I love my hair. I really, really, really do! At home, there are so many people with similar hair, but my hair is unique to me. I’d like to believe that I am not vain, but no one else has my coloring. No one else has my curl pattern. People tend to comment that I look like my mom in my normal hair-style and I do love those comments. I love my hair. But, my hair has brought up some unique experiences since I’ve been in the Philippines. By the way, did I mention that I love my hair?
To an outsider, the Philippines seems to be a pretty homogenous place compared to the United States, which means almost everyone has the same facial structure, general physique, and – you guessed it – hair type! So, when I come along, and visit places or meet people that don’t see many foreigners (especially African-Americans) I, honestly, tend to be slightly violated. Let me explain…
In America, we know that there are different types of hair textures. Not everyone realizes that, here in the Philippines. The mildest question I’ve gotten is “Is it a wig?” I can answer that, easily – No, it is not a wig. I guess that’s a fair question. I wonder if I said, “None of anyone’s business,” but really questions are ok and I am not that rude. Moving beyond the “asking questions” is where the problem lies.
In America, we (should) know that you need to ask before touching someone’s hair. It can be very rude to just walk up to someone and play with his or her hair. In some of the places I’ve been, that isn’t a well-known concept. In Bohol, during my third week in the Philippines, my fellow YAVs and I toured a local elementary school. The children spent the entire time trying to be sneaky and touch my hair, as if I wouldn’t notice it (they ran away when I actually offered to let them touch it…). But, they were children, they didn’t know better, so I didn’t think too much of it. But what really offended me, was that one Sunday, the pastor (and our host) started playing with my hair…in the middle of her sermon! The children, I can understand, but a grown woman, who is in the middle of a sermon, and did not ask permission, just decided she wanted play with my hair- really? I simply wasn’t fine with that, but I let it go, to give people the benefit of the doubt, especially since we were in a very rural area where they don’t see many foreigners. My dad told me about his similar experiences in China- well not his hair since he normally wears it bald, but how people grope, take pictures, and stare. However, now I truly understand.
And finally, in America, and hopefully everywhere else, we know that it is extremely rude to pull someone’s hair, even if you are a child. It hurts! If you’ve had your hair pulled, you know that it hurts. Apparently, that didn’t matter to these children. I was sitting with a friend eating dinner and a few of the street children walk past our table and I feel a tug at my hair. I turn around and there are at least 6 children behind me. One of them asked if it was a wig, so I give my usual answer, “No!” My real problem begins when they continue to pull my hair, not tug – pull. When I finally was able to get them to stop and leave, I thought it was over. Except, every time they walked past me that night, they pulled my hair and not my fellow YAV’s hair. That was probably one of the most infuriating things I’ve had to deal with since arriving in the Philippines.
Like I’ve said, I love, love, love my hair. Unfortunately, it has brought me many experiences that I could’ve done without. However, I’ve had the experiences, I’ve had multiple opportunities to practice patience, learn empathy, and extend forgiveness, and I’m (hopefully) a better person because of those experiences. But, I’m also TOTALLY fine with forgoing any future hair-violating experiences, regardless of one’s age.