Before I came to Indonesia, or even applied to the Peace Corps, I felt an anxiety that focused on one unrelenting thought: “What about my hair?” This dread battled with the joy I felt at having the chance to go on a life-changing journey. The trouble was that my hair, in all its curly coiled goodness, was a loud, proud symbol of my blackness. There was no way I could hide it and my fear was rooted in the fear of rejection. I convinced myself that I was over-reacting and tried to push these unwanted concerns away.
Now,I admit it seems that some of those feelings were justified. I am picked apart and assessed ,by some people I know and don’t know, before I can speak a politically correct, PC-approved word. The tough skin I had starting out gets thinner with every question of “Why can’t you just straighten your hair?” or “Are you absolutely sure you’re not from Africa?”,the skin lightening indoctrination that makes me feel like I am the Anti-Everything, and the people trying to help me out by telling me that I should use an umbrella outside because “you don’t want to get any darker”.
There’s a wonderful song by India.Arie called “I am not my Hair” and the chorus reads,”I am not my hair/I am not this skin/I am a soul that lives within”. I have always lived by this mantra, hoping that if I repeat it enough times, it would become a magical incantation that, when said, would make people see past my skin, or at-least attempt to be as conscious/open to my culture (or even me) as I try to be of theirs. It hurts that you are defined & judged by some people entirely by the summation of physical features that you were born with and are beyond my control. Still, I remain steadfast in my commitment because of the open & encouraging words of fellow PCVs and Indonesian friends who overwhelm unfortunate experiences with support. I am taking it one day at a time.
My biggest concern (Like, my top priority…honestly, maybe my only concern because I’m a “smart cookie”) was hair care while living abroad. Like, I know that “I am not my hair”, but my hair has really become an extension of my identity. It’s amazing, it’s like play-doh, a free form of expression, in any form. So, thank the heavens for the internet and my sisters because ,without them, I’d be running around with unhealthy, brittle hair. Here are the two things I’ve learned so far:
I absolutely LOVE coconut oil. It smells heavenly, it’s versatile and keeps my hair from dry-land.
2. Bobbi-pins are my life and I have not found them in Indonesia, yet.
So, what are we gonna take away from this, boys n’ girls? This: I really like hair (:
Which, I guess I could have just said from the beginning.
I like to write notes in my phone. Sometimes I write what I think of people, quotes I hear, and basically any random thing that comes to mind. A week before I left for my permanent site, I wrote how I felt about the amazing PCV’s, Indonesians, and people I have met on my journey so far. I read it to a few PCV friends as my gift on the Angkot (a form of public transportation in Indonesia) on our way to the Swearing-in ceremony. Here it is:
I learned how important it is to receive validation. To not just know you exist, but that you Live and live with a purpose. To hear that You’re here and you more than matter. Receiving encouragement gives you permission to break free from your self-doubts and allows you to move forward. Today I learned the power of words and how they can either build you up or tear you down.
I met genuine people today. Today I met people with stars in their eyes, and hearts wide open. I saw them, and any walls I’d put up at the moment crumbled. Have you ever met someone so authentic, and so open that you are just drawn to them? You want to be the very best of yourself and you know that they will accept you in any form of who you are. That’s who Met today.
I want to heal the damaged parts of me and move towards living authentically. Thank you for leading by example by being you. I feel brave, I feel loved. I feel genuine joy. I hear echoes of laughter. For the first time in five years, I am genuinely happy. You’ve left a far deeper impact than you know.