My journey to my dreadlocks must have started the day I was born to a mother with the magnificently dark and thick but steel wool-hard hair gene. I inherited this gene.
By the time I was nine years old, I had a full-blown afro. By age 10, I was crying every day as my mother attempted to make sense out of this untamed Amazon horror that grew on my head.
One day, she did one of the most drastic, kindest things she has ever done for me: she cut all my hair. One evening we were having our usual pre-bed routine where she would attempt to comb and separate my hair then plait it into matutas for the night, with me crying incessantly because of the unholy pain of this kinky mess, when my mother had a mad black woman moment.
And she is a Meru woman, so a mad Meru woman is like three angry black women (consider Tyler Perry’s Madea carrying a shotgun). She hauled me out to where shoes, Kiwi and other items used to be kept, got out her shiny black-handled scissors and off it all went.
I was still crying, by the way Life got easier until it all grew back again. Luckily, by then I was better able to handle the pain that came with anything and everything hair-related: blow-drying plaiting and then later, relaxing the hair and the inevitable chemical burns that came with it.
In 2012, I got fed up. I had just gone through a breakup and I was in a phase of rediscovery. I cut my hair. I cut off all the shiny, relaxed ends and left shocked spiky clumps of my hair standing up looking like “Who, me?! Nah bruh!” This was during one of my holidays in Nairobi.
I went back home to Kampala and the next month I went to my usual salon and headed to the barber section. I had it mowed down. I finally felt free, free, and ugly, might I add. There is nothing quite as horrifying as being introduced to your naked head after over 25 years of covering it up. Not to mention the reaction of all my friends and colleagues:
“But you have such good hair! Why did you cut it?!” Some people almost wept for the lost hair, I tell you. Good hair being the end product of half a ton of chemical on my scalp every other month because mine grows like weeds, weeds fed on organic fertilizer. On the plus side, I looked young and sweet. On the minus side, guess what my new look matched… nothing! That’s right.
Whatever I wore during that period, I felt like a slightly improved version of the homeliest village girl. Picture an exaggerated village girl character in a Nigerian movie. Short hair really does not work on short, hippy, busty, bespectacled women.
And then guess what — during that period the owner of the company where I was working took us for a staff retreat and we had a group photo taken. [Backtrack: I loathe photographs, earnestly, passionately, actively. I look awkward, clumsy and downright weird in 90 per cent of all photos taken of me]. Me, with my strange short hair and a flowery blouse that was the exact opposite of flattering.
After reading a multitude of blogs that offered complicated or expensive solutions, trying to control my wild mane with water and ending up with something like a concrete helmet, I “discovered” dreadlocks. Suddenly they were everywhere, long, lustrous, thick, 100 per cent natural. No pre-poo and poo-poo or expensive oils involved.
All I had to do was get my hair locked and I’d be a free woman. Or so I thought. I started off by trying artificial locks using kinky braids. They worked out really well, and I was loving my look. Finally, in August 2014, I got the courage to start from ground zero. Now, what nobody tells you is that there is a really ugly stage of dreadlocks.
I mean, your head looks like a pineapple for months on end and there is nothing much you can do. No ornaments or styles or funky hairpieces can hide the fact that you, my friend, have a weirdly shaped head that refuses to match anything you wear. If you can get through this stage you can get through anything. And then there were all the remarks.
I remember, after about four months of patiently tending to my baby locks, my mother examined my head during one visit home and asked, in a tone of wonder, “But why aren’t they growing?!”
She wasn’t the only one wondering! And yes, that’s what it felt like. Same pineapple head, different month. It was tough.
After about six months of ‘nothing happening, patient remains in coma’, suddenly there was a dim light at the end of the tunnel. I don’t know when I first noticed it — that the locks on the front of the head were getting into my face. What! Could it be? Was it… growth?! Oh yes it was, and nothing short of a miracle.
For the longest time, thanks to years of braiding and perming, the hair on the front of my head has been the shortest and weakest, barely even able to support a braid without the support of uzi (thick thread) and some skillfully deceptive braiding tricks. And now here was a whole thick lock of hair falling over my forehead! The ugly phase was over!
I am now one month shy of my one-year locks anniversary. I have learnt to accept that these kinks have a mind of their own, that I cannot force anything when it comes to hair growth. I will never get back that perfectly orderly look I had when my hair was permed no matter how much I’d like to, and believe me, when it comes to orderliness, Bree Van de Camp (Desperate Housewives, for those of you who’ve just emerged from a cave) has nothing on me. My fantasies now involve thick, luscious locks bouncing around past my shoulders, and I have the utmost respect for those who’ve come that far. It’s not easy!
Are skin or hair issues driving you up the wall? Or have you found a way around them? Interested in sharing your story? Email [email protected]