Braids are one of the major hairstyles preferred by Zambian women. They are easy to maintain and one can leave them on for a long time – I have had my current ones for about two and half months. One just needs to shampoo and oil one’s scalp and the braids. Very convenient, especially for those (namely, myself) with kinky difficult to manage hair. Having braids tends to be cheaper over the long run because they can be worn for so long.
I was on a bus in Bratislava, Slovakia with a friend when I felt someone pulling my braids and kind of massaging my scalp. I was startled and surprised, looked up and saw two young Slovakian ladies staring at my hair and also having an animated conversation. I looked at them questioningly and my conversation with them went like this:
Girls: ;akdf ;akdfj aljdkf (this is how Slovak sounded to me)
Me: Pardon? Can I help you?
Girls (pointing at my head): ;akdjf ;akjf oek – (more Slovak)
My friend: Sprechen sie Deutsch, bitte?
Girls (still pointing at my head): No Duetsch, no English. Hair, you hair?
Me: No, not me hair. Shop hair. I buy hair (while making the universal sign of money i.e. rubbing my thumb against my forefinger).
Girls (touching my braids again and feeling the roots and a look of knowing washing over their faces): Ah, not you hair. Shop hair. Nice long hair.
I know it is rude to touch someone you have no reason touching, but this did not annoy me. The young ladies were perplexed at my strange hair and could not help themselves, or at least I told myself. I have heard of fellow blacks getting angry at being touched. OK, maybe I have just not been touched in a way that made me feel uncomfortable or disrespected. Do I like strangers touching my braids? No, though I do not mind getting in conversation with them about my braids touch, rather than being touched.