We’ve been blessed with a beautiful, busy, little brown girl. She rolls and tumbles, romps and plays, with little regard for fashion or vanity. Busy little brown girls, such as ours, need a special hairdo that’s indestructible. Dependency on hair clips and bows, pins and headbands will not do. From the time she could reach those chunky arms above her head, she was pulling off hair accessories before I could put them in. As the dexterity of her fingers improved, she would patiently unravel twists and braids while drifting off to sleep. I knew a day was coming when I would have to face my sister-less past and confront the fact that I never learned how to cornbraid. During long summer vacations spent with my dad, my poor scalp was subjected to the trauma of affixing dozens of fine braids all over my scalp but I accepted it as the cost of beauty and a rites of passage. I certainly would never want Lil’ Z to endure the hair-pulling, tear-evoking process of a well-done head of cornrows but I do think a few neat rows of braids that are tidy, not tight, would be fitting.
My first attempts were confusing. I would easily get lost in the process of braiding which left me discouraged. One of my friends braided Lil’ Z’s hair last summer and it was amazing how her nimble fingers danced along her scalp, producing an art as ancient as Africa herself.
When I tried to repeat the same, my hands looked like they were colliding in a knuckle fight. Those early embarrassing attempts were pitiful. On an online mothering forum, other mothers shared my plight and posted links of braiding tutorials and illustrations. The technique was clear but coercing my hands to comply was a challenge. After our week in Ethiopia, I just gave up. Ethiopian moms seem to be content with simple box braids from childhood to adulthood and I could easily adopt the same ethic. But this challenge kept gnawing at me. One day, while taking out Lil’ Z’s braids during her nap, I tried to make a braid down alongside her hairline, slowly without interruption or movement, and with absolutely no pressure to keep the braid intact for more than the day. The result was a little rough around the edges but it worked. I bravely tried the other side and it looked even better than the first. Urbndervish came home and was proud of my efforts. So, I decided that I would give it a try, now and again, and that’s what I did.
When I braid, my hands still look like a knuckle brawl but the product is much more graceful.
Now that I understand the technique, I just have to keep on practicing without an unnecessary pressure. Urbndervish usually reads to Lil’ Z while I style her hair and both of them are eager to see the finished product.
There are no wedding dates or photo shoots on the calendar and it will be a few months until we’re back home in the US, so I have ample time to slowly practice here in Oman and show my curious neighbors just how beautiful and versatile Black hair can be.