As I knelt down to pose for a photo with the young children, they swarmed me, curiously stroking my hair with their little fingers. In the span of a few seconds, my hairstyle evolved from tousled locks to tight ponytail, secured by approximately twenty tiny hands.
Hair is a big deal in Africa. Women spend much of their time thinking about it, working on it, and talking about how they might change it. In my short time in South Africa, I have failed to recognize women I’ve come to know on more than one occasion, because they have changed their hair.
When I moved into the Montana House, one of the LEAPSAs greeted me by beaming and exclaiming, “You changed your hair!” I had it back in a ponytail – secured by elastic, not children – and to her, the difference was perceptible and worthy of notice.
Today, my impromptu, child-induced ponytail was the result of a Langa visit. Many young children in this township don’t leave it, and it’s black South Africans who live there. My long, blonde tresses were as foreign to them as I am to this country, and they just had to feel for themselves how my head works.
As they stuck their baby hands in my mane and marveled, I felt unbridled joy at their innocence. If a blonde in Langa could bring them this much wonder and delight, I was happy to oblige.