Thursday, October 30, 2008

As the Hair Grows

Halloween in Dhaka. One wouldn't think it, but it's BIG. Halloween here is a multi-ethnic, multi-national, multi-religious week-long celebration culminating in the school's Halloween Carnival. It's a huge event, everyone comes, completely decked out. There are fundraiser booths and tons of activities. (This year I'm supervising both the South Asian Club's Henna Booth and the 7th grade guess-the-number-of-candies-in-the-jar booth) Last year; however, I had a more dramatic presence at the carnival. I was one of various teachers and administrators (about 10% of the faculty) who volunteered to shave our heads if ample funds were raised. And I was the only woman.

To put this in context: Here in Dhaka, it was only recently that women could cut their hair shoulder-length. Of course, I live and work in an expat bubble, but I still have to walk on the streets. Also, a public shaving is quite dramatic. The students I taught (especially the 11 year-olds) were quite shocked at the idea. (In fact, the girls starting petting my hair as a pre-mourning activity.) I spent a bit of time explaining that the primary reason I was shaving my head was to donate my hair to Beautiful Lengths. My colleagues told me that I was crazy- brave, but crazy. (And afterwards they couldn't get over the apparently beautiful shape of my head. They're still talking about it. Who knew?) One colleague said my hair was my best feature. (When I told my dad this, he responded that my heart and my willingness to give were my best features. Points for Dad.) For my critics who stared at me in disbelief, I simply said, "It grows." And so it does. Below is documentation of a year in the life of my hair- From pre-cut to present.

Of the experience, I would call it empowering. It became a didactic message- one of giving, self-sacrifice and breaking gender norms. I hope that my students, especially my teen and pre-teen girls, saw that a woman's strength and personality is more than her hair, or any other adornment. And, probably to the dismay of a couple of parents, I hear I've been inspirational; a trend-setter if you will. One of the high school girls is going to shave her head tomorrow at the carnival and donate her hair. As a teacher, one never does quite know the impact that we make on the students at our school. I'd like to think that mine is a powerful and positive one.

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