Thursday, January 29, 2015


I just received a greeting card from a friend which states that what I need is a totally out-of-control, deeply significant, all-consuming passion ..... other than my hair!
My hair has been described as 'hair of an angel' 'out of control' 'medusa-like' 'unkempt' and one I like most of all - 'boing-ey.'
In this particular entry I will not describe the tortured hair years of my childhood and teenage years - I shall leave that for a future entry.
I got married at the age of 25 and had been with my husband for several years before then. To the best of his knowledge, he married a woman with straight hair. After our wedding we travelled around Europe in a VW bus. A watershed moment occurred one cold and rainy night in a camping site in Amsterdam. I had washed my hair and wound it tightly around my head, clipping it down and waiting for it to almost dry, at which point I would unclip it and wind it in reverse, so to speak. This method had always worked and my dry hair hung as straight around my face as naturally curly hair can hang i.e. with kinks at the roots, and suspicious looking grooves, just waiting for a hint of moisture in the air to spring upward and outward, and spoil the entire painstakingly wrought straight facade. That particular night it was very cold and damp and after about two hours of my hair being clipped down I realized it was never going to dry and I may die of a cold instead. I unclipped it and combed it and went to bed. When I awoke my hair stood out in an afro, which, thankfully at that time, was all the rage. Imagine my husband's shock!
That was the last time I ever tried to straighten my hair. From then on I have paid no heed to the fashions of the moment, I just let it be. However, a new problem emerged - how to keep the curls looking ok and not a frizzy mess, looking like I have just stuck my fingers in the nearest electric socket!
My life has been spent in an eternal quest for the holy grail of hair products. I am deeply ashamed to admit that I have probably spent thousands upon thousands of dollars on mousses, gels, magic potions, pomades, oils from Morocco, shea butter from Africa, coconut oils from India, magic oils from Polynesia, olive oil, petroleum, non petroleum, phthalate free, silicone-full, silicone-free, and the designer 'curly' lines which have only appeared in the last few years. All to no avail, not one of them works as promised by brilliant advertisers. Nevertheless, I doggedly persist in trying everything in my pursuit of perfection. Inevitably after one or two pumps I give them away, recycle the bottles, or just throw it all away feeling terribly guilty for adding to the landfill and general pollution of our air and our waterways.
Have I learned anything on my life quest? have I become wiser in my advanced age? have I realized that this is as elusive a journey as is the quest for the meaning of life? the elixir of youth? the holy grail? -  of course not.
So, during the recent holiday season I attended a pop-up shop in Oakland. A beautiful african american woman with perfect, shiny, curly hair, was selling products for curly hair. She painstaking described each product to me - enticing mixtures of creams and oils and essential oils, all chemical free, hand made, not tested on animals, biodegradable. I looked at the array and settled on a product that she said was a shampoo and conditioner and curl enhancer all in one - I would not need anything else. The name of this product, on a cute hand painted label in soy based ink was "Dirt." That alone should have provided me with just a hint of what was to happen, but no, I plonked down my money, and put the bottle in my bag. Just before I walked away she said "oh, I must warn you to be careful when opening the bottle, because it grows."
"Grows" - what is she talking about, I smiled politely to pacify her and left.
The next day under the shower I opened my bottle of dirt. It positively exploded - a volcanic eruption of brown lava shot up like a fountain, on to the shower curtain and walls and bottom of the tub floor of the bathroom, and continued to spew forth, unabated for at least five minutes.
I wiped up globs of lava then put it in my hair and washed and rinsed it. It felt odd, like a mixture of seaweed, slime, and .. yes, dirt - mud in fact.  It was very difficult to comb out and then when it dried - not in Botticelli curls, it stuck out in strange spikes and coils and had very hard feel to it, almost like I could, if I so desired, begin to carve at it and sculpt it.
I decided I had not read the instructions properly. I read the now runny label - no particular expertise required, just to wash and rinse the hair. If you can believe it, I tried again, the next day, after the same lavic explosion had occurred.
I had a hair appointment the following day and I sat in the chair as my curly haired hairdresser tried to comb my hair.
"It feels strange," she said, "I can't get the comb through it Can I chisel it? I am going to wash and condition this before I do anything.
I broke down and confessed to her that I had washed my hair in dirt. She shrugged and clucked sympathetically, as a naturally curly haired woman she too understands the lifelong search. After she commiserated she assured me it is ok to throw away the bottle of dirt.
I came home with my hair looking soft and shiny, full of free flowing curls and ringlets, and threw away my bottle of Dirt.

Thursday, January 22, 2015


Whew, I have my evenings back.
The telenovela (or should I say miniseries) I have been glued to since my return from South Africa in October (!) had its grand finale last Monday night, January 12th 2015.
I was channel surfing one night last year when I saw the name, Pablo Escobar el Patron de Mal on KSFS. That was it, I was hooked from the moment I clicked on - every monday to friday at 9 p.m.  I put off writing, phone conversations, dates - I recorded it if I couldn't, for some outstanding reason, watch. The only productive thing I did do was knit while I watched. I knitted a baby blanket for the soon to be arrival of my nephew's baby - I knitted baby hats and finished scarves.
This miniseries was made in Colombia - where Pablo Escobar, the notorious narco trafficker, terrorized Colombians during the 80's and 90's. It was without subtitles. The spanish was Colombian - different from the spanish I am familiar with. Furthermore, it was spanish spoken by gangsters from Medellin, but somehow I followed the whole thing and soon added many new words to my repertoire: words for hitmen, bodyguards, kidnappings, extradition, "plata o plomo' - (money or lead/bullets) used by these charming people to bribe everyone from judges to journalists, police etc.
It is very violent, quite often causing me to gasp at the coldblooded manner in which they killed people, anyone - women, children, old people, judges, journalists, policemen, their colleagues whom they double crossed or tired of, brought down planes.  That is how they remained in power for so long, but I am not here to write a critique of the series, no, I am here to say that I am inordinately proud that I watched and understood.
Growing up in south africa we barely knew there was such thing as a spanish language.
I learned spanish when I began my work in healthcare, first with homebound adults, then in early intervention.
This was way before the use of apps for absolutely anything and everything. I now rely on s-translate.
I had Pimsleur learning cassettes in my car. At that time I drove long distances, to Antioch, Pittsburg, Brentwood - way out in East Contra Costa County. I spent so much time in my car repeating words and phrases in spanish, that within a couple of months I deemed myself ready to advance from beginners to intermediate spanish. I also attended classes in conversational spanish at Centro Latino in Berkeley.
I carried a notebook with all my other paperwork and wrote down new words. It is very interesting to scan over them now, because I can tell what subjects I was talking about with the families and caregivers. Food and recipes dominated many of our conversations, then when I began to work with the babies I quickly learned words like farts, diarrhea, constipation, diapers, pacifiers, bottles, nursing, and so on.
I remained living in the here and now for a long time. If I wanted to indicate something in the future I pointed ahead of me and for the past I gestured behind me. When I reached this juncture I decided to go to adult school to learn grammar, but quickly I understood that this is not the way in which I learn. For many people it is fine, but I simply cannot learn by reciting verbs and their exceptions, I learn through immersion, and that is how I have been learning every since, up to the point where I can follow Pablo Escobar, El Patron de Mal.
TV is a wonderful way to learn - most of the latino families - (all of them, in fact) seem to have TV on all day, a permanent background fixture. In this way I began to watch "Casos de la Vida Real" in the mornings at 11. I arranged my schedule so that I would be at a house to watch it without having to leave in the middle of the show. These were enactments of events in women's lives - mostly heartbreaking, involving domestic violence, child abuse, poverty, desperation,  somehow all very familiar and universal.
That lasted for years, but has since been replaced by "Rosa de Guadalupe" - more heartening events occasioned by the miraculous interventions of the Virgin of Guadalupe. The problem with this is I now only see a few children, just one day a week. The little girl I see at the time when Rosa de Guadalupe comes on is watched over by her father who insists on watching football!
I am not yet staying home to watch on the mornings I am not working - I have managed to stay away from spanish TV and still lead a life, attending the gym, art classes, and such, and hope I can continue to stay away - with the help of the intervention of the Virgin!