Just before anything, I feel like excusing myself for the cornows that don’t look too neat. Its been over two years since I did them on someone. I usually do it on my hair.
I was brought up with a typical Kenyan mom who back then didn’t let her hair be seen, thanks to the Kitambaa (cloth). During my teenage years, she introduced the ‘sabbath best’. She had just learnt how to make detergents and would do a barter trade with the salon lady: Blowdry for soap/beach/stain remover etc. Up to date, I have never seen my mom give out money to buy something for herself or even get a service.
On sundays,her naturally soft hair was the source our bond. She would let me do whatever I please. Afterall she wasn’t going to expose my ‘crazy’ styles to the public. Doing my styles on the now straight hair was cumbersome. This is because I was so used to her kinky african hair.
If you grew in a Kenyan setup, you are familiar with kalongolongo where kids would duplicate their home setup. Some, I hear, translated the bedroom too. Don’t lie to yourself that kids don’t understand stuff. A typical kalongolongo would have a place designed like a house (depending on the common house designs around the area: two bedroom or single). Bottle cups would serve as real cups, shredded avocado seed would serve as rice, blueband containors as cooking pot, soil as ugali, random leaves (some I would know later were opium leaves) as vegetables and I cant rememeber meat was what. Maybe our families didnt eat a lot of meat, Talk about being realistic. My type of kalongolongo was making dolls.
My mum could not afford commercial dolls and that was fine by us. We never cried for them or even demanded to get stuff other kids had. We didn’t envy them but made our toys starting from my favourite football made from nylon papers with stuff tucked inside. The inside material would be heavy enough to get a kick go the right direction and light enough to make an easy kick. The result would be formed into a round shape to obey physics laws using a thin rope, mostöy makonge. I used this concept to make my dolls execpt that it was modelled into a human being using wool mum used to make sofa covers with and sell for feed.
When I wasn’t outside playing goalkeeper and being thrown around by boys to be their keeper, I was braiding dolls. No, I didn’t feed dolls as often as I can remember or even clean them. I made their hair, designed clothes and dressed them in an empty stomach. I didn’t wash them since I didn’t like baths after playing in the grass. If you know you know. Excuse for not feeding: I can’t remember mom feeding any of us, Time was money in her world.
Tailors around home would always throw pieces of cloth they don’t need. I would make nice dresses, t-shirts, panties, but not trousers. I only had female dolls and I didn’t see mom or myself wearing trousers.To get their hair and clothes, I would go shopping in open garbage pits. Sounds like a mall to me if you ask. At the time, use of extensions, normally known as piss, was very common. I would chose the freshly discarded and make a knot sticking it to the poor doll’s head with a needle.
At least mom would buy us the needle that went for one cent or was it one shilling? She bargained everything. My doll would have a big head so that I would not only do braids on them but cornrows. I would come back from playing football and find my dolls hanging upside down with one of the feet bent by the peg. They had their clothes on at least. Maybe it was for decency or it made her work easy. She never complained, however, she made it a habit to wash our dolls once she saw a new doll made (new hair and new clothes).
After a whole weeks practice, I would try the new style I designed on mom’s hair. This os during jer own created off days, which would be on Sunday morning listening to Bibilia husema (BHB) on her mulika mwizi (bunner) phone. We didn’t have TV and the radio was being used by my brother to played Muungano casettes. He would lie down against the radio singing along. It wasn’t by accident we are a musical family.
She never complained about my styles and it built my creativity. I visited the barber instead of the salon. The short period we were in salons, I only remember the sound of my sister crying from the painful cornrows especially when the salonist’s big hand would collect the small hairs at the start and end of the hairline. This explains why mom cut off our hair using scissors.
We both cut out hair back to the short hair we were used to last year. Now its back to the normal height.NB
Apart from moving to a school in molo that required hair short hair, she was horrified by lines created on our bare skin due to the cornrows. I remember my brother crying when the blowdrier was turned on and directed to our heads. It was hot and painful, so he somehow suffered the pain on my behalf. I don’t remember watching someone do hair. When we arrived at the salons, we were grabbed under a woman’s in-between ready to be ‘beautified’. I listened to her knuckles make sound and imagine the movement of her hands until I could do perfect cornrows.
I got a few clients back then which was translated to food by mom, *shaking my head* Parents! After primary school, I started doing my own hair. I still hated and still do hate salon visits. Since then, I have been doing my own hair, apart from the few salon visit attempts. My sister on the other end, still visits them. Today, her salonist was caught up and she asked if I could do four cornrows. At first i was reluctant since my hands weren’t used to someone’s hair. To make it worse, her hair was straightened. I ended up making more lines for firmness. I still believe I would have made better cornrows if it was my own hair. My hands are used to mpve a certain way and not today’s way.
Let me you show what I did on my hair recently, though twists, my signature style. They are easier to make and lasts longer, and not painful as cornrows.
My childhood was filled with happiness and I miss it. There was no better way of bringing me up. If it wasn’t my upbrobgonh, I wont be the woman I am today. My childhopd shaped my creativity and up to date I see hard situations as an opportunity to grow. How your childhood shape you?
I played some ‘female’ games which made me learn some other stuff. Stay tuned for more stories: Scroll down to Subscribe. Its Free!
A scientist who writes about her daily experiences. Most are drafts but some are publicly shared, like this one you just read.