Chameleon Chapter 16 - The Dreadlocks and Their Demise
I went through many “phases” during the relatively short period of this trip. I look at it as a process of exploration and also how I arrived at identifying my chameleon like skills. I can adapt – in fact, I quite prefer to adapt – but some of these adaptations have limits and ultimately expirations. One of these examples happen to be dreadlocks.
Let me take you back to where it all began: Northern India, March 2017. I didn’t wash my hair. I barely touched it actually. It was unsurprising to me why, when taking bucket showers with cold water it seemed like it would be far too much work to get the soap out of my hair. This lack of motivation coincided conveniently with me realizing I had the opportunity to attempt to fulfill one of my childhood dreams of having at least a few dreadlocks. Looking back on it, my childhood dream of dreadlocks had evolved from another childhood dream of getting kidnapped by Native Americans and raised as one of their own. If you have seen Dances with Wolves with Kevin Costner, the image that may come to mind is Costner’s love interest in the film, a white woman who was captured as a child by a tribe on the western plains of the United States – by the time he meets her in the film, she has the rattiest hair. Just snarl upon matted snarl. The only person who could possibly answer why this was an appealing prospect is seven year old Emily, so we’ll truly never know. Some kids imagine their wedding days, or having a home of their own…not this kid.
By the time I was a week into Nepal, my hair was very similar to Stands with a Fist’s. So in a way, I was the closest I had ever come to reaching two of my childhood dreams, which is something, but not a lot. Maybe it would be better if the creation of the dreadlocks was intentional. But truthfully, they started on their own out of pure hygienic neglect mixed with dust. By the time I was in New Zealand in April, I had finally washed and detangled, but three little dreads remained. Two snarls had started independently and I had tried to start a third behind my left ear based on instructions from my close friend and confidant, Emily via facetime and with the help of my current travel companion Sara’s support, encouragement, and dread-rolling skills. I spent about five days of earnest effort during our time in the car driving up the South Island in New Zealand trying to cultivate these weird snarls and by the end of that time, I had grown emotionally attached and oddly proud of them. The problem was that they looked bad. And, because I rarely looked at them besides out of my peripheral vision, I did not need to confront that truth about them. I chose to remain blissfully ignorant about how truly terrible they looked.
Compounding the unsightliness was the fact that after the initial five days, I had sporadic (at best) interest in their maintenance. I wasn’t willing to put in the work as any person with white girl hair needs to do in order to make them look halfway decent. Then, in Australia I met another white girl who told me she used to have dreads but she had gotten so tired of how much work it was crocheting them every day, I played along like I also understood the level of commitment necessary. While truthfully the only “maintenance” I had done was rolling them between my hands occasionally as Em had described to me. Instead of doing the work, I simply maintained an irrational faith that they would naturally start to look better with time, with no additional effort from me. I mean, they had naturally formed, so there was precedence.
Fast forward to early June and I’m back in Amsterdam and my Dutch lover Jochem is asking me, incredulously, if I really like them. Flash to me looking in the mirror and feeling like I did the first time I saw my basketball jump shot on video… “uhhhh, it looks like THAT?” Turns out, neglect doesn’t really work for dreadlocks...I guess I could have listened to literally everyone that I’ve ever spoken to about them. After that momentary disbelief though, I slipped back into willful ignorance of the truth – for at least a few, final days.
After Amsterdam, the demise happened in a blink of an eye. I was in Copenhagen after visiting Jochem when I showed my hair to Elisa. She just looked at me and said, “I can help you get rid of them. I used to be a dog groomer.” I couldn’t have thought up a more hilarious, appropriate qualification. So, after three months of purely emotional “attachment” to these neglected snarls on my head, my friend and Argentine jack-of-all-trades Elisa, cut out my two “natural” dreads, after an earnest effort to detangle. My third dread had untangled on its own, which I found incredibly impressive and count as the true miracle of this story. My hair wasn’t too worse for wear either. I have a few extra wisps and some hilarious photos for people to see and then roll their eyes at me for. So seems like an overall win.
Annoyingly, when I told Jochem that they were gone, he tried to take at least partial credit for their demise, which I vehemently rejected. I was the sole agent of this change in my physical appearance, with an assist from the sisterhood. No man’s opinion was going to influence how I looked! The experience also allowed me and Elisa the opportunity reflect on how far we’ve come from our teenage years being so preoccupied with our appearance and worried about our appearances. I had just given her permission to cut out chunks of my hair with only a brief moment of hesitation. And just like that, they were gone as I prepared to enter a new phase in my journey – I like to call “easing back into society.”