Americanah

Chimamanda! Chimamanda! Did I say Chimamanda! Ah Americanah swept me off my feet and has had meIMG_0117 deep in reflection for the past 3 weeks.  That hasn’t happened to me in quite some time after finishing a book.  I found myself rereading passages after I’d finished it. I couldn’t get enough.

Americanah is Adichie’s third successful novel.  It’s the story of Ifemelu and Obinze who are Nigerian and they meet and fall in love instantly at school.  It’s the story of their love, their growth, and their immigration stories.  The central character of the novel is Ifemelu who is young opinionated and intelligent.  We follow her from Nigeria where she leaves the love of her life, Obinze,  and her parents to immigrate to America and live with her Aunt Uju and cousin Dike.  There the ups and downs and harsh reality of life in America, for immigrants, shape the story as well as Ifemelu’s character.  She develops with each new situation and new character she meets.  She slowly shapes into a woman with each relationship she has.  For with each boyfriend comes new lessons to learn.  It was wonderful to watch her grow and make mistakes.

Readers may feel that Ifemelu and Obinze’s love story is non-existent, however their love story is non-conventional but oh so passionate and runs deep.  Adichie constructs the novel to contain themes that are pertinent and that have not as yet been dealt with in such an outright way.  Race, immigration, natural hair, and blogging are the central themes that drive the story.  You’re probably thinking race and that you know what she’s going to say. Wrong! You don’t and frankly you’ll be a little surprised at times, happily surprised and maybe a little uncomfortable.  Adichie deals thoroughly with all the different sides to race.  You get the points of view of the Africans, the African immigrants (Americanahs), the African-Americans, the white Americans, and other races.  Some may not appreciate her African-American view and feel as if she’s slighting us but I had to admit that I know African-Americans that I’ve heard saying a lot of the things she writes in the book.  Adichie’s views may at times come off as semi-rants but the context in which she writes them are fitting.

The novel was written in third person, which is lively and amiable, just like a good friend accompanying you throughout the 477 pages.  At times the third person was Ifemelu speaking and Obinze but most of the time I felt it was Adichie expressing her personnel opinions.  All in all, I loved that because those passages were filled with the most stimulating and thought-provoking lines.  To aid in telling this story Adichie uses blog entries which Ifemelu writes while in the United States to talk about race.  Through these strategically placed blog entries Adichie examines all the uncomfortable angles around the subject of race.  At times they made me laugh aloud, smile, or just say a subtle yes.  I hadn’t thought so much about race from an African’s point of view, much less an African’s view of race in the United States.

Immigration was the next ubiquitous theme.  The heart-rendering immigration stories of Ifemelu in the United States and Obinze in England paralleling each other depicted the difficulties they were going through, while showing their growth as people – lack of money, being homesick, looking for jobs, being illegal, dealing with unsavoury characters, and constantly searching and not finding.  It was funny that through all the difficulty of immigration they both had, they always  seemed to turn to reading or books for comfort, which I found astounding.  The books mentioned in Americanah are A Bend in the River by V.S. Naipul, The Heart of the Matter by Graham Greene, Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, and Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance – Barack Obama.  Each book mentioned has ideas relevant to the scenes where they are mentioned in Americanah.  Adichie is trying to reinforce her ideas through the recurring accepted ideas of an old British classic, a story about an Indian living in Central Africa, a highly respected classical African work, and a novel written by an African-American president who had an African father.  I love the way The Heart of a Matter is mentioned in the beginning by Obinze’s mother and how things come full circle at the end when Ifemelu says how much she likes The Heart of a Matter and how much the story means to her.

Amongst these two real subjects, natural hair is wedged in throughout the story here and there.  The novel opens with Ifemelu in a salon getting her hair braided.  This was a symbol of many things – African-American women being a slave to their hair and trying to tame it at all costs to fit into American society, the workplace, etc., It’s also a place where one is meant to open up and exchange stories about themselves and often be judged, and a place which has a lot of cultural value in the African-American community for getting women together and getting men together.   The hair salon is like a meeting of cultural similarities for Africans and African-Americans.  We see Ifemelu struggle with accepting her hair when she is forced to stop relaxing it because her hair is falling out.  So she has her hair cut to a short afro.  She doesn’t accept her short kinky hair at all so she calls in sick two days because she’s apprehensive about the way she will be perceived.  As the story went on, it seemed as if Ifememlu got more radical as her her afro grew.  Is natural hair political? Is it just hair?  Those are two questions that are debated incessantly these days as the the natural hair movement spreads in the African-American community.  Acceptance of one’s appearance, actions, and ideas is one of the first steps to accepting and knowing one’s self.  This Ifemelu and Obinze both learned the long and hard way.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie was born in Nigeria in 1977.  She has a successful list of works starting with Purple Hibiscus which was her first novel written in 2003 and followed by Half of a Yellow Sun in 2006, which is set during the Biafran War.  The Thing Around Your Neck was a short story collection written in 2009. “My writing comes from melancholy, from rage, from curiosity, from hope.” (quote from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie  during a lecture at Princeton University, 20 October 2010 – The Writer as Two Selves:  Reflections on the Private Act of Writing and the Public Act of Citizenship)  That is very clear in her writing.  That’s what makes it sincere and palpable.  I urge you all to give Americanah a try and to check out the video below of Adichie speaking about the dangers of the single story on TEDTalks. Brilliant!

41. 32 Candles

Davidia Jones’s voice takes us through her difficult life living with her mean and brutal mother in a small town called Glass, Mississippi.  She is a constant victim of bullying through middle school and high school, but still manages to fall head over heels in love with a gorgeous football player, who is new at school.  This unrequited love, along with her favorite Molly Ringwald films are the things that lull her through those harsh moments at school, until an insensitive prank drives Davidia to Hollywood where her life takes more dips and dives than even she could imagine.

32 Candles was an excellent five-star surprise for me!  I wasn’t sure what to expect but it has everything going for it.  The fact that it has a bit of the 80s culture, hence 16 Candles, The Breakfast Club, and company is an A plus.  It’s refreshing to read a book that has eighties culture for a change and yes it’s my generation.  I graduated from high school in 1984 and I could hear the Thompson Twins banging in the background.  This story will lift your spirits and definitely drive you to look for the silver lining in every black cloud.

Ernessa T. Carter has given Davidia a warm, fluid, sensitive, real voice that we follow on bated breath.  It’s a little hard to put down once you get into it.  Honestly, the first twenty to thirty pages may seem slow, but you will soon begin to get wound up in Davidia’s life and care about her.  She’s vulnerable, sensitive, intelligent, and talented.  32 Candles has been highly acclaimed by critics, “Carter winds up this disarmingly moving tale with not one but many surprises, in which both Davie and you will win.”——Essence and “First there was Stella and she got her groove back, then there was Bridget Jones and she managed to find her love despite her own lovable neuroses.  Now there is Davie Jones.  32 Candles, at last, is the answer to the question ‘What should I read next?'”—–Erica KENNEDY, author of Feminista and Bling

Ernessa T. Carter is a graduate from Smith College and Carnegie Mellon University in Pennsylvania with a Masters in Fine Arts.  She has worked as a radio journalist, a music teacher, and as an ESL teacher in Japan.  Not to mention she is a retired L.A. Derby Doll (roller derby).  32 Candles is her first novel, but Carter co-wrote a natural hair book with Nikki Walton (founder of the exceedingly popular natural hair site www.curlynikki.com ) called Better Than Good Hair:  The Curly Girl Guide to Healthy, Gorgeous Natural Hair.  Carter blogs and is the editor in chief of  fierceandnerdy.com .  She has just finished rewriting her second novel and non-fiction novel, so we’ll have to keep a look out for their release dates.  Hope one of the two or both will be coming out soon.  She is also expecting twin girls.  She wrote a very emotional, positive post about fertility treatment and getting pregnant.   Check it all out on fierceandnerdy.com!

A metaphor is like a simile.

                            ——–Author Unknown

35. 10 Easy Steps to Go Natural Without Cutting Your Hair Off

Natural hair has been a passion for me since I went natural three years ago.  I took the big leap by deciding to forgo the *”creamy crack” and to embrace my God-given locks no matter what they be.  In order to start this natural journey there are only two options:  big chop or transition.  Big chopping is just what it says.  It’s cutting off all the relaxed or chemically straightened hair, which leaves the new grow or natural hair.  What’s left is a twa or teeny-weeny afro in most cases and that was mine.  The second option is to transition, which is to gradually trim the hair as it grows until all the relaxed or chemically treated hair is gone.  Ladies usually try to transition for twelve or more months.  This takes time and patience and that’s what Nik Scott’s book 10 Easy Steps to Go Natural without Cutting Your Hair Off is about.  The handbook is separated into a preface, an appendix, and of course the ten crucial steps.  The appendix includes questions and answers, Scott’s transitioning hairstyles, tips on how to choose a hairstylist and on how to cut relaxed ends.  There is also some information about scab hair and about a hair and scalp elixir.

The best things going for this book are that Nik Scott has successfully transitioned and grown her natural hair healthy and long (check out her You Tube channel at LongHairDontCareLLC), the steps are ordered correctly, and lastly that she goes in-depth on the psychological aspects to going natural.  However, there are things that don’t work and one of the primary problems is the editing.  There are problems with missing words, incorrect words, and passages that need to be re-written.  I blame her publisher.  It was their job, not only, to make her book look polished but that it be well-written as well.  I also wish the book was longer because there were places where I wanted her to explain more details.  For example, she only gives one recipe of a transitioning hair & scalp elixir.  It would have interested me to see more of them.  I really enjoyed the pictures of Scott in the inspirational transitioning hairstyles, although I would have like to have seen more pictures and more explanation on cutting the relaxed ends.  All in all, this book is an introductory look into transitioning.  Scott really hits the nail on the head in the sections “Do you really want it?” and “The changes I’m going through”.  The psychology counts tremendously when going natural because confidence has to reign to get to the goal and unfortunately discouragement can come from the people you love the most.  She stresses assurance, determination, patience, and acceptance as key factors to attaining natural hair.  Moreover, these important factors can’t be and aren’t stressed enough.  Check it out as a preliminary sneak peek into transitioning, but you will certainly have to seek other sources of information for details.  Who knows maybe Nik Scott has another book in the works in the near future?

“Nik Scott is more than a natural hair blogger and YouTuber. She is a self-proclaimed ambassador for Christ, wife, mother, artist, dreamer and doer. As a freelance writer, promoting self-confidence within young girls and women has always been a passion for Nik. Because of her innate desire to help women, Nik founded the online Black hair resource Long Hair Don’t Care in 2008. Since then, Nik has been able to use social media like YouTube to build solid credibility as an online authority on hair, do-it-yourself projects, style and everything in between!  In 2012 Nik established LHDC-TV, a life & style social media network which allows her to further inspire, help, encourage and teach.”(back cover of 10 Easy Steps to go Natural without Cutting Your Hair Off!)

BLOG: http://www.lhdctv.com
FACEBOOK: http://www.facebook.com/lhdctv
TWITTER: http://www.twitter.com/inikscott
INSTAGRAM: @iNIKSCOTT

Writing, to me, is simply thinking through my fingers.

                                                                       —— Issac ASIMOV

14. Hair Products 101

Organic Root Stimulator, Shea Moisture, Jane Carter’s Solution, Oyin Handmade, Uncle funky’s Daughter, As I Am, Ouidad, Talijah Wajid, Carol’s Daughter, Hair Rules, Koils by Nature, Karen’s Body Beautiful, Jessicurl, Komaza Care, Mixed Chicks, Giovanni Cosmetics, Darcy’s Botanicals, Hairveda, and so on….. The list is getting longer and longer as natural hair becomes more popular in the African-American community.  Companies are jumping on the natural hair bandwagon to try to earn lots of money in the ever-growing market of natural hair products.  Companies that are developing natural hair care products are sprouting like mushrooms.  Some are even trying to sell their products, while promising stupendous results, without even taking an ounce of care towards the ingredients that they use in their products.  Inticing naturals who are searching for the product that will give them the perfect curl, the product names often contain the word curl or curly.  The question is:  Which products are the best for your hair?

In the beginning, I spent time worrying about products and living in France didn’t make it easy for me.  Sporting my twa (teeny-weeny afro), I realized that I needed moisture in my hair and I wasn’t ready to turn into a product junkie trying to find the right one, especially since I would have to order everything online.  I survived and my hair grew with the simplest methods, *co-washing, leave-in, and sealing with jojoba oil.  Two years ago, I didn’t have Hair Products 101 A 4-Step Process to Empower You To  Select the Best Products for Your Hair.  Chicoro hadn’t written it yet.  I was fortunate enough to have read her first book, Grow it!  How to Grow Afro-Textured Hair to Maximum Lengths in the Shortest Time.  Having been very impressed with all the efficient information in Grow it! made me want to check out Hair Products 101 and I wasn’t disappointed.  This is an excellent guide for choosing the right hair products for your texture.  Chicoro breaks it down and explains how we can get side tracked into buying products because we like the shape of the bottle or the color of the label.  These new companies are using all the marketing strategies possible to make their products attractive.  But, did you? “Most studies on hair are conducted using Caucasian and Asian hair.  It is difficult for research centers to obtain long, unaltered, unprocessed Afro-textured hair……The practice of the hair care industry is to use Asian hair to represent Afro-textured hair.  The Asian hair is treated with alkali, or it is steamed and heat damaged until it crinkles so that it looks “kinky” and curly.” Hair Products 101 p. 7

An overview of the 4-step process is given in the beginning after explaining the rare commodity value of afro hair.  She then gives an explanation of the human hair fiber, comparing Afro, Asian, and Caucasian hair.  She then urges naturals to follow the growth of their hair through photos and answering all the questions in her “understanding your hair” survey.  It’s a template that you can copy from pages 42 to 49 and answer with care to continue a successful healthy hair growth journey.  There is also a big section on solvents , surfactants, protein treatments,etc.  This leads into what Chicoro calls cheat sheets.  They designate how to identify, recognize, and categorize, ingredients.  The end of the book contains case studies.  There you can read a problematic from a natural and what Chicoro suggests as solutions.

Interesting book and explained clearly and simply in 111 pages.  I rate it 4 1/2 stars.  This could be the book to help a product junkie to repent and to prevent others from becoming one.  I don’t know much about Chicoro, but she definitely has a wealth of information that should be more publicized.  This information will enable us to stop being victims of the sharp marketing tactics in the hair care industry.  Please check out both of her books and her website at http://beautifybitbybit-chicoro.blogspot.fr/

13. Good Hair

When I went natural two years and three months ago, I spent most of my time watching You Tube videos of women styling their hair and reviewing products and reading books about the upkeep of afro hair.  Newly naturals often have a hard time trying to figure out what’s the best way to take care of the hair that they haven’t seen for the most part since they were children.  I ordered Good Hair For Colored Girls Who’ve Considered Weaves When the Chemicals Became Too Ruff from amazon because I still enjoy reading books about natural hair.  Actually, it’s the title that attracted me.  The reference to Ntozake Shange’s play For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf made me smile.  What didn’t make me smile was the expression “good hair”.  I hate it when people talk about good hair or a grade of hair as if it was milk or beef. That’s an expression that every African-American knows well and has heard way too many times in their lives. “Ooh girl she’s got that good hair!”  What is “good hair” you ask?  Good hair is hair that lays down easily, that curls perfectly, and blows in the wind.  It’s hair that is closest to Caucasians’ hair.

Hair is so important to African-American women.  We are willing to beg, borrow, and steal a fortune to keep up and discipline our hair to fit into what many consider to be the accepted way to have publicly presentable, professional hair.  In order to do this anything goes:  weaves, wigs, relaxers, hot combing, texturizers, curly perms or jheri curls.  All these different alternatives to wearing and accepting one’s natural hair are extremely costly, time-consuming, but most of all damaging.  In Good Hair written by Lonnice Brittenum Bonner, she traces her own hair journey from childhood to adulthood and she has literally done it all to her hair, along with countless times of having to cut off all her hair to only regrow it and mess it up again.  Her book is an excellent account of what not to do, while also giving good advice about what would be better.    As I was reading, I kept asking myself what is she looking for now and why is she doing THAT to her hair.  It’s the classic case of trying to force your hair to behave in a way that it can’t and won’t.  We have all been there.  Fortunately for me, I was too afraid to do anything else to my hair except relax it and that was damaging enough.  Moreover, I did that for thirty years, before the constantly itchy red scalp from my last professional relaxer was too much for me.   These past two years have been an eye opener for me to accept my hair as is and to stop comparing my hair to other races and even to other African-American women.

Overall, Good Hair is an opening birds eye view to becoming natural.  Bonner goes into the details of how to go natural either by doing a big chop or through transitioning.  She explains the options and how tos.  She gives a quick breakdown on the structure of hair; for example why it’s so dry, why does it break so easily, and talks about hair anatomy and type.  She also talks about shampooing, conditioning, daily maintenance, and hair tools.  She basically covers what you would generally find in this type of book, but it’s not in-depth.  Broader-spectrum books like The Science of Black Hair are more interesting because they link the scientific with the everyday and deals with the why and why not of afro hair care.  Bonner’s Good Hair doesn’t go into quite so much detail, although for some it may be enough.  The only other problem with this book was the editing, which annoyed me.  Wow! It was atrocious!  Unfortunately  there were so many mistakes, from missing words in sentences to incorrect tense usage; which I want to believe was due to typos.  In my opinion, this little 93 page book is just ok.  So I’d give it three stars.  It was published in 1990 and since then there have been many other informative books published on the market about natural hair.  If you want a no-nonsense humoristic read and information without too much detail, this is the book for you.

Bonner wrote other books called Plaited Glory For Colored Girls Who’ve Considered Braids, Locks, and Twists in 1996, where she differentiates between styles, costs, and salons, The Kitchen Beautician For Colored Girls Who’ve Dissed the Beauty Standard When it Became to Ruff in 1997, where she talks about hair and skin care regimens and how to become a mixtress, and all on an affordable budget, and Nice Dreads:  Hair Care Basics and Inspiration for Colored Girls Who’ve considered Locking Their Hair in 2005, where she talks about keeping locks looking their best and cultivating buds.  I haven’t read these books but I hope they were edited better than Good Hair.  The best thing that Bonner did was to document her hair journey through these books.  I think it’s something everybody should do when they go natural.  Growing natural healthy “good hair” takes time and sometimes we can become so impatient that we’re sure our hair isn’t growing or think that it looks the same.  Growing good natural hair takes patience.  Documenting through pictures, videos, diaries, writing down our favorite products or personal home mixes can help determine what is and isn’t good for our hair.  Good luck to all those newbie naturals, transitioners, and to long-term naturals.  Keep persevering to good hair….

Speaking of “good hair”, check out the clips below which are from Chris Rock’s comic documentary film Good Hair.  It is an interesting look into the cultural aspects of hair in the African-American community and the hair industry and the billions of dollars it earns from African-American women willing to spend whatever amount of money to tame and maintain straight, acceptable hair in today’s society.  Enjoy!

2. The Science of Black Hair

Two years today I did a leap and big chopped* after transitioning* for four months to become natural.  I hadn’t seen my natural hair for more than 30 years.  I didn’t even know what my natural hair texture would be like.  The only thing I had to go on were many pictures of me with my long plaits hanging down on both sides, with hair ribbons and bows.  I’d completely forgotten everything about its texture and its length, but I did remember the discomfort of having my hair done, tender headed.  At the end of the summer in August 2009,  I was desperate for my scalp to stop itching after the last relaxer* that I had gotten on holiday in the States.  So I decided to only shampoo, condition, moisturize and air dry my hair during the transition period since my hair was very short anyway.  That went well until January 7, 2010 when I got fed up with scraggly ends which I was afraid would break, not to mention I was starting to look like a wet cat, and cut off all the relaxed ends.  I was left with 3cm of hair all over my head.  Somehow, I felt liberated and a lot of cold air on my scalp when I went out in the cold Normandy winter.  I regretted nothing.

Recently, natural hair has become more popular as an alternative to relaxing, weaves, and wigs. Although, black women who decide to big chop without having done research find their hair journey to be a trying and daunting task.  So, if there are any wannabee naturals, natural newbies, transitioners, loc wearers, or even relaxed hair wearers reading this post, I suggest you save yourselves the grief, the product junkie-ism, and wondering how to care for your hair.  Go out and get The Science of Black Hair!

This book is what we’ve all been waiting for.  It details everything from explanations on how hair grows, the structure of black hair, product analysis, regimens, children’s hair care, caring for relaxed hair, etc.  Everything is touched on in this book.  I read it in one week but my copy is full of highlights and dog-eared pages.  It’s the book you will refer to throughout your hair journey, whether you’re at the beginning or reached your hair goal.  There has been no other book like this written.

Basically, the book is about 250 pages and is separated into five major units:  1. The Science of Black Hair, 2.Healthy Hair Management, 3.  Working with Chemicals in a Healthy Hair Care Regiment, 4 Children’s Hair Care, and 5. The Hair-Total Body Connection.”  Under each of these units, there are various chapters that deal with the specificities of the unit, containing micrographic pictures (really cool!), graphs and information boxes.  There is a full in-depth index, a glossary, and product ingredient glossary in the back.  If you’re interested in doing more research on hair you can refer to Davis-Sivasthy’s references.  There you will find the references she used to write this informative book.  I also recommend buying the hardcover because it’s the kind of book you will refer to throughout your hair journey.

Today is my 2 year “nappy” anniversary and I’m proud to have made it from 3cm of hair length to the 21cm I have today.  I didn’t read this book until last week but it has confirmed the things I had to find out the long, hard way and enlightened me with new information, like the importance of a good balance between moisture and protein.  This is essential to healthy afro hair growth.  It’s also the most difficult to pinpoint because all afro hair is very different.  I feel as though after reading The Science of Black Hair that I’m getting even closer to perfecting this important combination.  Davis-Sivasothy has also added some Q and A street interviews, which add a certain authenticity to the book.  All in all an excellent, easy read and all for only $32.95 in hardback and $24,95 in paperback on Amazon.com

Look how far I’ve come.  After reading The Science of Black Hair I know I can go even further…….

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For those of you looking for supplementary information about natural hair there  are many hair care forums and You Tube channels that can help you along your hair journey.  My favorite hair care forum is NaturalSunshine.com.  Some of my favorite You Tube hair channels are MsRosieVelt, tastiredbone, africanexport, louloumatou, Naptural85, ahsiek1118, TheNaprika, 160Days2Lose2, tonidaley80, whoissugar, beuniquehaircare, FusionofCultures, and BlackIzBeautyful to name a few, but there are so many more……Once you start watching you won’t want to stop!

*Big Chop – BC: to cut off all relaxed ends of the hair leaving a very short afro known as TWA(teeny weeny afro)

*transition – growing out a relaxer and just trimming the ends regularly until all the relaxer is gone.

*relaxer – chemical processing the hair using a lye product, sodium hydroxide, which is put on the roots of the hair about every 6-8 weeks to keep the appearance of straight hair.