"I like a girl with weave in her hair..." -Will Smith
In America, women in magazine ads are only now changing: from stick-thin, fair-skinned and blond-haired girls to different-featured, different-sized women of all colors. However, in Zimbabwe, there isn't that kind of competition between black or white beauty, and most of the ads and television commercials feature models that reflect the population.
Here in Africa, one of the most fascinating adornments, to me, is the way women do their hair, especially the braids that I've spotted in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe's second-largest city. So cool! Trekker Jamila, who you'll remember from the Guatemala stay, told me she loved having braids. What she didn't like, though, was when people came up to her and played with her hair or touched it without asking.
Jamila said this, too: in the stores in your city, try to find hair or beauty products that suit your particular cosmetic needs. Is it easy for you, or do you have to go to a special store or neighborhood? Here, in any pharmaceutical store, you'll see hair cream, conditioner, relaxer, and dye for all types of hair (predominantly black African hair). And here, I suspect, no one would dare go up to a stranger and touch her braids.
In celebration of the 6 month anniversary of our departure (the trekkers left San Francisco 15 January 1999), I decided to get "plaits," as they call them here, woven into my chin-length hair. Whoo-hooo, I had no idea what that would entail.
One factor that worried me was cost. A woman at the hair salon told me it would cost 900 Zimbabwean dollars (about 24 US dollars), and her helper said that in Victoria Falls they charge 600 (about 16 US dollars). I ended up asking Aggie, who works at the hostel where I'm staying, for advice. She said her neighbor, Mary, could come over and do it for 30, about $8 US. Right on!
I went to Esats, the corner superstore in town, and matched my hair color (flat black, number 1) against the different packages of extensions they have. I only bought two, but then Natalie sent me back and said I'd need at least four packs of the synthetic, plastic hair to weave in.
Mary runs a small, informal business out of her home, with women coming over for creme rinses and plaiting in the early afternoons. The income she generates from this supplements her husband's salary, and their situation is similar to that of many urban-dwelling Zimbabweans who sell goods and services out of their homes or businesses on the side. Earlier I had visited Mary's house, and another of her neighbors was getting her hair relaxed ($120 Zim or $3 US).
Because the braiding was taking a long time, I started helping Mary finish off the extensions. While we worked, we talked about everything: her kids, the state of relations between black and white Zimbabweans, the past, the present, and the future. It was very cozy! Belinda would periodically run up and laugh at me, or try to address me in Ndebele, until Mary told her I didn't speak Ndebele, only English.
While we talked, we met Paul and Lydia, who were also staying at the hostel and who had met our friends in San Francisco, California, who are helping us coordinate the Trek. They were now in Zimbabwe, traveling and visiting Bulawayo, and Lydia, a teacher, told me that she had used some of the trekker dispatches while we were in Peru, for her classes studying the Incas. What a coincidence! Lydia also had a talent for braiding hair, and demonstrated her techniques to Aggie, braiding 3, 5, 7, and 9 strands of hair together in a Renaissance-type fashion. It was beauty parlor night!
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