the phone to her younger sister and went up on the roof and wept for hours till there were no tears left.
Amana wondered if her country would survive this cancer.  Either way, she wasn’t about to look for a green card or some random rich blue-eyed man to marry her just so she could escape as some of her girlfriends had done. She was going to stay and fight. If the ship was going down, she would go down with it.
December, 2012; after three years study in China, it was time to go back home. Amana knew her father would be against her hair but hoped he would see reason. She was 28 now, practically a grown woman. Being so far from home, by herself had given her a sort of confidence, an awareness of who she was, of her identity. Her locks had become part of that identity, an outward symbol of her inner person. She had seen them through that troublesome phase where they just wouldn’t lie flat and were so thin like little twigs sticking out of her scalp. She would make concoctions from hair oils she had sent from home specifically for dreadlocks and spray them into her hair religiously.
After the friendship between her and the girl who locked her hair ended in what felt like a lovers’ spat, even though they were not lovers, Amana had to do her own hair. She liked that girl, maybe she had even unintentionally fallen for her. In retrospect Amana knew her only mistake was that she had confessed her feelings to this girl and that though non-sexual, her confession was met with a stern rebuke and instruction to go find a boyfriend.
Her locks were a reminder of that too, of the strength and sense of self-worth she had gained after realizing that she had erroneously allowed her world to revolve around one person.
Her father called for a meeting, a month after she got back home. He said he had hoped that Amana had seen sense in that time and had gotten over whatever stress or depression she was in. Amana told him she was neither stressed nor depressed. She said that her locks were not a show of rebellion. Children, if anything rebel when they are in their teens, Amana didn’t see the need for rebellion then so why would she do it now. He told her that some who fought for independence wore their hair like that but that the times of revolution are gone. She would never get a job with that hair. She should go take a walk in town, look at all the women’s hair styles and just try to be average, try to be normal.
Amana could not believe what she was hearing. All through her life her father had insisted on his children striving to be above average in everything they did. The lectures they had received on the topic were countless. Yet, here he was, her hero, renown in his profession, respected by his peers, telling her, his daughter to just be average.
He would continue to repeat this statement a while after. On marriage he said, on her 29th birthday that she was getting old (er) and that she should try and be normal and not marry too late.
Amana would cry into her pillow yet again that night, wondering if she was truly not acting normal or not being normal. And whether her father thought of her as a disappointment, as something that needed to be fixed?
Amana woke up the next morning and after her shower, as she stared at her naked body in the mirror. She ran her hands gently over every curve, every scar, every spot, and every un-waxed tuft of hair. She smiled at how her left breast was bigger than the right but both still small. She counted every pimple on her face and wondered why one eye seemed bigger than the other. She ran her fingers through her locks, took up her spray bottle and sprayed every strand. She put the bottle down, poured castor oil from another bottle into her hands and massaged it into her scalp for what felt like thirty minutes. As she tied her hair up in a ponytail she vowed she would never let herself be; just average.

  1. Mercy Cari Oluoch says:

    Cynthia, u are awesome, u are enough! Keep being u darling


  2. purity says:

    You are such a good writer. Keep being you. love you girl


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