A shriek rang out in the silent hospital. I got up with a start, was something wrong with my freshly delivered daughter?
I had handed over a beautiful moon-faced creature to the nurse, who in turn had taken her out to be shown to the family assembled outside the operation theatre. Groggily, I recognised my -mother repeating “Aiee aiee, she has no hair, she is bald!”
While other children were monitored for their growth, sleep time and feeds, my daughter was monitored minute by minute for her hair growth progress -. While her age mates came to their moms smelling sweetly of baby fresh talcum, mine came to me smelling of coconut oil, olive oil or almond oil depending on the recommended solution, for the scant fuzz of hair on her little head.
Aunts were consulted and oils were sourced from far and wide and, lo and behold, nature caught up and out grew a lustrous head of hair that to date has not stopped growing.
She is first choice for Rapunzel, for all school plays and rarely complains about the long hours it takes to maintain her below the hip hair, despite not having been born with it women and girls grow up believing that their crown of hair makes them beautiful.
I too went to school every morning after a liberal dosing of oil in my hair, tightly plaited hair with oil sticking, itching and dripping from my scalp in the hot equatorial sun.
Does the obsession with hair stop once you grow out of pigtails and become the sane, cultured young women that most of us like to believe that we are? Looking around, my guess is no.
Hair consumes women. The oil gets replaced by relaxers, moisturisers, masques, shining balms, gels, araagan oil, conditioners, strengthening serums, henna treatment, wax treatments, keratin reinforced shampoos, mineral boost colour defence repair creams, organic plant marrow (what is that again?) hair balms, the list is endless!
ENDLESS SUPPLY OF HAIR PRODUCTS
A glance in any large supermarket in Nairobi tells you that the shelf containing hair treatment lotions and potions far outstrips any other fast-moving consumer item.
It does not end with the numerously named cleansers and oil infusers (because that is what these fancily named and packaged items actually are); hair care extends to borderline drug abuse.
All women self-medicate to grow lustrous manes. How many times have people recommended cod liver oil for hair growth? My guess is several times, along with keratin and protein capsules, Vitamin K, Vitamin E, A,C, D and the other alphabets that might get missed out. And yes, the avocado, gelatin and oily fish along with soy products which when consumed are supposed to give us that shiny thick hair that we see regularly in all shampoo ads.
There are foods that one eats and there are the foods that one puts in the hair. Is mayonnaise something you eat as a dip, forget it just put it in your hair and it will gleam, same for avocado, yogurt, butter, raw eggs and lemon, honey, beer - yes beer!
All best when put in the hair. The smell, you may ask - Ah! that is an idea for a separate line of hair products.
Now check out the other aisle. Full of hair switches, hair extensions in cool blonde, warm blonde, light auburn, honey auburn, vanilla mahogany, silverfox blue- you get the drift.
When Mother Nature does not hear our pleas, we deceive ourselves and others with getting our hair augmented and braided. And yes they look beautiful. Braiding is really an African Woman thing, a friend said to me the other day.
After I had accompanied her for a patient three-hour session where her braids were opened, the artificial hair painstakingly taken out strand by strand, her hair covered in conditioners to relax them, washed, shampooed, relaxed again, blow-dried.
All, so that she could come over the next day to get her hair braided again - another round of a three-hour process that would end in her going home to take a few painkillers to dull the ache that her freshly stretched, pulled and contoured hair would cause.
Is this fixation on hair a global phenomenon? Take a look at the leading personalities in the world like Beyoncé, Kate Middleton and Michelle Obama. Hair is really major in their lives.
But Ladies, a word of caution, you might be giving tremendous attention to a few strands of dead keratin at your own peril. A quick survey amongst my male colleagues has thrown up an interesting data point - they are all apparently looking everywhere else but your hair.