“Wow, I never knew my hair could be this straight.”
“Was my forehead always this protruding?”
My scalp became incredibly sensitive. My hair kept falling out. I felt as if my hair kept getting tangled easily. I was scared of being subjected to black magic. Elders always discouraged us from having our hair down for there could be a woman or more prone to jealousy of someone’s hair being more desirable than theirs. They would then curse something deplorable to our hair. Yet, here I was told by the hair stylist to keep my hair down for a week, otherwise it will break. I kept looking at my seemingly shiny hair that seemed to waned rather than weaned. The strands never seemed so frail.
Selina, who’s never let her hair down, suddenly is wearing her hair, chemically straightened, down. If I thought boy’s interest too much before, I was sorely mistaken. The upper class boys interest became more apparent. Thank God for beautiful friends and classmates who were protective and respectful of me, the boys query seldom got to me because they would turn them down on my behalf. And not tell me about it.
I was not even aware of this until one of my close friends, in his frustrations, vent to me about having to deal with this. Because some of the boys found no problem being licentious in their inquiry about me to him and he hated them for it. I was sorry and grateful. Still am.
All these mounting factors never facilitated themselves in my mind map to not becoming a laughingstock. If this was being a high schooler and a teenager meant, I was ill-equipped for it.
Then just few weeks in, my dear scoundrel of a classmate stands up on our yacht at Eneko and down under the water I went. My screeches of, “No, I cannot wet my hair.” a faint whisper to a boy set on mischief. Another instruction, do not let hair touch salt water for a year. Within days, curls took form in the top section of my hair and the rest remained painfully straight.
I could have just cut it off, really. It would have just been a mid-back length. However, that length is considered short. In a society where a woman’s beauty is the length of her hair. I did not have it in me to lose more of my vanity. It represented a poodle. And my grandpa’s money. What a waste.
It’s curious really. How I, and everybody else, bought to the notion of a girl with natural hair not washing her hair lest she styled it differently every day. Yet, most of the girls will walk in to class with their hair up in a practiced tousled bun or a pagoda akin. Every. Single. Day. And no one comments on their supposed lack of bathing.
Couple years into my high school life, by the grace of God, I departed to Germany. Many promises told to my friends of how my hair would grow nor would any scissors ever get near it. I do not know if this is real but we were convinced cold air would help speed my hair growth as well as made my curls more soft, less coarse. More lush waves. Despite it being hip-length, next to my friends with butt to knee length hairs, I felt small.
I went and did the exact opposite of that. I had chosen the UWC program in Germany and not Canada for two reasons. Despite my parents fervent wish for me to go to Canada as it is next to the US with many of our relatives. They did not know that made me even more determined to choose Germany.
Firstly, the UWC in Germany’s school had a focus on sustainability which I thought suitable for me as I am from the Marshall Islands and we are on the frontline of the climate crisis. Secondly, there would be no Marshallese for at least a hundreds and thousands of miles. The few there were would be scattered all over Europe, scarce. It was killing two birds with one stone. I would be learning something for my country and I would finally have the space, will, freedom to be me. Without having to be shackled or influenced by my society, family, religion and cultural expectations.
That the latter reason would also translate to me getting a buzz cut, well, was as liberating as it was scalding.