It’s 2nd October – one of those grey, damp autumn mornings that depress the soul. I can hear the school children arriving in cars, the sound of tyres through puddles, young voices calling to each other in the street. I retreat back to bed with my large mug of tea. I do know I am very fortunate to be able to do this – a brief thought for my friends who are over-stretched teachers, my husband who is has been seeing patients in his clinic since 7.30am. Can I use the excuse that I am not feeling very well again? I have ironing and shopping to do: it’s just a ‘not really’ kind of day.
Perhaps because of the longterm lack of 9-5 structure in my life I have always created my own goals and projects to give purpose and meaning to the passage of time – I would rather say I am ‘self-employed’ than a mere ‘housewife’, as most women juggling life at home certainly are, they’re just unpaid! Anyway, on this rather miserable Wednesday morning the countdown is on once again… in 3 days time I will be having all my hair shaved off.
Why? I have lots of very good reasons I can give you, of course: raising money for a good cause, not wanting to go to a poverty stricken country flaunting my crazy red hair and standing out more than I already will as a white woman, trying to put myself in the place of those who have nothing. Have a look at Headshave for Haiti for all that and ways you can respond to it – because giving up my hair is, of course, the most personal of responses. But WHY do I always have to be so extreme?
My daughter admitted to me last weekend that when a young friend asked her why her mummy is shaving her head she replied, “Because she likes to be the centre of attention”! Owch! It was one of those bitter ‘introvert child lashing out at embarrassing extrovert parent’ moments and she at least confessed and apologised – but it gave me pause for thought. Not for long of course… if having bright red hair all this time hasn’t been me shouting “LOOK AT ME!” what is it?! “Look at me, I’m different, I’m me, I’m crazy, I want to express myself and I don’t care what you think!” I like looking like this! Rebecca had probably hit the nail on the head, as usual: my answer was that, as I clearly am the centre of attention, I just have to use what I’ve got: “Look at me now: I’m BALD!”
And I really will be in 4 days time. It’s like being pregnant for the first time when you can’t imagine actually having the baby in your arms. All the preparation is focussed on getting to and through the labour but then… at the moment of birth a completely new phase begins. It will be too late to regret it then! In fact, just as with pregnancy, it already is too late – a process is underway. I am not giving back the money that’s been given for Haiti – already quite a lot of money! – so of course I have to go ahead with my part of the deal.
Never a dull moment, eh? Perhaps I am doing this to avoid boredom, to give me something to focus on when we are still no nearer ‘escaping’. Going to Haiti this November is a long-standing dream of my husbands – I didn’t want to go there. Why would anyone want to go somewhere your life could be in danger from disease or violence? But I am doing it for him, and because the conviction has finally hit me that something should be done and because we can and probably we should. Perhaps everyone in the rich west should be exposed to utter poverty at least once in our comfortable lives – especially when there is an argument that says our society has been built on the backs of their forefathers’ labour in the slave plantations. We have a safe enough set-up in place – a team of people and connections on the island who will look after us. We can have inoculations that do little more than hurt our arms for a few days (though the rabies jab does cost £155 each!). It’s time to take the risk or die never having had the adventure.
I am giving my hair because I can’t run a marathon or climb a mountain – I can’t even make cakes! It is really all I have to give – and if my daughter is right, I may as well take advantage of my position and take as many people with me as possible! As I see it everyone should have the opportunity to invest in this along with us: I’ve even written an article for the local paper and put posters all over town… the whole hog, all or nothing Sponsor me!
Anyway, my hair will grow back – but not bright red. I’ve planned it 40 days before we go to Haiti so that so that it will grow back sufficiently to prevent me being a bald spectacle! People say I can dye it again afterwards, but perhaps after visiting the poorest country in the west I won’t feel like having bright red hair again – head-shaving itself is a sign of mourning in African culture. On the big countdown to my dreaded 60th birthday it’s probably time I started wearing a hair colour appropriate for my age anyway. Perhaps I have just been looking for an excuse and am glad it is not Sam’s death. Perhaps there is even an element of self-harm in it, my depressive anger coming out… People say I’m brave, but I don’t feel it: we’ll see how brave I am on Saturday night.
Deep down this is really about identity. I have been Redhead for some years… anyone can be ‘grey old head’. I am going to find out who I am, hiding under this mop. I am not going to be able to distract from the wrinkles and blemishes and although my friends say I will look great, I know I will not look as great as I have done and no, you can’t compare me to the young and beautiful Jesse J. I am facing the effects of ageing without props – and I am very aware that in Haiti very many people don’t even make it to 56 years old.
Who am I really? And will I be able to walk in both humility and freedom in the historic land of slaves? Because both are necessary if we are to carry any sort of message of life.