(A to Z Blogs April 2015 – Back to Africa)
Have you ever wanted to touch someone’s hair? Maybe even a stranger’s hair? Ever want to squish those dreadlocks in both hands? Press your flat hand all the way down in an Afro? Run silky lengths through your fingers?
Many of us are more tactile in our experience of the world. Others of us are just plain curious. My best friend is both and recently told me how often she’s wanted to touch the hair of people with whom it’s perhaps not the most appropriate thing to do. Especially hair that is ethnically different from her own. I reassured her that she is in no way alone.
Take a shy, quiet, downward glancing group of children who have arrived early at our education center in East Congo. Introduce them to two white strangers (i.e. my niece Jaime and me).
How can you break the ice? Or get them to break a smile?
The teacher asks loudly, “Who wants to play with Mama Jaime’s hair?”
All hands go up. Smiles break out everywhere. New children come in the door and want to join in.
Jaime’s Native American heritage and the fact that her hair goes down to the back of her thighs make this a phenomenon she is used to. Folks are always asking to touch her hair. In the crowded fabric market in East Congo, though, strangers were slipping through the crowd and caressing her tresses on the sly.
How does she feel about that? “Awkward.”
About the children? Their enthusiasm was over the top for the whole trip, and Jaime was all smiles.
Kristin King is an author, publisher and co-founder of the nonprofit Future Hope Africa which is based in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. She is from Kentucky (USA) and lives as an expat in Holland.