Month: February 2018

The Complex Subject That Is African Hair

This is the longest I have stayed with short hair. I think I cut it short sometime in July or August 2016 after I ran out of styling options. I didn’t realize then that it will stay short for this length of time. Trust me, it has not been an easy journey.

My hair is the kinky type and for some reason, I find it way easier to manage when at its full length. Sounds absurd, I know but for me, I tend to feel the kink less when it’s longer. I feel it more when it’s short because it coils, shrinks, gets untidy easily and the problematic areas are easier to spot. Basically, everything that is considered wrong with African hair in its natural form.

I’m sure you are probably wondering why I’m talking about hair when this is a Creative Writing blog and not a Beauty blog. I mean, I have to talk about hair! In as much as I identify myself as a Writer, I equally identify myself as an African woman, whose natural hair will remain a constant reminder of her heritage. I might as well address all the insecurities I face with my own kinky head!

As a child, my hair was literally unmanageable. There’s a humorous story that goes around in our family about how my mum, always ensured my hair was in a bonnet as a toddler. This is actually true and not fictitious. I even have a photo as proof.

I am told that my hair was too kinky to the extent that I would not let anyone touch it. The only time I sat quietly and still, was when my uncle on mum’s side paid us a visit and felt he needed to sort out my hair situation. So he asked for a comb and Little Miss Fussy was surprisingly, calm the whole time he combed the shrub on my small head. His hands must have had a magical effect on me!

Lower primary was no different. For some reason, my hair would stubbornly fail to grow at the back. That time, TCB was considered an African hair product of choice and my mum constantly used avocado in addition to that, as special treatment for my stubborn hair. Of course in lower primary, nobody really cares whether you have good hair or not, but that did not stop us from noticing the difference on our Somali and Indian counterparts.

I remember this Somali girl in my class who would take out her hijab, the minute she got to school and give us free access to her long, soft, curly hair. We combed and plaited and twisted until it was time to go home and she put on her hijab again, to avoid getting into trouble at home for letting her hair loose in the first place. The Indian girls were equally generous with their silky, dark hair.

I happened to chance on an online discussion once, where some women of African descent, complained of strangers touching their hair without their permission and I did not really seem to get what the fuss was all about.

These Indian and Somali children in primary school whose mothers, I presume, had painstakingly styled their hair neatly for school that day, still let us African children with our sometimes, rugged cornrows touch and play with their hair. I’m sure we always left it very untidy with our inexperienced little hands and yet an adult somewhere, felt offended when someone touched their hair, out of what I considered pure curiosity. It’s time our African manes also got attention!

Pinterest

My first day of high school, I was quickly drawn to the long, permed hair of some of the girls. That morning, my mum with a pair of scissors had cut my hair short, believing that it would be hard for me to maintain it while in boarding school. Hair that had taken years of tender, loving care to grow into a full mane. Probably the best I had ever seen my hair. How wrong she was! The school I was in, provided a blowdryer per house to be shared by 80 girls.

Mind you, many of these girls had short hair much to the advantage of the ones with longer hair needing maintenance. Plus perming your hair was allowed under the assumption that it was neater than natural hair. However, with perming, came the belief that natural hair was not as beautiful for us impressionable, teenage girls.

It was not long before I joined the bandwagon just to look prettier. And sure enough, the boys noticed! For a girl who had not really gotten a lot of attention from the boys in her first year of high school, it was indeed a pleasant surprise to have a couple of  “suitors” now.

In adulthood, my hair surprisingly blossomed. It was still kinky but it grew to lengths I sometimes did not expect it to. The first time someone touched my hair “without permission” was a Swiss friend of my cousins, who had never really experienced natural, African hair before.

She watched me intently, the previous evening while I undid the braids then waited expectantly, for me to come back from the salon the next day, only to marvel at how it looked. Obviously, my hair and that of another friend fascinated her to the point where, she took photos of our heads to show her brother in Switzerland.

I didn’t really find her curiosity offensive, as I had grown to appreciate my African hair to some extent at that point. That does not mean that I haven’t endured hairdressers, who gladly made mean comments while working on it or times when hair chemicals backfired on me. It takes a certain level of courage to finally admit that your hair is not perfect but you still embrace its imperfections.

Of course I haven’t been spared of the misguided belief that only housegirls have their hair short. Many times, during this current short hair stint, I have been asked by women why I do not like making my hair and each time, I have explained that the hours spent at the salon discouraged me at some point. The looks I got in return, were a mixture of concern and wonder.

Funnily enough, my eyes have been opened to the many natural, African hair beauty products in the market. I do not really remember a time, when they were this many and one of the shops I like frequenting while in the capital, is one that has a whole aisle of natural hair products! How amazing can that get. I have equally experimented with some just to see the results.

Nowadays, you don’t really need a blowdryer to soften and straighten your natural hair. Trust me, the heat from some of those things is enough to cook a meal so you can imagine what it does to your hair. Some of these hair products are all you need to get the desired result.

One thing I have learnt about African hair is that it can only be made maneageable when you fully understand it. No hair type is the same. I see this even in my own family. While my sister’s is long and soft, my mother’s is thick and can grow to amazing lengths and mine kinky and of medium length, yet we probably carry some similar genes being of the same family.

Patience also is key. African hair does not grow overnight. It takes a longer period depending on it’s texture. If you would love to have healthy, natural, African hair do not force it to grow. Nurture it patiently until it gets to that desired length. And once you realize that hair chemicals do not work for you, ditch them for good like I did along the way.

Wishing you a hairful journey!

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Three Lines and Fourteen Words

By Akuchidinma Raymonda M.

Silhouette couple holding hands. Pinterest.

When she got tired of crying on the sofa, she sluggishly changed into a flowered jumpsuit, left her apartment and walked down to the bus stop, where she took a cab to the beach. The well illuminated beach teemed with people, finding it an ideal place to celebrate a day of romantic love. She sat down on a cane chair wide enough to contain two persons, which she found under a curved coconut tree.

A couple kissing passionately under a canopy caught her gaze. Repressing a sigh, she looked away. Nothing had prepared her for a break up on a Valentine’s Day. Looking up at the starry sky, she wondered if she would ever heal from the heartbreak and if she did, she knew she might forever remain immune to love.

Earlier, she had planned the events for the evening, just to show him how much she cherished him; a romantic dinner at a celebrity restaurant, two hours at the cinema, an hour at the beach and a steamy night at a five-star hotel. She had left the office earlier for the airport to pick him up. At the airport, the sight of the descending plane, heightened her excitement.

She quickly made her way, through the crowd in the arrival hall, where she had been patiently waiting. When she spotted him, her heart skipped a beat. She waved at him. He had barely spared her a smile, when someone whizzed past her.

“Sweetheart!” Screamed the pregnant woman, whom she could as well have ignored.

To her astonishment, she threw her arms around his neck and they held each other for what seemed like an eternity, before he stepped back to kiss her on the forehead. When their gazes met over the head of the petite woman, she saw the silent plea in his eyes and knew at once, that she had lost him forever.

Leaning forward, she cupped her head in her hands. Her only imaginations were of him, caressing the petite woman on a sofa, in a candle lit bedroom. This sent a shiver down her spine. She wondered why she always fell for demons in white robes. Her phone rang. She reluctantly picked it up on the fifth ring.

“Nkem, we need to talk.” She recognized his husky voice.

“Ekene, you should know we don’t need goodbyes to walk away.” She ended the call.

Trying not to relive the beautiful moments they once shared, she got up and walked towards the sea beckoning her. She winced when the soles of her feet hit the cold water. Neither the soothing sounds of the clashing waves nor the beautiful white creases they made on the sea could ease her pains. She stood there relishing the idea of committing suicide.

“It hurts so much.” She whispered.

When her crave for life outweighed the urge to drown, she returned to the cane chair, only to find a stranger sitting at the other end of it. Too tired to search for another seat, she went and sat down quietly, keeping a distance from him. As she flicked through her phone gallery, tears like rain drops fell on the phone screen.

“Did you lose someone dear to you?” His sonorous voice sliced through the silence.

She ignored him even though she was tempted to share her grief with someone.

“It is a beautiful night. Don’t waste it crying over things you can never change.” He returned his attention to his phone.

As if she had been waiting for a cue, her shoulders convulsed with sobs. Spent from crying, she leaned back to stare at the receding tides.

“I always love the wrong men.” She sniffed.

He handed her a bottle of water which she reluctantly took.

“I always fall for women who take my love for granted.” He added.

Silence ensued, each lost in their own thoughts.

“True love doesn’t exist.” She broke the silence.

“It does. Just that people like us don’t have cupids hovering above us.” He adjusted, so he could look at her.

What type of man would hurt a woman on a day like this? He wondered. He had also suffered the same fate but had moved on, hoping that someday his scars would be healed by a stronger love. He couldn’t help pitying her so he decided to share his experience, with the hope that she would find some consolation in his story.

“Is it too late to make up?” She turned to look at him.

“Last night, I got her wedding invitation…” He choked with emotion.

“Aww…” She gasped.

“I doubt if I can ever love again.” He heaved a sigh.

The gloomy look on his handsome face tore at her heart. She thought of how to put a faint smile on his face. Without a second thought, she said the only three lines she could remember from a novel she read as a teenager.

“Hide not your emotions
For gracefully a rare love rides
And you it will surely find.”

He chuckled.

“Strangely, your words just warmed my heart. Are you a poet?”

“No.” She answered with a grin.

For the first time that night, he noticed how beautiful she was. Ignoring the warning bells ringing in his head and giving in to the desire to derive peace of mind from a genuine smile, he said the only fourteen words which his heart could muster.

“Hold my hands
Let’s walk together
And feel these sands
If not forever.”

She looked at his outstretched hand and smiled. She knew that if there was any way to salvage their ruined Valentine’s Day, it was to take the hand of this stranger whose love life was also a mess as hers and enjoy the rest of the evening at least.

To her, it was neither love nor attraction, rather an escape from herself. So she slipped her slender fingers into his larger ones which curled around hers. With their shoulders an inch apart, they walked along the beach and forever, they never let go.

 

Akuchidinma Raymonda M. is a Microbiologist from Nigeria with a passionate interest in fiction writing. To read her full bio among those of other Writers, who have previously submitted their works to the blog, click on the “WRITERS FEATURED” page at the top.

I Hate My Husband

“A house where a

woman is unsafe is not a home.”

Woman, Liberia

I’m playing with the kitchen knife in my hand. Running my forefinger back and forth the recently sharpened blade. The man with a turban passed by yesterday. He is a man of few words and often does his work silently. I do not even know his name yet he has always sharpened my knives.

I watched him pass the blades, one by one, on that spinning, metal wheel he uses, his foot on the pedal below, his brow furrowed in concentration. I then paid him 100 shillings for his services. The next time I will need him is probably after a month, when the blades would be blunt again from all the chopping, scraping and peeling I do in the kitchen.

I turn the knife again in my hand. My husband lies sprawled on the living room sofa, snoring loudly, mouth slightly open. His lips are a garish red and swollen. The pungent smell of alcohol fills the air. I do not go near him. I do not even want to be near him.

A short while back, he was upon me with kicks and blows. I did not scream the whole time. I stopped screaming long ago when I realized that none of the neighbors came out. And if they did, it was not to my rescue, but to watch the spectacle unfold from their verandahs, for their next gossip session.

The women were the worst hypocrites. Pretending to sympathize and offer advice the following day when my husband was away at work. The men would avert their eyes whenever I bumped into them. Like they needed to carry the shame from one of their own.

I have received all kinds of advice. The most outrageous being to burn my husband with hot oil. I toyed with the idea of it for a while, then remembered my children. One 5 and the other 7. What would happen to them if I got jailed for causing serious bodily harm to their father? My in-laws would probably be too resentful to look after them in my absence. My parents are long dead.

And so I stopped screaming whenever my husband would pounce on me for the flimsiest of reasons. If I got any injuries after a beating, I would hide myself indoors until the wounds healed. It was the only way I could avoid drawing unnecessary attention to my already pathetic situation. When the women ask if my husband stopped beating me, I feign a genuine smile and say we resolved the issue. It always satisfies them.

Again, I turn the knife, wondering how many seconds it would take to drive it into my husband’s bare chest. Many times, he beats me without his shirt on. Like he is working in the quarry and I’m the stones he is supposed to be hammering into smaller pieces. Just what would turn an educated, enlightened man with a good job into a habitual drinker and wife beater? I often ask myself.

My husband designs buildings for a living. He is very good at what he does and very much respected at work. I have seen some of his completed projects. Marvels of architecture. He makes a lot of money too. It can afford us a decent life. But while he creates beautiful things for a living, he destroys happiness in his marriage.

Had I known the once loving, intelligent boyfriend would one day morph into a violent husband, I would not have said yes to his marriage proposal. This has been my reality for the past 6 years. Almost the entire duration of my marriage. Ever since he demanded that I quit my job as a secretary, saying I could not be trusted not to flirt with other men. I’m not even allowed to have friends. His reasoning, female friends are bad influence.

I place the knife on the kitchen counter then on second thought, decide to hide it in one of the rarely used kitchen drawers. There is just no point in committing such a heinous crime. I’m not a murderer. But then, I do not know if I can trust my husband with a newly, sharpened knife in full view.

Image sourced from tembisan.co.za

Should Writers Be Paid?

The year was 2015. December.

My contract at a hotel I had been working at in the Front Office Department for 3 months had just ended. They were not in a position to renew it and so, I had to move on.

Magazine Contributor!! The idea screamed at me.

I knew I could write. I mean, I had always written from childhood. Fiction mostly. In my 20s, I began doing articles in addition to the Fiction I wrote. At 23, I started a blog on WordPress, at the advice of a friend, after someone pretended they would feature an article of mine on their new magazine’s first issue.

That never came to be despite submitting several articles to that effect and seeing what I thought was the original magazine issue. Maybe I had just been duped or conned or whichever of the two applies here but it sure hurt as hell. I remember my mum asking repeatedly, “had you signed a contract before submitting?” and the painful answer was no and I didn’t also want to talk about it because my wound was still fresh.

And so my friend suggesting I start a blog was a welcome relief. Fast forward to 2015 December and I had just clocked slightly over 2 years blogging on different topics. I thought that was enough practice for me to confidently contribute to magazines, because I have always found them more entertaining than newspapers, even though I read newspapers quite frequently.

I had a couple of Kenyan magazines in mind that I wanted to contribute to if I got the opportunity. I began by sending mail to those magazines. A week after sending, one magazine editor replied. She gave me an appointment but the thing I found weird is that she did not give me her number, yet I had given mine for ease of communication. Oh well, I still needed the opportunity so I did not let that unusual fact deter me. I had rent to pay. I also strongly believed that writing could work for me if I got several opportunities at a go.

And so on the morning of our appointment, I sent her mail, asking if we were still on. No reply. I still set out to the venue at The Junction. Mind you, I lived in Embakasi then which meant I had to take two mats to get to The Junction. Thus began my ordeal, under the hands of this magazine editor, who would not reply to my mails nor bother calling the whole journey to the venue. I wasn’t even sure she remembered the appointment to begin with.

I remember getting to The Junction and in desperation, asking the security guards if they had seen her drive in. She’s well known in social circles so I figured maybe, just maybe, they knew her too. But the blank stares they gave me was enough proof that I shouldn’t even have asked in the first place. Sitting at the main entrance looked stupid, so I decided to head over to where the magazine’s offices were located, since my mails were not getting replies. Another source of my frustration. Communicating via email.

I hopped onto a bus again and just when I had alighted at Hurlingham, I finally got a phone call from her, sounding irritated and asking where I was. The speed with which I walked back to Ngong road to get another mat again to The Junction must have been epic! Within no time, I was back and we met.

This Magazine Editor gave me less than 5 minutes of her time. She did not even seem convinced that I could write yet in my initial mail to her, I had sent a link to my blog. The look on her face was enough to discourage me. It was also my first time going to a magazine contribution, related interview, so I also did not know what exactly I needed to research on. I simply thought and assumed that we would pitch ideas and see where I could fall, probably send in some articles and then she would decide on whether one would be featured or not.

Now, I have previously narrated this incident on Facebook and today morning again, (without going into much detail in the most recent) because I consider this, one of my lowest writing moments. It took me months to recover from it. Little did I know that I would much later, resume sending requests to magazine editors with some ignoring my mails and others publishing my articles without pay, all the while acting as if they were doing me a favor, by featuring me in the first place.

Some of these unpaid for, published articles have never been pulled down by these editors, to date.

Image courtesy of hashgurus.com

Why did I see the need to talk about this and narrate my experiences?

Earlier in the day, I was reading through tweets on a hashtag #paymodelske that has been trending in my country, mostly on the 8th of this month. Many models have come out courageously, to speak up on doing modelling jobs without pay or with a promise of exposure or with lunch and transport as payment. Not forgetting the sexual exploitation that some unlucky ones have unfortunately faced. Reading these tweets brought these personal memories flowing back and I felt that many writers too, have similar stories to tell. We just don’t get an opportunity to.

I do not dispute the fact that writing is a passion and it often ceases being a passion, when a writer’s sole motivation changes to money. However, there are good writers who desire to make a career out of writing and I feel, whoever they write for, if in a position to pay these writers for their work, should do so. If not in a position, which is understandable in certain circumstances, then they should be able to treat these writers with the dignity they deserve.

I have personally encountered a magazine editor, who would constantly ignore my messages but would ironically send me mail, with an article idea she wanted me to work on, whenever the need arose. This same editor, would never bother to let me know whenever the magazine issues featuring my articles came out. On the three occassions I was featured, I was always left guessing whether an issue was out.

She would equally ask for a certain number of words for a single article, only for me to read the final product and it was entirely different. Hardly, the one I had sent in with all the additions and many tweaks done to it. I was never paid for any single one of those articles I sent in. And even though I would have gladly still contributed to the magazine without pay, it would have been way more effortless for me had I felt appreciated. Sadly, that never came to be and I ceased sending in any more of my work.

The hashtag #paymodelske couldn’t have been more timely, as it has given not only models, but other creatives as well, a chance to boldly speak up on the need for pay for their services. It is high time that we collectively learned to appreciate creatives for what they do. Yes, most of us are indeed passionate individuals and sometimes, we may gladly do something for free, just out of passion and with a genuine need to get our name out there or to help. However, doing something for free should not be mistaken for gullibility.

Writing may seem easy for others not in the field, but when you sit down with writers and have them honestly narrate the challenges they face while writing, you will realize that it is much harder work than we tend to sometimes think. The long hours spent staring at a screen, the writer’s block that hits you when you really need to submit that article, finding time to write…the list is endless. Writers and other creatives should therefore not be taken for granted.