Short Hair, Don’t Care

Elise Leise - Senegal


September 7, 2017

 
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Phones recording, people yelling, razor buzzing, I flicked remnants of my hair to the floor of the Stanford dorm bathroom. The electric atmosphere of the overcrowded space hummed, punctured with gasps and uncontrollable laughter. In the space of four days, not even the duration of Global Launch, the Fellows around me flipped from absolute strangers to compatriots in whatever adventure I decided to embark on, whether that be living in a foreign country for eight months, splashing through fountains at midnight, or shaving my head.

Am I impulsive? A little.

Did I have my reasons? Yes.

 

As the pavement outside our compound heated up this morning, I sat in the cool air of our hut, learning about baobab trees and root causes. In Minnesota, we call the concept that actions evolve from underlying beliefs and values the iceberg analogy. In West Africa, where there are no icebergs, it’s characterized as the roots of the Senegalese baobab tree stretching for water beneath arid ground. Nobody can see the roots, but the tree can’t live without their existence. Root causes are what I, a Global Citizen Year Fellow, am seeking to understand; with a grasp of the nature of the baobab tree, I hope to understand the complex natures of the individuals I meet this year and the underlying structure of this cultural divide between us. Root causes have the power to change a snap judgement on the endless amounts of time spent greeting neighbors in Senegalese culture into a deeper understanding of this country’s values of respect, inclusivity, and teranga, or hospitality.

So it may seem strange, but yes, I chopped off my shoulder-length hair because of root causes. As our last day on campus turned into unbearable, 104 degree weather with near 100% humidity, hot as the Saharan desert in summer, I wanted short hair. Sure, whatever.  I laughed as I entertained the notion. But then I realized that I didn’t want to cut it because I was scared. I was scared of:

a) all the horrendous photos of third-grade me in a choppy haircut and glasses and all the well-meaning people who honestly thought I was a boy
 
b) the perceptions of others
 
c) losing a part of myself in change.

It was then, on the fifteen minute walk back to my dorm, that I decided those root values were not acceptable. They weren’t built on confidence, self-acceptance, or spontaneity; they were superficial. Did I cut it because I was confident? At first I didn’t think so. I cut my hair precisely because I didn’t want to, because it was a part of me I felt I needed to hold onto. Yet I’m slowly discovering that maybe, maybe refusing to embrace unacceptable root causes is a type of confidence in itself.

There are SO many more important things in my life. Today, crouched over a communal bowl filled with ceebu jen, I ate my first meal with my host sister. I took language classes for three hours in the morning, gave a speak-up talk in front of our cohort, and got closer to my fellow Fellows. Laughing, stressing out, having the time of my life,  I drank spicy ginger tea and attaya, tried fish eyes, and danced to Senegalese sabar music amidst the pounding of drums.  I took two cold showers. Today, embracing the experience, I felt liberated because I proved my fears wrong.

With or without a full head of hair, I’m the same person. Right now, I’m just more confident, and I take five minute showers, and I use less shampoo (WHICH IS AMAZING).  It’s my personality that I choose to define me, not how I look or what other people think. The parts of me I value most stayed the same; that knowledge, I’ll be able to keep wherever I go, whether that’s my hometown of Red Wing, a small rural village in the northern Thies region of Senegal, or college in Vermont next year.

//It’s strange, but in a foreign country, I am learning to find myself.//

~Elise Marie~

 

 

 

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Elise Leise