One foot in the closet, one foot out.

I was about fourteen years old when my younger brother asked me how to kiss a girl, he was twelve. An ordinary teenage girl would think of this as cute and novel but I was not ordinary; I was and still am, queer. I grew up with four brothers, three older and one younger than me. I was never fully aware of myself growing up, I was an inward being, always engrossed in a book or some form of learning. I performed poorly at games that required hand eye coordination, games that girls would play like ingedo or skipping rope or umgusha and even hopscotch. I enjoyed time spent with my girlfriends but somehow always knew I was different. My family remarks that they noticed at seven years old that I had a funny walk; an unusual masculine gait; I could not respond to this because I automatically walked, never thinking if it was feminine or not. In the years before puberty struck my aunt would teach me how to walk like a lady and said I needed to place a box of cornflakes on my head to get rid of my slouch. I agreed because I did love her and she was much older than me; I thought she knew best. My mother was a hairdresser who straightened my hair with chemicals and plait it in various styles that had my school mates green with envy. She also bought me very feminine clothes, the ones usually adorned on Sundays at church; blouses with flowers and mini heels. I smiled for the camera when the time came to take photographs of these outfits but deep down inside I knew it was not a full or even the real representation of me. Growing up with brothers I had no hand-me-downs to wear but I wore their clothes regardless, my grandmother would scorn me often but I did not care. I watched them play soccer and was sometimes allowed to join and sometimes, reluctantly, they would allow me to tag along to the fields where they caught cat, mice, doves and other small animals and spliced them open, investigating their internal organs. Sometimes they roasted the doves they had caught over an open fire- I was not there on those days. My heart ached when they got slingshots and I did not but then again there were no doves to shoot in the yard or in the kitchen where it was deemed I belonged. At twelve years old I already knew what my difference meant but there was no outlet for me and so I kept in.
At twelve years old my younger brother knew he liked girls and when he asked me the question on the technicalities of kissing, I thought he had found me out but he just simply wanted to know from a girl’s perspective. Over the years my brothers had girlfriends, were shouted at for having them sleepover; my younger brother once was found with two girls in his room. My family was livid and always threw light on how good I was and had never brought trouble. They did not know or maybe threw a blind eye at the fact I was queer. Being queer does not afford one privileges like telling your parents about your girlfriend or being scolded at for sleeping at a girlfriend’s place or vice versa. My family is pretty homophobic despite being non-religious or traditional in anyway and so over the years I have had to keep flings and relationships hidden, going away to university made that simpler but still I feel I am being cheated out of living a full life and I wonder at times if I am not to blame because of my reluctance to explain myself, but also, I have a strong feeling on how it will turn out once I affirm my queer identity outwardly to them- basically it will not be good. I highly doubt they would cast me out but they would very uncomfortable and I hate uncomfortable situations. Other points for not coming out is that I believe it is quite evident what I am, I do not want heterosexual people’s affirmation of me as if I am winning a medal for being me and I am gender queer which would be difficult to explain to a people who only know about gays and lesbians. I would like to believe that my family loves me and I love them too, they have stopped trying to rectify me and so for now that is enough. The uncomfortable comfortable silence on my gender and sexual identity is but a small hindrance which over time, I hope, will no longer exist.


The Fear in Homophobia


We humans are not only diverse in race, culture and language; we are also diverse in the fears we have. The origin of the fears of snakes or closed spaces can be found for instance in childhood trauma of being locked up in a closet or cultural teachings of reptiles as being evil. Phobias are  real so much so that they can induce negative mental and physiological effects.
The one phobia I have never understood is that of homophobia because people who claim to have this fear are fearless when they come into contact with a homosexual, so fearless in fact that slurs roll of the tongue like hot black molasses, so fearless that raising their hands to the unknown homosexual who did not provoke them is done swiftly, so fearless that they throw curses loudly in the homosexuals path and so fearless that when the word “gay” is uttered in their direction, it becomes grounds to attack.
People “suffering” from homophobia are the only ones to have a type of phobia that is towards another human being whose sexual expression is different from theirs as if it is poisonous ot infectious.
After news broke of deputy minister Manana’s beating of a young womxn, social networks and news media condemned the act until they found out reasons for his actions; many thought they were justified. He was called (according to the responses) the worst thing ever; he was not called a rapist, it was worse than that; he was called gay by the victim.
We live in a culture that insists on the binary view of life instead of a spectrum. Gender, sexual expression and even race is seen as either this or that, male or female, heterosexual or homosexual and if it’s not white it must be black or at least a variation of black. Heterosexuality much like race is built on a theories which many are lazy to refute, much like the creation of whiteness which is a veneer created to protect privileges and absurd notions of superiority; much like the variation of melanin across the human species so is sexuality.
The fear in homophobia is that it challenges the dichotomies that we have been raised with. In a beautiful piece about how parents and society kill the friendships of young boys Mark Greene sites that when boys reach adolescents they concentrate on what they are not, this means they look at the other sex and derive who they are supposed to be by being or doing the opposite. They are not girls, they are not flimsy, they are not emotional- all virtues that are traditionally believed to be traits of the feminine- young men will sever in the creation of their identities and manhood. What this creates in young men is a repression of the true and full exploration of themselves because much as we like to think men only have a masculine energy they also embody a feminine energy, same with womxn. The repression therefore of what is traditionally believed to be feminine traits in men creates volatile beings whose identities are always threatened and provoked when compared or likened to what some believe is feminine. The feminine is weak, disposable, non autonomous, dependent and other such misconceptions, therefore the word gay to an individual who expresses that they are heterosexual is an insult. The word gay means one is less than a man and more like a womxn. This view forces us also to look into how womxn are perceived in societies; there’s no need to extrapolate as many know this is a man’s world and womxn are either obstacles or trophies to men even in the year 2017.
The fear in homophobia therefore is that one would be treated like a womxn, as vulnerable, exposed to and deserving of violence which Manana proved in beating a womxn. The fear in homophobia is that it challenges societal constructs which many have adopted as natural occurring, typical or normal- a variation must be rigorously investigated and discarded which the outrageous responses defending Manana proved. The fear in homophobia is a dangerous phobia as it is oriented towards the most vulnerable group of humans who like heterosexuals are trying to navigate life but find themselves prone to violent attacks because of  a harmless variation in the sexual spectrum. The fear in homophobia is dangerous because it maintains the status quo which is womxn deserve violence be it physically, verbally and even sexually. The fear in homophobia is a social construct which enables the abuse of power towards other humans and under the guise of homophobia protects the abuser. The fear in homophobia exposes the lie of morality and points its creation to the position which lies in those lucky enough to be born with testicles and a penis.


Emerald Green Cupcakes

My favourite building was shimmering as I walked across the bridge. I wondered how people inside could see outside of the completely gold building. I looked around to groups of people walking past me; why did they not appreciate this building? A whole entire building made of gold or at least what looks like gold in the middle of Johannesburg, shining like molten gold in the midst of usual colour, graffiti and glass buildings?
The crisp wind whipped against my cheek, I put my arms in my pockets and looked down as I walked faster- it takes less than a minute to drive over this bridge, why had I decided to leave my car so far. A group of Pedi girls cross my path, one of them asks “is that swagger” and the others laugh. I look up and see them looking at a young black man who is dressed like a black Willy Wonka. It is a Saturday in Braamfontein, obviously these girls don’t know that people in Braam wear their Sunday best on a Saturday and pose in the middle of the street for images to put up on their blogs. I am tempted to explain to them that swagger is a way of carrying oneself and not a dress sense but they laugh among themselves and one of them remarks “so this Jozi” and they all simultaneously clap once and carry on walking in the opposite direction of Braamfontein, to the Johannesburg where people dress normally I guess.
My biggest fear is falling through one of the broken glasses on the Mandela bridge, I don’t know how this would happen unless I slipped or someone pushed me but I have imagined it many times. I don’t think of myself as a snob but I’d rather die on the rails of a Guatrain than Metrorail. I walk as far away as possible from the glass window panes, I know exactly which glass pane is broken but to my surprise I come across it and instead of a square hole, there is a new glass put in its place. I tap the glass to make sure that it is really there- a group of men laugh and I laugh back.
I am almost finished with the journey over the bridge to Braamfontein when black Willy Wonka intercepts me.
“These will make you famous” he says to me in a rather gay voice. He is dressed in maroon pants that hover over his ankles, orange socks stuffed in shiny brown boots, a tiny brown waist coat, a yellow shirt and an emerald green jacket with green fur on the shoulders billowing in the direction of the crisp wind. In his a hand he holds a clear container with cupcakes in it. Behind him the gold building shimmers with the racing winter sun. My eyes are on his chest, he is a very slender tall man, I look up to meet his eyes. “I don’t want to be famous” I tell him with a kind smile.
“For only ten rand you could be famous” he almost sings the line as he lowers the container and opens it. I sigh as I see a dark, moist chocolate cupcake. “I have five rand” I inform him without taking my eyes of the chocolate cupcake. I have lied to him, I have more than five rand in my pocket, a few hundreds probably but this is Johannesburg, negotiation is key.
“They are ten rand” a stern voice this time as he closes the lid.
“I don’t want the fame, you can keep it, I just want the chocolate cupcake”
“Fine, choose one” he reopens the container and I hand him the five rand. He doesn’t lower the container to my height; sour from losing the negotiation but I don’t mind. I stand on tip toes and peek inside. I take the chocolate cupcake and notice an emerald green substance oozing from inside, I try to put it back but he tells me that they all have it and he shuts the container.
“What is it?” I ask him, holding it up to the sun to inspect the green ooze.
“It’s mint honey”
“You said these were chocolate flavoured”
“Mint chocolate flavoured, don’t worry”
“I don’t like mint”
“You won’t die”
“Why would I die, is there something dangerous in this cupcake?”
He throws his head back laughing, the gold building reflects in his round blue sunglasses- his skin is smooth as chocolate mousse and his teeth white like the clouds that slowly pass over. I put the supposed chocolate cake in my jacket pocket. I ponder if I should wait for him to finish laughing or should walk away. He stops laughing.
“You did not answer my question”. He looks at my empty hands.
“You’ll be fine, mint and chocolate is a fabulous combination. Enjoy”. He literally turns on his heels and walks on to Juta street where I guess his tribe resides- at least on Saturdays. My chocolate craving is gone, I look up at the other side of Johannesburg and above Bree taxi rank, a huge FNB billboard reads “How can we help you?”.


Mamela Nyamza’s latest offering at the Dance Umbrella is dark, sublime and visceral. Stepping out in a long tight black dress with white taffeta at the bottom of it, I wondered how she would dance in this attire.
The show began whilst audiences were sweeping in with drinks in hands; a gospel song (the ones usually played in black churches) blared from the speakers and Nyamza came dancing down the aisle on the left side of the stage. She was not dancing in leaps or colourfully like one would expect a ballerina or contemporary dancer to, but she was graceful and effortless in the natural demeanour of dancing that most black people endowed with the gift of rhythm embody. On the right side of the stage, in the isle, dancing in oscillation with Nyamza was a tall slender man; he complimented her black and white dress with a suit with the same colours. Audiences had to swerve right and left as so not to collide with the dancers, some audience members danced to their seat and like experienced shebeen dancers did not spill a drop of their drinks as they did so. Once the audience was settled and the drapes of the entrance closed, the duo moved onto the stage moving in unison; an audience member tapped me on the shoulder and showed me on a piece of white paper which verse the song playing was on. I had initially thought these papers were programmes or information on the dance piece, I picked it up and it was written in isiXhosa- not that difficult for me, regarding that I am Zulu, but I did not want to read and sing along because I was scared I would miss a beat or a moment on stage. Some audience members sang and clapped along as the duo on stage danced to a colourful, rainbow painted bench. The music stopped once they reached the bench, they sat in still silence, their outfits a stark contrast to the colourful bench, the silence lingered, the dancers hardly moved; their faces impressions of boredom and pondering. An audience member yawned, heavy breathing could be heard from others; was this the stifling boredom the dancers wanted to imbue onto their audience, the drone of church services? I rubbed my eyes- I had just come from watching a very long film and so my capacity to focus was lessened. I panned the audience, they were drinking, whispering to each other, glancing at the dancers to see if they would move but nothing. I thought maybe they had forgotten to dance or there was a technical glitch- maybe a song was supposed to be playing and it wasn’t. Suddenly the duo simultaneously got off the bench and alternated their positions, the bench swayed up and down like a see-saw, they kept doing this, going faster and faster until they were exhausted and returned to their original positions, balancing the see-saw. This routine was repeated over and over again. The man gave a sweaty Mamela a handkerchief, she shyly patted herself dry starting with the face and then looked away like one does when they have had way too many rounds of sex with a person they should have not. The man, satisfied, distances himself from Nyamza, he slides off to the far right of the bench, catapulting Mamela in the air, she tries to bring the bench down with her weight but her efforts are futile, she reluctantly slides to his side, at this the man is mad and pushes her off the bright bench, she disappointingly crawls to the centre of the stage and remains on all fours. The man proudly gets off the bench, walks to her, admires her physique, takes off his shoes and then her shoes. He then astonishes the audience by stepping on Mamela’s back, stands on top of her and whips out a Bible, his sermon begins; he shouts and chants like television charismatic pastors whilst bouncing up and down on her back. Nyamza seems to be in pain but she repeats every single line the pastor shouts out. Three verses are repeated over and over again whilst euphemisms of sex are portrayed in their physical positions. In the end the pastor gives Nyamza pieces of clothing, a black lapel and a white phallic hat, that affirm her position and ranking in the church. Church goers will know of this signifiers of church identity and how they differ from church to church. All her hard work, being bent, broken and discarded for these pieces of affirmation and confirmation. The pastor lies down, a symbolism of his death) and Nyamza covers him with the colourful bench, she then starts gyrating over him, pulls up her black dress, which is drenched in sweat and traces the outlines of her lean, masculine body; in the centre of her legs is a black bible with red pages. She spreads her long legs adorned with racy fish net stockings, keeping the bible in place with her one hand and starts paging faster and faster. Her head swivels, her eyes pop out and roam the faces of the audience members. “This shit never ends” she states audibly but not shouting while paging through the bible- a few audience members audibly affirm her assertion. Eventually she reaches the end of the Bible, an upbeat gospel song begins and starts dancing as if she in a Babes Wodumo music video, the bible intact between her legs; she gyrates lavisioucly across the stage. The man dead, the Bible in her groin area; Nyamza’s jubilation is exponential.
De-Apart-Hate is a layered and complex piece, stark and overt about all things covert in the rainbow nation, it highlights the position of the oppressed, almost always the black womxn the oppressor: the man and the instrument of the oppressor, the law and religion. The scales will never be in the favour of the woman and the system will always find ways to fuck women in various ways whilst requesting that they supress their freedoms especially their sexual freedoms and not extend to them to the same sex. A piece on critiquing a judgmental society, fostered on gender inequalities founded on European concept of the law and religion; this was a sermon I was glad I did not have miss.

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On Ngugi’s Public Lecture

Yesterday I was at the Ngugi Wa Nthiongo public lecture on Decolonisation held at Wits Theater. It started an hour late, which I don’t mind because decolonisation includes dismantling the notion of keeping the Queen’s time.
The usual chants and struggle songs ensued for almost 90 minutes before the lecture begun, while the sound people got on and off the stage tapping the mics on the podium. High school children in their various uniforms streamed in and suddenly the group singing was on stage dancing. I sipped from my cold cup of Woolies black coffee (I know, I know, I need to work on decolonising myself) anyway finally the mics worked and the speaker started singing the decolonised/original unedited national anthem (familiarise yourself with it) and at this everyone stood up, including a few disheveled uncomfortable looking white people; the clean ones in tight suits and 100% cotton shirts from Zara remained seated. Another speaker with two masters degrees tells us he was in USA and Canada and blah blah blah, then finally introduces Ngugi.
There’s a projection of the map of Africa with several continents superimposed to fit on Africa to show the true size of Africa. Ngugi touches on how Africa for centuries was always depicted as smaller than all other continents when in fact most of the continents fit into Africa- basically kudala abelung basidelala, futhi besithathela phansi. Europe has always, INTENTIONALLY, undermined Africa and its inhabitants. He goes on to emphasise that we should encourage the decolonisation of university curriculum where African linguistics will be at the center and African knowledge will run parallel with all those from other worlds. A trio of beautiful young black womxn with feisty head scarfs suddenly all decide to take down their jackets, shoulders are my weak point so for twenty minutes I’m distracted. Ngugi’s lecture was relevant but tepid (please don’t throw stones).
A young, hot, postgraduate student of Wits gets on stage and gives her response. She begins by telling us how Wits has still not lifted suspension on some of its students because of they were Fees Must Fall activists, she then touches on how the decolonisation movement must include feminism, transgender persons and their language; call people by the names they have given themselves; she then recites a long list of black womxn who are/were prolific and need to be included in the curriculum. Her peers sing praises and chants. She gets off stage.
A poet gets on stage and recites a powerful poem in four South Africa languages ending with Zulu which garners the most audible response. I realise my hand has been clutching on the cold cup of coffee for the past few hours- I sip it and watch as people leave.
I think of what Ntokozo Qwabe said about white allies, to paraphased what he said “as long as white people like us and want to be our allies the decolonisation project has not taken effect”. I say as long as we speak of decolonisation in colonised oppressive spaces, with colonisers, in the coloniser’s language, the decolonisaiton project, is but a myth. As Ngugi said, it starts home with our children, with our languages and with our knowledge and holding them in higher esteem. It begins by us shunning these “beautiful/eloquent” accents we received from our private schools and appropriating black excellence with its proximity to whiteness. It is on us to actively uphold this discourse and keep it safe from being mere rhetoric which is used by Universities such as Wits to gain brownie points for being progressive and diverse, when this is far from the truth.

26 December 2015 Saturday – Nabeul

I watched Eliot walk away from the hotel balcony; he walked in a careless fashion, taking big strides forward and his head bobbing while his scarf swayed from left to right. The time was five o’clock, the theatre show was supposed to start at five but as I soon learnt Tunisians like many Africans have they own track of time- one that requires a lot of patience because most events take place thirty to sixty minutes after the prescribed time.  I would have joined him but I had quite a long and busy journey from South Africa to the capital of Tunis and then eventually, via a bumpy bus ride, to Nabeul. I inhaled deeply as the sun set amazed that I was still alive. I sniffed my armpits and decided I should take a hot shower.

I left home on Christmas evening, my grandmother, my aunt, my cousin, my nephews, older brother and soon to be sister in-law gave me hugs to bid me farewell. We had had quite a successful Christmas lunch- usually the day gives rise to my neurosis and depression- having lost both my mother and father it is actually a day of sorrow- or at least it used to be. I tried my best this time to unify my family: I made calls, bought the meat, bought gifts for my nephews and even delayed packing my bag for the trip to Tunisia. My brother’s girlfriend and I were busy in the kitchen making salads while he braaied the meat outside. My nephews were playing in my car and my aunt and cousin were yet to arrive from church. When they did finally arrive the meat and food were ready, we sat down, said a prayer and dug into the delicious food. It was intimate; my brother who is usually not so affectionate tried to make us all laugh, my grandmother who is a dweller on passed events in life was recalling how my brother as a baby almost died because of a respiratory infection but because of her vigilance she took him to the hospital where they immediately gave him the help he needed. My brother thanked her for saving her life and we moved on to much lighter subjects. Once we had finished eating I took to packing my bags while my cousin and brother’s girlfriend cleared the table and washed the dishes.
The airport was busy, at least the airliner I was using was very busy. There were lots of families, huge families with numbers reaching twenty comprising of grandmothers and grandfathers, husbands, wives, aunts and uncles, daughters and sons, and cousins. An attendant saw how frozen I was that she stood up from behind her desk and told me in a soft voice to come to her and she would attend to me. She very quickly checked me in, I embarrassingly thanked her for noticing my confusion and for her helpfulness. She could have easily chosen to sit behind her desk and just watch me embroiled in my confusion.
Once checked in I bought an alcoholic cider and a big bottle of water before boarding. I knew I could only have the drinks when I boarded the plane. On the plane I only opened my bottle of water because my cider needed a bottle opener and I did not have one. I was so upset because I knew I would need some alcohol to deal with the screaming babies, and the toddlers who were running up and down the aisle. I prayed that I would be able to fall into a deep sleep and only wake up once we landed in Cairo.
In Cairo I waited two hours before boarding the plane, at customs they confiscated my cider- I did not fight- regulations are after all regulations. I was just happy to board the next flight to Tunisia and see the country with Eliot.
Eliot had arranged for a friend of his to fetch me at the airport. I had three hundred rand on me and my VISA card. I was advised to buy a Tunisian SIM card before leaving the airport so that I could communicate with the person who was going to fetch me but when I finally landed after three boring hours from Cairo to Tunisia my bank card would not work and they would not accept my South African rands; they wanted only dollars and euros. My phone was going to switch off because of a low battery and so I quickly wrote down Eliot’s Tunisian number and his friend’s number. The people at the airport were not helpful at all, firstly they barely spoke any English and it seemed like I was nuisance to them when I asked for help. It was really disparaging. I was close to tears but I decided to walk up to the taxi drivers and show them the name of the guy who was supposed to fetch me and then ask if I could call from their cellphones. Nothing is for free in this world, despite telling the people I met about my situation they did not believe me and so I could not make the phone call. I decided to ask one of the taxi drivers to take me to the city centre because I thought my card was not the problem but that that the ATMs in the airport had run out of money. I found driver who looked desperate for money, we struggled to understand each other but after a few minutes of pointing to my phone and Visa card he took me to the city centre but once again the card did not work. I told him this and he got mad, he demanded his money and that’s when I gave him my friend’s number to call. Eliot answered and quickly got hold of the friend who was supposed to fetch me- he came swiftly and paid the driver who had charged him an absorbent amount. I wanted to hug and kiss him- I knew once I met him that he was a good soul. He introduced himself as Kheridine and I introduced myself and aftr these introductions we laughed about the situation I was in as if we were old friends.
He immediately drove to downtown, Bourgebia, where we hunted for a local SIM card. The first shop we got to was too expensive, so we decided to go have some food and relax. He took me to a packed café that was selling shwarmas. He ordered a huge shwarma, chips and a handful of olives for me. We went to sit in the upstairs area of the crowded café and got to know each other; at first I thought Kheridine was gay but it turned out he had a beautiful wife whom I later met on the day; I guess I mistook his soft mannerisms and affection as signifiers of a gay man. After eating we went to find a cheaper SIM card; I was so relieved to finally have network. The first person I called was my Eliot who immediately told me to get on a bus to Nabeual where he was. Kheridine drove me to the bus station and bought me a ticket and as soon as I entered and sat down the bus moved.

It turns out I took the cheaper bus the one that tries to avoid all the toll gates so I saw the back alleys of the country, I saw a few sheep, a ceramic factory which was really just a big house and from that house beautiful broken ceramics trailed along the road. I soon got used to the bumpy ride and was lulled to sleep by the motion. I woke up when I heard everyone getting off the bus, I prayed to God that I had not missed my stop and got off.
Nabeul was spray painted in red on the bus stop benches, I got excited and called Eliot who told me the name of his hotel. I had misspelt the name of the hotel but the taxi driver understood me when I told him where I wanted to go and drove me straight there.
Hotel Kheops is like a book with a great cover but the contents are actually trash. I stood outside the grand hotel waiting for Eliot to return from his workshop which he was hosting. Tunisia is dusty from Tunis to Nabeul to pretty much everywhere in the country, the cars are covered in a white crusty dust, so are the streets, the pavement and the houses which are mostly painted white with royal blue lines on the borders of the windows and doors. I leaned against the wall and patiently waited, within a few minutes he came up with his unusual big strides kicking dust up in the air. He told me he had been looking for a Merlot as it is my favourite wine but could not find it. Finding alcohol in Tunisia is hard, I think it would be easier to find a black car that is not covered in dust. We went up to the hotel room, talked about the events of the morning and laughed about them. He then told me that there was a theatrical show at five but it was one minute to five and I wanted to take a hot shower before leaving. He left me and at half past five called me to tell me the password of the wifi and that the show was just about to begin. I could have actually made it had he had been patient enough to wait for me to take the shower.
He returned after the show and we went to dinner in the hotel dining hall, there I met the students he was working with; English was not their primary language but they did not need the English language to be hospitable which they were. One of them was having a birthday party on the beach which was supposed to start at nine in the evening after dinner but it did not because Tunisians like many Africans have their own track of time. I was tired and at ten o’clock decided to go up to the hotel room and rest for a while before going out to the party.  I did not make it to the party. I had slept a long peaceful sleep that was as closest to death as I had have ever felt. In the morning I woke up at the crack dawn, walked up to the balcony and saw the moon floating over the white sleepy town, I watched it disappear as the sun rose to take its majestic place over Nabeul. I wondered what the day would hold for me but with my local SIM card in had I was sure it would not be as hectic as the previous day. It was going to be a good day.

02 March 2016 Wednesday

I arrived at nine o’clock in the morning at the Rastafarian hair salon. The doors were closed and on the windows towels were hanging. A middle aged woman was sitting on a chair opposite the salon angrily shaking her head. I greet her and ask when the salon is going to be opened, she tells me she had an appointment for eight, I look at my watch and it is past nine. I stand next to her in silence. All of a sudden she shouts to a couple of women walking on the pavement, they come closer but she carries on shouting “Did you hear our church burnt down?”
The women tell her they thought it was a joke.
“No it isn’t. Lightning struck our church but the devil is a liar some men saved it”
The women all thank God and walk away.
A slender dark man with his hair tied up in a scarf slowly walks to the salon and opens it. We enter, he greets us, the woman and I barely greet back; a mini protest of our own; we sit down and wait for him to finish taking down the towels. The warm sunlight creeps in and illuminates the Rastafarian quotes written on the walls in different coloured permanent markers.
Another Rasta walks in, he is slender but taller and more handsome than the first. His long hair bound in a scarf stands atop his big head like the leaning tower of pisa.
He greets me jovially “I’ll be with you now sister” he tells me as he walks out of the shack. The woman I came in with starts complaining, the men is still folding towels and pays no attention to her. I look up and notice the sun rays poking themselves in the holes of the tin roof. I look at the mirror, big puffs of smoke are bellowing up behind me, soon it travels up my nose and I start feeling dizzy. The man stops folding towels and goes outside to join the blazing. More customers walk in and sit down. Two more Rastas walk in, their short dreadlocks are covered with crotchet beanies and the immediately start washing customers’ dreads starting with the angry woman. The handsome Rasta comes back inside but doesn’t head to me, instead he goes to his laptop and starts playing Rastafarian music, he stomps his feet as he comes closer to me and starts sectioning my hair.
“So you want dreadlocks”
“No not yet. I’m not ready for that kind of commitment- in fact I was thinking of cutting my hair before I came here” He seems shocked.
“Ah sister don’t cut your hair it is a gift from God. Don’t ever cut your hair it is the most prized asset of your body” I giggle.
“Okay but for now I want twists” and before saying this he instructs one of the short deadlocked guys to get the wool ready. While I’m waiting he styles all the woman who’s hair has been washed. He is the leader of the salon and the most wanted by customers, all of them wait patiently to have their hair locked with beeswax and styled. He styles the hair swiftly, sometimes not even looking, just blabbering with his workmates in a language I do not understand- it sounds like Venda but not entirely. The customers get off their seats looking satisfied giving him a couple of hundred rands while smiling away.
“It is good that man fears a woman. If he does not fear his woman nothing will go right in his household” he says this abruptly and asks us for our own opinions. The women oppose this view and say it should be the other way around. I am surprised at this; surely as women we should be happy to hear this from a man but they all quote the bible in opposition to his statement. I sit my head bowed in silence and disbelief.
Finally he comes to me.
“Should we wash your hair?” he asks. I shake my head- I had washed my hair the previous day. He sections my hair again, stops, takes out a brown cigarette, lights it up and puffs as he does my hair- the dizziness returns. Some customers walk out to get some fresh air- my eyes sting and my scalp hurts from all the twisting. My hair is soft and the knots keep coming out so he tightens his grip on them. The man in a crotchet beanie stands besides him like a meek mouse taking instructions from his master on what to do after each braid is done on my hair, he nods his head like a child and follows what he was told.
A young male customer walks in, he is light in complexion, has broad shoulders and a square jaw which complements his good looks. His hair is a mess and looks like Boabab tree. He greets the Rastas with his hands in the sign made famous by Jay-Z; the rock sign. They smash fists and he quickly gets his hair washed. The man stops doing my hair and goes to style the young man. The songs playing in the background are all about celebrating the herb and the love of a woman. I notice the men passing around a brass pipe after each puff they stomp their feet- the pipe seems to have come with the young man. Soon he is done and his dreads look much cleaner and neater. They smash fists again and he walks out. My neck is sore at this point, my knees are tired and I need to use the toilet but I didn’t see one coming in so I try my best to forget about my bladder.
The handsome man slaps his flat tummy and screams that he is hungry. He drinks a jug of water, pulls out another joint and carries on doing my hair.
I get tired of looking at my phone, I get tired of listening to the music and sitting down in one position. At one point I want to stand up and walk away with my hair half done just to get blood flowing in my body and food in my stomach. My ears pick up the colloquial word for gay/ fag, the men are talking about homosexuality but I can’t follow because I do not understand all that they are saying but my attention is averted from my own internal misery as I peak my attention into their conversation. I pick up random words and come to the conclusion that they do not like gays.
“Sister, a lady came in to do her hair here- is she your friend?” The question caught me by surprise. I suppose they must have seen me going through my gallery on my phone.
“Yes she is” I answer slightly irritated.
“That’s all she is?” He looks at me in the mirror. I keep quiet.
“She’s our friend too you know” I look at him unmoved. He goes to drink a big a glass of water and then goes to the laptop to change the music. I stretch my legs, arms, back and breathe in deeply. I bend forward and put my head in my thighs. He tugs at one of my braids and I sit up. He twists my hair faster and harder. The music stops and I am glad- I had heard too much of Jah, the herb and the love of women that Rastafarians need. Suddenly he turns around.
“Ah my sister where do you come from looking so beautiful?” he asks with my braid still in his hand, my head is bowed down and I am in pain. A WhatsApp message beeps on my phone “I’m right behind you” it says. I smile and the pain does not feel so bad. She helps the Rastas as she can see they are going slow because of the herb and hunger. I smile my eyes at her. She shyly looks away busying herself with the wool.
The sun up in the middle of the sky, the heat coming in waves, the beads of sweat racing down my spine- he turns the small wheel with his big thumb a steady flame flows up, this is the end, the burning of ends- I literally want to cry. Most black girls know how this moment feels: like those stick thin marathon runners when they run into the ribbon at the finish line and fall onto the ground shaking emotionally.
She steals a glance at me, I catch it and we both smile.
I open the car doors and shift the windows down to let the hot air out.
“We were just blazing the other day when they did my hair. They have the best stuff” she explains to me even though I had not asked.
“I believe you” I say as I start the car,
“Where must we eat?” I ask her, eyes fixed on the smooth winding road picking up speed.