Hair by Aisling


Just a quick one for tonight in between Christmas flashbacks.

It’s ten o clock at night here and I’m lying on the bed, exhausted, drenched in my own sweat. (Not what you think.)

Although I hate to love all my neighbours, one of them is my clear favourite. Her name is Abebu, “The Flower” 🙂 Abebu invites me to all the best parties, includes me in all the important days in her family life and even though they all call me their sister, I really feel like Abebu’s 🙂

However, I digress.

Tonight, a secret plan that me and Abebu have been hatching for months has come to fruition. It has taken both daring and careful, cunning planning but tonight the perfect conditions prevailed for us to go through with it. Hair straightening!
Not unlike an Irish mother with an itemized telephone bill, the landlady in this compound is obsessed with the bi-monthly electricity bill. Last month, it was with a poor mouth and much sympathy and concern that she had to inform me that the electricity bill had increased to 400 birr/15 euro for twenty people. I expressed my shock and disgust and then asked her what she wanted me to do about it. I offered to pay more than I usually do and she blankly refused and was almost affronted by the idea. She just wanted to let me know… Since then, all unsanctioned electrical activity is highly frowned upon in the compound and may result in a sly look or a harsh word. Harmless good-natured gossip and speculation about the electrical usage in each shack also abounds.

This evening the landlady went to her home town and as soon as she was out of earshot, the wheels were in motion! There were still many others who could spoil our plan so we couldn’t let our enthusiasm run away entirely. Tentative plans were made. She would come to the house under cover of darkness. Noone would know. Except me and her. And her husband and sister who would try to assuage the baby during her absence, which proved to be lengthy. And her best friend in the compound. I sense we will become undone before long!

The landlady’s sister was out and about in the compound.

Abebu hissed, “Listen to me!” I felt as if she might grab me by the shoulders and shake me as she said this.

“She is going to come over to ask you if you want to buy bread”, she added, nervously looking over her shoulder.

“You must go out now and buy the bread before she gets the chance to come in!”.

My hips, thighs and arse cried out in protest as I was forced to buy two more loaves of bread I didn’t need.

Back in the house, the living room quickly turned into a sauna with the smell of singed hair heavy on the air. Fat beads of sweat rolled freely down the back of my neck whether caused by the covert nature of the hair straightening activity or the immense heat coming off the GHD, I don’t know.

We heard the teenager from next door caffling outside on the porch. I realized I hadn’t locked the door. Perhaps he sensed the terror inside, he didn’t come in.

I went all around the head four times. Each time I straightened the same piece of the hair it was as if it was the first time. I nearly gauged my own eyes out when I heard myself saying, “The fifth time it will be perfect”. I will go home from this experience now understanding jokes that African-American comedians make about hair relaxant. We need some over here stat! We called it a day two and a half hours later. The hair was definitely different to what it was when she came in but that’s really all I can say about it. I asked her how much it would have cost to get it done in a hairdressers. Twenty five birr! One bloody euro!

While I was doing her hair, we exchanged hurried gossiping whispers. It struck me then that I didn’t know exactly how old she was even though we are close so I asked her. She’s 25. It made me stop and think about the type of lives we are both living. I’m older than her but she is older than me. She is living in a two room shack infested with rats (no problem) with her husband, sister and infant son. But she’s a very happy person and generous to a fault with everything she has.

Shrouded in a scarf to hide her hair, she slinked out of the house, without drawing the slightest bit of attention to herself and has thus far I believe managed to evade them all til morning when she told me she will bat off enquiries by telling them she got the hair done in town at 6 in the morning???

It was a lovely if edge-of-your-seat evening after another tough day in the University.

Tomorrow night she’s coming back for round two. The hair is indefatigable. Hopefully she’ll let me take a picture that I can share with you then 🙂


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