Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Hear 'bout mi hair here!

Before I start, I need to state that I am an African. Along the lines of my lineage, other bloods seem to have spilled in and have shown up in some features but they could not over-write the African hair heritage.
That being said, I have curly hair that refuses to conform, has a mind of its own and for the most part defies gravity. Unfortunately, the forces that be have decreed that this hair be termed "bad" while hair on the opposite end of the spectrum be labelled "good". And we have gone along with that and bent over backwards to "better" our hair and make it behave. We cooked it (literally), fried it, fixed it (formalin does a great job if you ignore the health hazards), Sodium Hydroxy'd it and did everything known to man to break those disulphide and hydrogen bonds.
When I was 8 i so wanted to cut my hair hoping for a look that was popular then (a Carre' or Bobcut). My mom dumped me on my aunt who in turn dumped me on an Egyptian hairdresser who in all fairness tried to explain to me that it won't work but i insisted. I ended up with a very short cut afro. The ups of that was it made getting ready for school a breeze as I waited in line after my brother for our dad to pass the "khulal" (a special comb used by African men that has its teeth vertically aligned vs the regular comb). The hair cut brought out my face and we found out that i had a twin in my male cousin, Nazar. The downs of it was I looked like my male cousin :)
I rocked my afro for a while, then under the caring hands of our Ethiopian maid transitioned into braids which worked very well till high school.
Alas, society has a way of making sure you fit into its round holes even if you are a square peg. So fry, cook, fix, relax I did.
It was no fun! And it did not work. I hated it. If God wanted me to have "good" hair, he was perfectly capable of doing so, eh?
So I stopped! And I accepted! And I rejoiced! And I loved my hair as is. And with that came self love and self appreciation and confidence. I can occasionally cook it but only if I want to and when I want to. Most days I like it raw.
To me, acceptance of one's hair is like accepting one's skin color. It is an acceptance of race and self. A trust in God's creation. He knows best doesn't he?
I am a black woman. My hair is me. I refuse to conform, have a mind of my own and for the most part I dare to defy.
I have recently chopped my hair once again. But this time around I was fine with it and loving it and will make my own square pegs to snuggle into.
The challenge now is to find a hairdresser who understands where I'm coming from. In the past two months, I have travelled between looking like Halle Berry, Ex Phillipines President Aquino, Egyptian actress Firdous Abdelhameed and Ethiopian singer Tigist.
But all is good and the journey goes on.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

What's in a name?

Shakespeare famously said through Juliet "That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet."
But is that really so?

A name is a title. It is an adornment and a symbol. It's a powerful piece of us. It is what we respond to. It might not be who we all are yet we become different if it changes.

My story goes that my parents met an Indian girl named Siema (pronounced Seema and worldwide spelled as such but my parents had to give me a run). They liked the name so much so that when I was born, my dad asked his friend, an Arabic language expert, if the name could have a meaning in Arabic.  He was told it could be a derivative of the quranic aya
"سيماهم في وجوههم من أثر السجود"
Which literally translates to a skin marking that imprints on one's forehead from prolonged prostration to God (the Muslim prayer is made up of specific physical movements that include bringing one's forehead to the ground multiple times in each prayer). The meaning to be conveyed is that your face reflects the inner you. The ancient Arabs would say
ما أسر أحد سريرة إلا أبداها الله على صفحات وجهه وفلتات لسانه
Whatever you hold within you of good or evil, God will draw/bring out on the pages of your face and bouts of your tongue
(An old wise man recently told me "it's a burden your parents bestowed upon you. You unconsciously feel the desire to live up to your name." Maybe. Maybe not. I once knew a Hope who was an absolute pessimist).
Anyway that is how I came to be named.
As far as I know I am the first Sudanese Siema(sp). I know at least 4 Seemas named after me. I think this deserves to go down in history *insert hair flip and Cleopatra'ish pose*
I cannot recount the number of times I had to explain my name. Or the number of times stubborn Sudanese just flat out refused it. It didn't exist so it cannot be was the reasoning. I was instead given more common names like Sumaya and Shaymaa by several teachers in school and college.

To make matters more interesting and to add to the story, our neighbors to the North,  the Egyptians, call the movie theaters (seema).  And they also happened to have a famous candy brand by that same name. To my horrific delight, that company went on to produce jam and honey too and TV commercials arrived in Sudan in the mid 80s. My school friends made sure I heard about it.
I was also serenaded in my college years with
 "سيما يا عسل يا احلي عسل إنتاج مصانع. ..مصانع صبار"... the honey commercial

As I write this I have to admit it's corny cute. If I were to go back,  I would be less embarrassed by it and
enjoy it more.

The reason I have come to like my name is that I have discovered it to be an international one. It makes me a child of the world. It fits in fine almost everywhere.  It's shared by Muslims, Jews, Hindus and Persians.
I've come across it a lot in the Indian community where it means face or boundary in Hindi.
Seema in Hebrew means precious thing or treasure (Met an Israeli whose sister was a Seema. That served to break the ice in my first real life Israeli meeting :)
And in Persian it means face.
Was told in Latin it means sprout and in Scottish translates into listener (but as far as I know it is not used as a name).

In Islam, it is narrated that a father owes his child 3 things; to choose a good, wise woman to mother him and bring him up well, to give him a good name and to teach him the holy book.
 (يحسن اختيار أمه، وأن يحسن اسمه، وأن يعلّمه الكتاب)
I attest that my dad did all three things and for that I am blessed and pray he finds peace in this life and the eternal abode.

So what's in a name? A lot. A name has a mysterious power. It somehow captures a piece of our soul. It reflects our essence and has a hand in molding us.
I'm known for asking friends to name their daughters Seema. It might seem outwardly narcissistic but that is not the case. I have lived this name and enjoyed it fully and am aware of the doors it opens. It is a gift I want to give to you my friends. A piece of me if you may.