Written Saturday, June 11, 2011
Last Friday I took my Senegalese twists out, and spent what felt like the whole day Saturday washing my hair, etc. I have really thick hair, so I actually started taking my twists out bit-by-bit a few days before actually taking them all out, so it wouldn’t be as taxing once I finally removed them all. Every time I would take a few out, some of the neighborhood kids would come by and ask, “You’re taking your twists out?” And I would say, “Just a few.” One of the neighborhood girls said, “Oh! I can’t wait to see what Laila’s hair looks like!” I think this little girl’s attitude reflected the adult women’s. When I was taking them all out, and I told the kids, every now and then one of the women would come by because they’d heard that I was taking them all out. It took a really long time, so I had few people come and check on my progress. Hair is a pretty big deal for Dominican women (like it is for black American women), but I think they were even more interested because I’m American and because I’m black.
Every time someone would see my hair, they’d say, “Oh! But Laila, you have long hair, why’d you put extensions in?” I guess most women that wear extensions here have short hair? In comparison to a lot of Dominican women, I wouldn’t say that my hair is long. I guess I don’t really think of it as particularly long in general (it’s just past my shoulders), so I was surprised as how many people called my hair long.
On that Sunday (the day after washing it), I expected my hair to be dried, but it was still damp, so I left it in the braids and adorned it with a headband. I’ll admit, I was pretty eager to see my community’s reaction…and perhaps a little assumptive that it would be negative, since they call curly hair “pelo malo” (bad hair). In the morning I went up to the city to meet up with some other volunteers. I didn’t notice much of anything on my way to the bus stop. I wondered if the cobrador (the guy who charges you on the bus) would try to charge me more (because with the braids and my sun-kissed skin, maybe he’d think I looked more Haitian than anything else), but he gave me correct change back. At night, I went to a neighbor’s house. There wasn’t much commented about my hair, and what was said reflected more of a positive attitude towards my tresses than anything else: “Oh yeah, we wear braids around here too,” someone stated with a smile. I felt pretty good.
On Monday I went to the high school, this time, I let my hair all out (a wavy braid out), again very interested in the reaction I’d get. I braced myself for crude comments from the high school kids, or maybe hearing something like, “Mira la bruja” (look at the witch), whispered in side conversations. Nothing. Now it was time for the teachers to meet the new/the old/the real Laila (well, okay, my real hair anyway). My project partner greeting me with a smile, “Oh, all natural!” she said as she affectionately tossed my hair about. I smiled back, and gave a playful toss of my head from side to side to make my hair also respond by shaking about. A few others just said, delightfully surprised, “Oh, but your hair is long.” That’s about all I got from the school.
A few others have asked if I ever perm my hair, since most Dominican women with my kinky hair texture put chemicals in it to straighten it, but I think the question may be only slightly a suggestion, but mostly just curiosity. Another day this week, when my hair was in braids, a neighbor asked if I permed my hair, and I told her no, and how much damage a perm does to the structure of our hair. She then asked, “You’re from the States, but your family is of African origin?” I said, “Well, sure, just like Dominicans.”
Generally speaking, in the Dominican Republic, as well as in the States, there is an underlying preference for straight, long hair, but I was pleasantly surprised by my community’s reaction (or truly, the lack thereof) to my hair in its natural, super-curly state.
I find my hair’s reaction to this tropical, beachy climate is to be more frizzy than what I’m used to. The “shrinkage,” “bounce,” or whatever you call it (you know, how your hair if left to stand, jumps to about half its length) is pretty extreme. To prevent my hair from getting tangled, I’ve been switching back and forth between pinned-up plats with a headband and a braid-out ponytail. It’s not as fun as keeping it out, but it is healthier for my hair (the braids anyway), and a lot less time consuming.