In Over My Head

Adoption from Mgazi’s home country actually requires stays in two different countries in Africa. I’m extremely pleased, relieved, and excited to say we’ve completed part 1 in our first country and arrived yesterday tired but still excited in Country #2! This is an immense relief to us, because it means we are one step closer to seeing our family again.

But I’ll miss the people I’ve met: Pastor, and his wife, Siphiwe, and children, Nokuphila and Siphamandla have become dear friends of mine and I plan to know them for years to come. Tony and Patricia for being excellent hosts. Liz and Mari for the same. And the cleaning staff (Cindy and Estelle) at the guesthouse  – for the excellent, non-judgemental hair advice. I have boldly decided to go where I never dreamed I would have gone in the world of hair.

In fact, let’s talk about that.

Several weeks ago, I met a woman named Pam. She was one of the first to adopt from Mgazi’s home country and her daughter, Thula, is absolutely adorable. Thula had these 1 ½ inch long twists in her hair that added to the adorableness. “Twists” was the word that Pam used when I asked her about the hairstyle. She said, oh, it’s easy and proceeded to give me simple instructions. She also told me that Maureen, the housemother at the orphanage, is the one who told her how to do it.

Mgazi hated to have her hair combed, although I was as gentle as possible. It was a simple matter of two people having the exact opposite idea of how the next 5 minutes should be spent. I wanted to come through her hair. She wanted nothing of the sort.   Picture me trying to gently comb the hair of a two-year old practicing a boxer’s duck-and-weave. It wasn’t pretty. When I started to lose more rounds than not, I decided to try the twists.

To be clear, it wasn’t a decision I made lightly. First I asked Russell. “Huh? Um… Okay, I guess.” Pause. “Why are you asking me?”

His reaction didn’t bolster my confidence. Didn’t he know that once I went down this path there was no going back? If I screwed up, I’d have to shave the kid bald and start over!

I’ll confess a fear that I’ve had since approximately four days after we decided to adopt from Africa: I fear that women everywhere, regardless of race, color, or creed, will take one look at the head of my child and know, just know in their gut, that she’s got a white mom. That’s how seriously I do not want to screw up the hair thing.

So, I decided to do the twists. The process is such:

Step 1: Put a small amount of soap in a damp washcloth.

Step 2: Rub the washcloth in a circular motion around the child’s head. Pick a direction and stick to it. Pam was very clear on this, she said, “You must commit!” I committed to clockwise.

Step 3: Unfortunately, I didn’t realize that there was no step 3 until I completed step 2. Now what? Mgazi had some very cute and tight curls in some spots on her head and other areas were just clumps of matted hair.

Pastor came to pick us up, took one look at child and asked what in the world I was doing. He pulled Mgazi toward him, licked his thumb and circled it around in the hair near her temple, trying, I believe to massage one of the clumps into submission. Instinctively, I slapped his hand away. (He was circling counter-clockwise!)

Thankfully, Cindy and Estelle came to my ego’s rescue.   They knew exactly what I was doing! And they applauded the effort! And each day, they assured me I was getting closer and closer to the final look I was after. I wished I knew what that final look was supposed to be. Mgazi’s hair is much shorter than Thula’s. In fact, I’d be guilty of exaggeration if I said the twists were a quarter inch long. But they are what they are, and I think they (and my child) are adorable. So, while I’ve been working on this every day, I’m not sure I’ll know when I “get there.”

I have been able to thresh out some of the details that should go with the instructions, though:

Step 1: Choose a washcloth and agonize over how wet it should be and how much soap should be left in. (One woman on the street told me that I wasn’t using enough soap, her hair was too soft. Maureen told me her hair was too dry. The fear I mentioned above? It’s now a reality.)

Step 2: Rub the washcloth in a counter-clockwise circular motion around Mgazi’s head.

Step 3: Panic as you realize that you are rubbing the wrong way!

Step 4: Rub the washcloth in a clockwise motion around Mgazi’s head. Agonize over how big the circles should be.

Step 5: Search and destroy the little clumps that have a mind of their own and refuse to yield under the circular motion. Agonize about how much pressure to apply to those suckers.

I followed the above ritual religiously every morning and slowly my confidence came back. Until I met the lady at the wine shop. She picked up Mgazi and started a private conversation with her. Women do this in Country #1. They pick up your child and wander away… it’s up to you to follow, they don’t wait — you are no concern of theirs. So, the lady picks up Mgazi and starts talking to her in their native language and the only thing I hear is “rasta.”


Rasta means…

No… it couldn’t be. Surely, I didn’t…

Or maybe I did!


This is what twists look like after a couple of weeks.

I don’t know it for sure – I need someone in the know to confirm this for me. But I believe I may have unintentionally started Mgazi on the path to dreadlocks.

I’ve considered taking a close-up photo of Mgazi’s head and posting it here for opinions. But then it would look like I’m obsessed. (So I did it anyhow.)

P.S. Anyone know how to get playdough out of dreads?

Whatchya thinkin stinkin?

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