By Diana Awino

The year was 2012. A youthful Diana, fresh from graduation, packed her bags and was on the next bus to Northern Uganda to practice the career that she had taken slightly over two decades to build.  Northern Uganda, though in recovery, still exhibited ghosts of the 20-year long Lord Resistance Army war. Poverty and remoteness stunk everywhere, ladies saloons were nonexistent, even the National Power Grid Line stopped eighty kilometers away from what was going to be my new home.

Flash back to 2006. Excitement and euphoria bubbled within me as I placed the final full stop on my last A-Level paper. I still remember it vividly, it was a Technical and Building Drawing Exam. For me, completion of high school meant a chance to grow my hair; finally, I acquired the privilege to wear my hair long. On reaching home I was instantly disheartened by my mother’s obliviousness. Did she not realize how important this day was! My patience with her wore thin, I did everything short of harassing her for money to braid my hair. The journey of grooming my soon-to-be long hair had begun.

I believed that if I flaunted long, well-kept hair it would take the attention away from my not so smooth face. Yes my face is cluttered with tiny pimples, up to this day. I have long since relinquished efforts to phase them out; instead, I have embraced them as part of my identity. But because of this long hair distraction myth, grooming my hair consumed a generous part of my time…and budget (which I gave freely in an attempt to elevate my beauty).  Many of my hobbies suffered as a result of a large chunk of my time spent at the hair dresser’s.  I even missed dates and parties if I felt my hair was not presentable enough. My appearance in public was, literally, predetermined by the condition of my hair.

Fast forward to 2014. I battled with the decision to shave off my head. My hair was the “bad quality” type, commonly known as ‘Kaweke’ in Uganda. After eight years of no missed saloon appointments, pampering and prioritizing my tresses above all else, I didn’t even have enough hair to make a ponytail. Back in my school days, at the end of the school term, my hair would not have grown an inch longer; yet the other girls boasted of hair growth of three inches or more.

Not even a disastrous hair-do before a much anticipated job interview would convince me to cut off my hair. In this escapade, I bought a kit of Dark and Lovely to retouch my hair, knowing very well that I had very thin hair. To add insult to injury, the hair dresser used the whole perm kit – ignoring the clearly spelt out instructions that you should only apply half and keep the balance for the next retouch. The bill was a quarter of my monthly salary and the look was that of a drowned rat. The next morning I looked worse and the job interview still awaited me. I ended up going for it (sans the killer look I had visualized on my way to the saloon for the extreme makeover). The only consolation is that I nailed the job and its paying my bills up til now.

One of the items on my to do list when I first relocated in 2012 was to get a new hairdresser. Rural as the place was, I kept hope alive; I never missed an opportunity to make my inquiries as I freely mingled with the locals. Lady luck smiled my way almost two months down the road. I was introduced to Helen by one of my acquaintances. Helen had perfected the art of plaiting cornrows, or what we commonly call ‘Pencil.’ My braiding needs had been met but where to retouch my hair was still an issue. For two years I was Helen’s faithful client when I needed my hair plaited, for retouches I had to brave eighty kilometers of dust and potholes to Lira Town.

December 2014. I hadn’t anticipated that the whole village would be getting their hair plaited during the festive season. You can imagine the ratio of one hair dresser to the infinite number of people who wanted to braid their hair. The only way you were getting your hair braided was if you booked two weeks in advance, otherwise forget it. Not even me, Helen’s faithful client, could get my hair braided after booking and rescheduling numerous appointments. After four failed attempts and whispers amongst my colleagues about the embarrassing state of my hair (it had never recovered from that awful retouch before the job interview) I walked into a Gents Saloon and shaved it all off!

Look out for part two of this post where I’ll uncover my new look!