Africa on Me

 

 

Africa on Me  an essay by Desiree McCray

I woke up freezing on an April morning, wrapped in my fluffy queen-sized comforter. Though the wind cannot blow through walls as it is such a weak force into the structure of my home, I am freezing, shivering in a cold sweat that my body cannot shake. Temperature it’s self is a metaphor and as I am “hot for” heat this April day, what’s going outside, around my body is just as important as what’s transpiring inside my person. Anemia has been rattling my bones, yet today my logic leads me to believe that if I dress for summer on this chilly, windy day, my body in an all-natural predisposition to remain in homeostasis would warm me. Anemia, a condition which ails me  occasionally, in acute form, is caused by an iron deficiency. Some of the symptoms which occur in my body are the feeling of being cold, feeling weak and fatigued. I dressed for sunshine searching for the hottest article of clothing in the organized chaos that is my closet. I search high and low, my wild imagination running from the cold and into a place of sweltering heat, coupled with exponentiating temperatures, up until a certain point only.  My search presses me to move vintage, thrifted, tattered jeans out of the way and I cast my on-the-go mom wardrobe to the side that I might uncover my treasure trove of Africana [1].

 

I pulled out my father’s dashiki[2]. A white triple extra large garment with a gold and earth green decorative pattern, the main pattern on this traditional African attire was the shape of Africa, sideways and tilted, distorting what I might see if I didn’t have an eye for that sort of trickery. A shirt on my father, but a dress on my round but still more slender body, the lightness of its fabric crept up my thick thigh as the wind gusts threated to expose my sensitivity. 

I wore Africa on me, not the image of the Sahara, the desert, with its sand hills, and dryness only moistened by sweat invoked by the sun seemingly touching at the equator of the vastest region. I wore not the safari wild with its zebras, meerkats, lions, and elephants, and bushman in loincloths. No I wear Africa, the whole, broad, generalized continent of which inside somewhere my lineage is rooted but which country particularly, I do not know. Could I recognize home if I were there?

So many blacks of the African Diaspora wish to reconnect with there roots, to discover a latent up-until-now unidentifiable sense of self, and to eradicate the hopelessness that is our fragile identity.

I hope to visit soon.

When I wore my African garment everything around transformed. Every person I encountered had a more palpable human existence, and seeing the darkness in their eyes that stared at my clothing in amazement. I must have seemed a boastful gloat, a patriot of another country, yet born here but foreign. I was an alien as eyes stared at a shape, the physical manifestation of all of our origins according to science, history, and theology. I saw the blackness as depth within their eyes that would not shake even with my returned gleam of a well meaning smile, a slight acknowledgement of their presence as the Wind carried me. The Wind was blowing me into them, my encounter with such a depth was cause for a pause or rather a metaphysical discussion held between my heart and my head. The likes of this discussion I couldn’t explain to you, see my heart and my head speak a tongue that I do not quite know, one which is independent of me. When I realize how I excluded I am from the workings of my mentis[3], a smile as warm as the Egyptian sand between my toes, involuntarily creeps upon my countenance because the Wind’s gust of Columbia, Missouri have the same strength as any wind. even the air waves that would cause turbulence on my international flight if I am to travel to Tanzania this coming summer of 2016, with passport in hand, a hunger for self-discovery, and a homesickness held within my belly. The wind gusts of Missouri have the same strength as the light breezes that move the tiny grains of sand in the present city of Cairo turning fine textured mountainous landscape by way of redistribution into mole hills, quite equitably breaking it all down for us. When I visit Tanzania will these feelings be broken down for me? Will I understand what my mentis is saying to my core[4].

Darkness is often equated with a coolness, a dropping temperature change, which I can make sense out because of the simple fact that light is energy and the light from the sun in a direct hit to earth, let’s say at around noon, will provide us with the most potent thermal energy for that day. The reverse is true for night, as the witching hour takes over the duration of Night changing hands with Day, to give us a rest from the intensity of the day’s heat. So you cannot blame me for thinking of that darkness as coldness.

I wonder how their eyes lock onto my Africana and my locs[5] in my hair that they call dreadful, how the cold glaze of their gaze judges me. I try not to think much of the onlookers who don’t bother to ask me what I’m wearing, or why I’m wearing it because not a single one of them are bold enough to ask and while I would love to use these wind guided encounters as teachable moments none of them seek the knowledge or wisdom of an enlightened soul. See I have a light in my eyes, a warmth to me, outside the anemia that can often shudders me, waking me from my sleep. This light as it shines casts itself on darkness. Where there is light darkness can be no more, in fact, just as cold is not the presence of cold but the absence of heat, so it is with light. If ever there is any darkness, I mustn’t fear it. For darkness knows how to do what it does. I know they might be lost as I was before I realized exactly what it is and was that I am missing—Home in the place of Africa.

 

She is so beautiful.

Her lines and boundaries are marked with a richness and though she has been stripped and raped for centuries on end, she somehow remains fertile, still giving, and reaping a harvest blessed and set apart.

If I were her, I’d be barren taking into account all the abuse and misallocation of her resources which she has faithfully endured. I tell you, she has endured and her children have too. Her children are strong and mighty and when you look at them they are unmistakably hers based on their features: the lulling smoothness of their voices, their hair in all it’s mangled and tangled formations characterized by kinks and curls, emphatic and passionate expression made possible by their lips full and wide, their broad noses enabled to smell the sweet mango she bears, and their Africana whether it be traditional or revise for this era in time.

By her children numbering billions over countless years, who have lived with her and in her and by her, she is the greatest mother, the warmest mother, the hottest mother. The languages she speaks require complex and structured linguistics though she gets no credit for the culture she has orchestrated. Though she loves them, many children see her and do not speak because they do not recall her. Too many of her children do not speak to their siblings and although a sundry of her children can’t even recognize her when she is placed on t-shirts and painting and even dashikis, she still calls quietly for them, for her voice has been silenced to a hushed whisper. Her voice, however, can still be heard if one opens their ears and shuts their eyes.

I hope to visit soon.

 

[1] Usually books, artifacts, and other collectors’ items connected with Africa, in particular southern Africa, but in this instance ritualized clothing

[2] a loose, brightly colored shirt or tunic, originally from West Africa.

[3] Mentis is the Latin word for mind

[4] Core is the Latin word for heart

[5] Locs is what many people of the African Diaspora call dreadlocks. Because we, loc wearers find nothing in our experience or appearance of wearing locs to be dreadful, we choose to call them locs since the hair is simple loc’d, or matted in sections.

 

 

God is God. And God is Good.

Peace and Blessing Kings & Queens,

Des4Pres

Thinking bout locking it down?

Yesterday March 27, 2016 marked 7 weeks since the birth of my starter locs, almost 2 months. This has been a great journey that I told myself I needed to talk about on my blog because I always wanted to get locs but I was always scared of the commitment of them. I also didn’t know how to start and when to start. I had always seen people start their locs the traditional way and I knew that wasn’t for me. So I started them on my own because I felt that since it was my head, I wanted to control the outcome, that all future liability of the results was mine.

Therefore, I started off my loc journey with tons and tons of research using YouTube and blogs authored by seasoned locticians as sources for my knowledge. The internet can be a beautiful thang.  I came to the conclusion  that because of my differing hair textures near the nape of my neck, on the crown of my head, and the super soft hair that lined my edges, I didn’t want to start my locs the “traditional” way with either just braid, twist or single coils. I decided that for things to be more interesting, I would start my locs with hybrid braids at the root and finger coils half way down at the tips. Obviously, this way isn’t for everyone because for the first month, they definitely had a funky look to them, but I believe that my hair loc’d faster using this method unique to me than had I started with just finger coils. The top of my head has hair that is so straight, it didn’t even want to coil (this straightness is naturally how my hair grows not as a result of any sort of heat damage), so using braids here was SUPER helpful.  Side note: I believe my hair is growing faster than when it was loose because I have had about an inch of new growth in these past 7 weeks.

When it comes to size, my locs are all different shapes and sizes. The last row at the back of my head harbors my smallest locs being about a centimeter wide, while all over I have some locs that are twice to two and a half times the size of my smallest locs. My goal wasn’t uniformity with my locs—if it were I would have had someone section each part meticulously—instead I elected to section my hair blindly so that I could get locs that looked more organic.

 

 

As of right now my hair is super frizzy but it is matting up well. The bottom third of my head in the back is fully loc’d, but I account this to the nature of the small size of the locs in this back section. I mentioned frizz which early in my journey really bothered me but I’ve kind of let go of that need to look “neat and frizz free”, whatever that really is to any locer who has soft hair like mine. Frizz is going to happen and all you can really do is accept it or palm roll it. When it comes to my hair, I am very low maintenance. I’ve retwisted my hair only once and really didn’t like the scalp-y look, so I think about 3 days later I rinsed my hair to get rid of the parts. I would consider myself a freeformer simply because I don’t like the look of manicure locs on me. My personality is captured by my hair doing what it wants whether that be sticking up or sticking together. Two of my locs are really wanting to join together and I hope I can get to a place soon to allow them to grow as one—I’m honestly just not there yet.

When I first got my locs, I waited a few days, maybe three, and then I rinsed my hair. I rinsed my hair on a daily basis with warm water to help my hair matte and to help with my dry scalp. My scalp and hair love water and I think rinsing frequently was super beneficial in my locs’ earliest stages. However, as my locs’ matrix begins to tighten and expand at the same time, I am noticing drying times are longer so I try not to wet my hair to a soaking wet state nearly as often —maybe twice per week. I wash my hair once a week usually on Sundays, that way I have time to do a hot oil treatment under a plastic cap to give my locs the extra moisture they need. For my washes, I use Neutrogena T/Gel Shampoo which is a residue-free shampoo that I used before I even had locs because I have a dry scalp. The tar in this product helps soothe my scalp, while removing any build up, dandruff, and oil; and my scalp feels super squeaky clean after each wash. To avoid my hair drying out, I always apply either coconut oil or extra virgin olive oil to my scalp, massaging gently with my finger tips.

My daily care routine is fairly simple. At night, I tie it down with a satin scarf or I throw a silk bonnet over my hair. In the morning, I usually sprits a 1 to 3 olive oil/ water mixture on my locs focusing on the roots. I usually wear a cotton headscarf during the day for class (I figured out how to include photos so some of my head scarf looks are in my photo gallery). I must admit sometimes I’m running late and don’t wear a satin under-scarf to protect my locs but I haven’t noticed any real damage. I recommend that you always wear a silk scarf under your head wraps to protect your hair from any friction that can and will occur between the material and your hair strands.

I honestly don’t really remember saying to myself “okay, Des let’s loc your hair.” I just sat up one Sunday afternoon and started on them. I kind of rationalized that I had always seen myself as someone who would look beautiful with them and what was I waiting for? For years I would whenever I saw someone with locs give them the highest compliments of how nice they looked. I knew putting my hair into locs wouldn’t be a decision that I would regret because I had spent years since high school thinking about one day getting them. The day I decided to install my own freeform locs was the day I realized that “one day” never comes. One day is the day that you wake up and decide to make changes that are going to make you happier and more confident.

I want to leave you with a few closing thoughts/ suggestions to anyone that thinks locs may not be for them, or maybe considering getting locs.

  1. Hair isn’t just hair. Some say it is but hair is all over your body outside of just your scalp as a layer of protection. So, what you do with your hair is your choice. Carefully consider locs and do tons of research so that you won’t feel like you jumped into an important decision before you were ready.
  2. Stop letting people lie to you and tell you that locs are boring and you “can’t do anything with them.” Locs offer tons of versatility, if not more than loose natural hair. You can do mostly all the same things that you did with your fro or curls and kinks, with your locs.
  3. Also locs can be for everyone. The size, thickness, and total number count of your locs can be fitted with every personality there is. Some people will have thick locs, others will have thin locs. One person will have a number in the 300s, another will have less than 50. It really just depends on what you want your locs to look like. I myself have 86 locs of varying sizes but I know that this set of locs is unique to me and is for me.
  4. There is so much stigma that need to be erased about locs, from their association with smoking marijuana to the misconception that they are dirty and do not require washing. While I’m sure some people with locs, just like anyone with the next hair style, do not maintain clean hair, these people are not a glowing reflection of the majority of locers. How you take care of your locs is your choice, so be mindful that if you choose the #locdlife people may make assumptions about you based on your hair. This comes with the territory.
  5. When you finally do get locs you will wish you had started sooner!

 

Feel free to leave any question or comments below.

Enjoy the journey.

God is God. And God is Good.

Peace and Blessing Kings & Queens,

Des4Pres

Let Gro. Let Go. Repeat.

On March 15, 2014, I shaved my head bald for kids with cancer through the St. Baldrick’s foundation. I sacrificed my hair just as kids with cancer do because of the affects of chemotherapy and radiation on their hair growth. I raised over 625 dollars in the few weeks before I would go through with my decision. Deciding to do something and sticking to it made me feel good about how my ability to hold myself accountable had grown throughout high school. It was odd because many people didn’t want me to, especially my grandmother. In fact she offered to pay me not to shave my head. My peers within my senior class of 2014 were for the most part encouraging but only after bombarding me with question about why I would cut my hair.  While it was quite cumbersome this question is not unreasonable because after all we live in a society where women “should” have hair, where a woman’s natural drive in the sphere of her gender expression is to want to have long flowing locks but now after having grown my hair back out to a good length of 5 inches, I can say that my desire for long hair is unnatural for me and I feel myself wanting to go bald again.

Okay, I must admit: I wrote that previous paragraph at the end of my freshman year of college. I wanted to shave my head a second time because growing my hair out had made me feel for a lack of a better word basic but now after thinking about it, I realize that immediately after shaving my head I felt fairly unique. I really didn’t enjoy subscribing to gender roles or even conforming to societal standards in general. The fresh feeling of the spring air breezing over my scalp was a sensation unlike any other. I was free. I was 18 and cutting my hair was my most “adulty” thing I had done. When my hair grew back I felt quite like the Old Des, the Des who was unique not because of any hair atop my head but her originality could be explained by everything that made her up, whether it be her long winded sentences, her speech pattern, or inflections, her own energized animation while telling a spicy story, or maybe her thrifted on-the-go mom aesthetic that made this woman the grandmother of her friend group. Growing my hair out was a journey that called me back to being a woman onto myself not a woman despite her lack of hair.

I find it funny how things change. I distinctly remember  jamming out to India Arie’s “I Am Not My Hair” and what it did for me at the beginning of my first hair journey when I first big chopped (cutting off all my relaxed ends). The next day, the fateful walk into my 8th grade class was terrifying in 2009, in the heyday of the natural hair movement for womyn, but let’s not forget I was only about 13, not quite a woman. We were at the brink of a revolution in the natural world but most of my classmates weren’t ready or willing to ride that wave with me quite yet. I walked into my class of around 18 students at my private school and received a variety of laughters, stares, and even curled up lips due to superiority complexes. Who was I to cut my hair? I was already “not that cute” if you were to ask my classmates. The confidence that I have now is something wholesome that I only wish I could give my past myself, but hey I had to go through it to do it and use it. I eventually let go of their opinions on my own time.

Here I am, 7 years later having gone through 2 big chops, the first in order to achieve healthy hair, and the second for a good moral cause. I’ve rocked close to every style except maybe a few that seemed slightly kooky even for me. Over these years in my young life, I realize that change is so necessary and the image of living my truth has evolved in ways that I have grown to accept. I am stronger and more wise on the meaning of having hair on my head and for it to be mine. I own it and in every way I try to take care of it to reflect the person I am becoming and even the person I am not but hope to be. Most recently I have begun my loc journey and just in a short six weeks, I have seen an improvement in my happiness and overall health. Such a hair journey is definitely a spiritual one marked by good hair days, and bad ones too. To my protest, my hair does what it wants cause it’s popping and I’m learning to let go in one of the hardest ways possible. These lessons are even being applied outside the scope of my hair care routines and choices.

Around 2 weeks ago, around the end of February, my mother called me with news that no one wants to hear. The kind of news that can tear you down and cause denial. My grandmother, the same grandmother who literally volunteered to pay me  not to shave my head now had cancer herself. In a divine way, two years ago I shaved my head for her. I sacrificed my hair for a peace of mind that I can honestly say I hold gracefully in my heart. I can’t say I didn’t cry about the situation, her having stage 4 cancer in her lungs making it difficult to talk and basically breathe. I can’t say that my faith was not shaken or that I wasn’t at all upset, because I was but I’m glad I had a faith in my heart that could sustain that shake. I’m joyful that doubt didn’t enter my mind and even when it tries to creep in now I cast it out quickly and cancel out fear. I have let go of my hair many a times in numerous ways and in learning to let go of something as small as hair, I have managed to prepare myself to let go of fear and grab hold to healing which has allowed me the gift of hope and faith to take the wheel in my life.

 

 

God is God. And God is Good.

Peace and Blessing Kings & Queens,

Des4Pres

Hello world!

Hello!

Today begins a new chapter of my life. I arguably dislike the term chapter to describe stages or phases in one’s own life. For one, life is hardly ever step by step, life is fluid and cannot be neatly contained into sections. In addition, most issues in my life are reoccurring, and then my life would be redundant full of over-spill from times gone by. Yet, today is fresh and new. It is a new day. A day, which I have never seen before and I am in love with today. I am in love with today because it was my day. I saw it. I went to sleep with it and woke up to it.

Today is the day. Today is the day that I make my mark on this day. I hope that my blogging leads to more self expression. More fulfillment. More creative energy. More joy. More self-competence. This blog is by no means a cure all for my many defects but it’s a start to cleaning up my life. This is for me. Writing is for me and this is something that I need to do. This is something I need to do for myself. Especially under the premise that many acts I do throughout the day I do for others.

So I shout to the world this afternoon “I do this for me!”

xxdesforpres