While doing a dissertation on "Lawrence of Arabia" a few years ago, I came across a passage in which T.E. Lawrence talked about how reviled curly hair was to the Arabs he came to know and the extents one would go to in trying to rid oneself of the unattractive feature. Apparently things haven’t changed much in a century.
I’ve watched women lay their heads down on ironing boards and iron their hair. I’ve taken desperate sounding Saudi friends to Afro/Caribbean salons in England to interpret for them as they get their hair relaxed and their pocketbooks fleeced. I’ve comforted someone close to me as she cried for days because the straightening treatment she did to her hair caused it all to break off starting an inch away from the roots. “Dark and Lovely” is sold most everyplace hair-care products are and even the kids’ version is available. Brylcream is purchased by the gallon and Vaseline is apparently great on hair too. Hours upon hours are spent with hair dryers and straightening irons trying to smooth wavy, curly, and wiry locks.
I hear constantly… “Adeli kishat-ha” (fix her fuzzy hair) coming from my in-laws mouths. Last night they were telling me to chop it all off. No one wants to be seen out in public kisha or with someone who’s kisha. Because her hair is baby-soft and ridiculously thin, hair creams and oils won’t do and makes her look like an oil tanker leaked on her head. No chemical treatments for my baby so park the “Dark and Lovely” back on the shelf. When I went back to America I tried all the standards like Pink Lotion and Frizz-Ease…nothing! I spend a lot of time hovering dangerously close to a wiggly, impatient 7-year-old with hot hair-styling equipment on Eid mornings just to have my work destroyed after 5 minutes of play.
“What do you mean “get it braided”, go and braid it yourself”, he replies, thinking I mean I’ll put a braid or two in her hair like normal.
“No, I mean braided all over. I lack the talent and the patience to do it myself so I’ll get it done while I’m at my sisters. I’m sure she knows someone who does it out of her house so I don’t need to pay salon prices. I’ll take her when we first get there then she’ll keep them in till it’s time for us to come back.”
“Oh no, don’t do THAT to her hair”, he says with a disgusted look.
Hmmm, struck a nerve.
My sister is thrilled with the new tracks she just got. She’s a big fan of falls (those fake ponytails) and had several lying around her house which at first glance, looked like sleeping animals on her dresser. I’m glad she’s found away to deal with her troublesome hair and although I’d like to be able to tuck the kisha away underneath fake hair…we can’t do it. Muslim women are not allowed to wear “false hair” because of how Jewish women used wigs instead of truly covering their hair. So after a summer in the States of going natural and sporting a ‘fro on top of her head that rivaled anything from the ‘70’s, we came back to Saudia and many hours of wrangling her kisha hair into submission.
I know in the past, young Gulf Arab girls used to wear several thick braids in their long hair kind of like this:
Book 003, Number 0643:
Umm Salama reported: I said: Messenger of Allah, I am a woman who has closely plaited hair on my head; should I undo it for taking a bath, because of sexual intercourse? He (the Holy Prophet) said: No, it is enough for you to throw three handfuls of water on your head and then pour water over yourself, and you shall be purified.
Braiding seems like the most sensible option but despite its history in this area, no one does it now. Instead, all the “Um Kisha’s” of the country prefer the seemingly endless applications of chemicals and electrical appliances. I guess healthy, braided hair is old-fashioned.