My Watson Adventures

I've got twelve months to learn about hair braiding around the globe...wish me luck!

Monday, February 05, 2007

Incredible India (continued)

So I arrived in Bangalore on October 16th, and was picked up at the train station by the driver from Casa Piccola Service Apartments, where I planned to stay for the first few weeks or so. That same day, I met up with a fellow Watson Fellow, Dawn Teele, at Hotel Ajanta. Dawn had been in Sri Lanka and India since the beginning of the fellowship year doing research on post-Tsunami reconstruction efforts. We spent the next few days enjoying life in Bangalore, which we dubbed "Fake India", with all of its North American-style malls, lounges, cafés and bars.

I got sick twice that week (well, maybe it was really just once, and I didn't fully recover from the initial bug), which was not fun at all! I was glad that Dawn was around because I become a baby when I'm ill (ask my Mom - lol), and she helped me out a lot (thanks, Dawn!)

After Dawn left, I had to put my nose to the grindstone - I had to crank out nine law school applications ("from behind God's back", as my friend Shani so eloquently put it), and also figure out what to do about my Watson research, with no leads or real contact. At the internet cafe, where I ended up living during the application process, I was befriended by the owners, Rebecca and Karnan, and as luck would have it, Rebecca's cousin, Frida, is a teacher a beauty school in Bangalore - I was so happy!

Everyday during my law school application process, Rebecca and Karnan would bring me tidbits of information, products, and hair accessories (namely flowers and jasmine garlands) to help me with my project. Honestly, they kept me sane during that time - they helped me with my research, welcomed me into their family, helped me adjust to Indian life and taught me about their culture, took me to church with them, fed me, looked after me when I got sick (again), and they'd always make me great "chai" (tea)!

Once I finished my applications, they introduced me to Frida, and I went to her beauty school (Chik Mik Beauty School) a couple of times, where they taught me about Indian hairdressing and gave me a bridal makeover. I was also solicited by my landlord at Casa Piccola (where I ended up staying), Mr. Ravi Oberoi, to braid hair at the weekly Fun Fair at their restaurant, Casa del Sol, which was a great experience for me. Benjamine Oberoi, his sister-in-law, also asked me to braid her son Jeremy's hair - he's of mixed heritage - Indian and French - and had grown his hair out just so he could have it braided (perfect timing). Benjamine also introduced me to Manjunath, this Indian designer who's become famous as a model in India because of his dredlocks.

I would've stayed in Bangalore until I had to leave for Egypt (on the 28th), but I wanted to make sure that I had my Egyptian visa in advance (even though you can get it at the airport on arrival - didn't want any problems with customs and immigration), so I headed back to New Delhi on Monday, October 20 via plane this time (!) - turns out the man at the tourism office in Delhi was way outdated and I could have taken a 2-hr flight to Bangalore for the same price that I had paid for that 35-hr train ride that he'd suggested! Yeah...I was NOT impressed...

I spent my last week in India, back at Smyle Inn, getting ready for Egypt (I ended up leaving that little suitcase of my stuff behind in India because I really couldn't carry it all on my own, which made me really sad, but I had no choice!).

By the end of my stay in Bangalore, I'd finally adjusted to life in India and was actually starting to enjoy myself, which surprised me more than it surprised anyone else! I feel like my Indian experience allowed me to grow A LOT - it took me completely out of my comfort zone and put me in situations where I was forced to find my inner strength and adapt to conditions that I'd never been exposed to before.

I really hated some of things that I experienced there, like dealing with discrimination, which really surprised me, actually, but in retrospect, I can honestly sawy that it wasn't all that bad - thanks to Dawn, Rebecca, Karnan, and the people at Casa Piccola! I'm glad that I went through it because now I think that I can survive just about anything else that comes my way for the rest of the fellowship year!

Incredible India

"Incredible India..." I can't blame the Indian Ministry of Tourism for adopting that slogan for their recent campaign because India is an incredible place, indeed. But I must say, it took me a good month to appreciate it as such - lol

I arrived in New Delhi on the night of Friday, October 6, 2006, and immediately experienced by first real 'bout' of culture shock (after just spending a month in immaculate, oh-so-polite, peaceful Japan)! I spent my first week at Smyle Inn Hostel, in the middle of Paharganj - also known as the Main Bazaar, which meant non-stop stimulation of all five of my senses - yes, all five:

  • There was always something to see - merchants selling their wares, buyers trying to bargain, people trying to get from Point A to Point B, cows, cows, and more cows, bright colors, beautiful clothing (sight);

  • It was sooooooo noisy - people yelling, coughing, snorting, spitting, autorickshaws tut-tutting, two-wheelers vrooming, cars honking their horns incessantly (hearing);

  • It was crowded and people would just push you out of the way to get by (touch);

  • And the air was filled with the scent of spices, exhaust, fresh fruit, street food...and interesting mix, to say the least (smell, which was often strong enough to incorporate the sense of taste as well; the good tastes of India didn't come until later on in my trip because at the beginning, I was trying to avoid 'Delhi Belly' like the plague)!

I was lonely for my first couple of days (and was actually trying to figure out what exactly possessed me to do this - lol), when I met two Danish backpackers, Heidi and Gunvor, at breakfast one morning - I overheard them speaking English and I couldn't pinpoint their accent, so I asked them where they were from (I never would've guessed Denmark; their English was so fluent!).

We ended up hanging out and sightseeing in New Delhi together. On our first day (Sun. Oct. 8), we visited the Red Fort and the Great Masjid.

The Red Fort

Outside of the Masjid

The crowded market that we had to fight through to get to the Masjid

While we were out sightseeing that day, we were spotted by my French neighbor at Smyle Inn, Pierre, who was also doing a solo world tour. That night he slipped me a note under my door, asking if he could join us the next day, and then we were four...

We spent the next couple of days trying to figure out our respective game plans - I had no real Watson-related Indian contacts yet, and really had no clue what I was doing, to be honest; they were trying to figure out what regions of the subcontinent they wanted to cover with the time they had - so we went to the Government of India tourist office to ask for some advice. By the end of our consultation, they had decided to go to Agra to see the Taj Mahal, before heading to Jaipur...and I still wasn't sure of what I was going to do...My laptop had conveniently stopped working so I needed to get it fixed. An Indian family friend of ours had suggested that I go to Bangalore, the IT capital of India, so I asked the man at the tourist office for information about traveling to Bangalore - he said that flying would cost me around 200 USD, which I didn't have at the time, so he suggested that I take the train. I decided that if I didn't hear from my contacts in Punjab within the next few days, I would just go south to Bangalore.

Heidi, Gunvor and Pierre invited me to go to Agra and then to Rajasthan with them, but since I never intended for my trip to be a backpacker's experience, I didn't pack like one - instead, I (foolishly) packed like the diva that I am, so I was forced to decline their offer. At the last minute, though, I decided that I'd prefer to see the Taj Mahal with friends than by myself, so on Tuesday, October 10th, we went to see the Taj together.

And it was as beautiful as I had imagined it. We also went to Agra Fort, but didn't actually go inside - we figured it would be just like the Red Fort in Delhi. That night, I left my Danish twins and Pierre, and headed back to Delhi alone...sigh...

My Punjabi contacts never came through so I spent the next few days getting ready to leave for Bangalore. As a result of my "diva" packing, I was forced to leave a little suitcase full of my precious belongings and clothing behind at Smyle Inn when I left Delhi aboard the Nizamuddin-Bangalore Radhani "Express" (a trip that would take 35 hours!!!) on the night of Saturday, October 14th.

On the train, I had the pleasure of meeting a young Indian man named Edward - we were in the same berth - and we spent the night talking about everything - from our dreams and aspirations, to our faith, our travel experiences, our families, etc...he was really cool, and we still keep in touch. (I regret not taking his photo - I think I'll ask him for one!) I still can't believe that I actually survived being on a train for that long, but apparently I did, because on the morning of Monday, October 16th, I found myself in Bangalore.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Second Quarterly Report

Submitted on February 3, 2007

Second Quarterly Report –
“Braiding: Traditional Art, Esthetic Service or Cultural Expression?”

"Six months down, six to go – it’s crazy how time flies! I feel like I just finished submitting my first quarterly report but obviously, three months have passed already, and a lot has happened since then – I wrapped up my second month of research in India, spent six weeks in Egypt, and now I find myself in Senegal!

As I mentioned in my first report, my Indian contacts fell through, so I had to figure out a new game plan. I ended up staying in Bangalore for another three weeks, during which I frequented Chik Mik Beauty School and “worked” as a volunteer hair braider at the Casa Del Sol Fun Fair. At Chik Mik, they taught me about day-to-day Indian hair care and plaiting and also introduced me to the different types of hairstyles that Indian women wear for special occasions. During my second visit, I had the privilege of experiencing an Indian bridal makeover, which allowed me to experience the adornment and hair plaiting ritual first-hand. The funniest part of that whole experience was when the girls were trying to figure out what to do with my hair! Let’s just say that it was a learning experience on both ends!

Volunteering at the Casa Del Sol Fun Fair was a great opportunity for me because I got to braid hair for Indian girls (and grown women) as well as the daughters of some European expats living in Bangalore, so I finally got the chance to really talk to them about how they feel about their hair and about braiding. During our conversations, I learned that Indian girls have many of the same hang-ups about their hair texture (and skin complexion) that Black women do, which I found very interesting.

During my last week in Bangalore, I was introduced to Manjunath, a young Indian clothing designer who has gained celebrity status because of his hairstyle – he has dredlocks. In addition to designing fabulous clothing, he now graces billboards across the subcontinent, modelling everything from clothing and to beverages. I had the privilege of interviewing him (and his hairdresser Florence, a Ugandan expat) and he told me that he wears locks as an expression of his culture and his faith, since Indian sadhus (Hindu priests) wear their hair in that fashion. However, the general population still considers dredlocks taboo – they think that they’re dirty and weird – which is why Manju is such a rarity. Nonetheless, as a result of popular culture, the trend of wearing braids and locks is catching on with young Indians, so perhaps in a few years Manju might actually have some competition for the modelling jobs. I spent my last week back in New Delhi, to give myself time to get my Egyptian visa.

I must say that my second month in India was a lot easier than the first, and by the time that I’d finally adjusted to life there, it was time to leave! Although I had some pretty rough times, and my research didn’t turn out as expected, I think that my stay in India was definitely a learning experience, and I think I’m stronger now because of it.

My next stop was Egypt for six weeks (November 28 – January 10) for the historical portion of my research; I wanted to search for archaeological evidence of hair braiding by the Ancient Egyptians and figure out what motivated them to start the practice. I also wanted to learn about hair braiding in the arts, namely belly dancing.

During my time in Egypt, I conducted research at the American Research Center in Egypt (ARCE) in Cairo, and visited museums, temples and tombs where I photographed (or sketched, where photography was not permitted) the braided styles I saw. At the ARCE, I learned that braids, wigs, and hairstyles, in general, were used by both Ancient Egyptian men and women to denote social and marital status, or just simply for fashion – the Ancient Egyptians loved to look good. However, women specifically used hair braiding for seduction purposes, and as part of a purification ritual following childbirth.

As for modern-day Egypt, most Egyptian women wear headscarves, but hair braiding is still used for young girls, and I did manage to get two street interviews – one with an Egyptian guy with locks and the other with an Egyptian girl with extensions. I also got to interview a belly dancer, and she explained to me that hair braiding in belly dancing follows belly dancing fashion trends - that wearing braids and braided wigs was quite popular in the 60s and 70s in the art form, but nowadays, belly dancers typically leave their hair free-flowing.

Things were great in Egypt…until the Holidays rolled around and, I must admit, I got really homesick and lonely. Even though I’d made friends in Cairo, I wanted to be at home with my family in Toronto, but I survived. Now that I’m in Senegal, I’m certainly not lonely anymore though - I’m living with a host family and sometimes I miss the privacy I had living on my own. Nonetheless, it’s really nice to have home-cooked food again (and for the first time in a while, I don’t have people staring at me anymore)!

Everything was going quite well - I had started “hair school” at a local salon, where they have been teaching me how to braid “à la sénégalaise,” the weather’s been nice, I’ve been practicing my French, and trying to learn Wolof (and Portuguese, in preparation for Brazil) – and then I caught malaria a few days ago, which put a damper on things. I cried at first because I was really scared (and I also couldn’t understand why I’d caught it since I’ve been taking anti-malarial pills for months now, but apparently they’re not effective here). My host dad took me to the hospital, where they gave me medication, which was effective, so I’m better now! Getting sick is all apart of the Watson experience, I guess…

This report marks the halfway point of my Watson journey, and what a journey it has been so far! My global quest to learn more about hair and braiding has allowed me to see and visit places that I’d only dreamed about just a year ago, to meet interesting people and make great friends, to gain a better understanding of the world around me, and, most importantly, to learn SO much about myself that I didn’t know before, like my latent strengths and weaknesses! I realize now, more than ever, that I’m a work-in-progress, and I plan to use the remaining six months as an opportunity to improve on my new-found strengths and work on my weaknesses. I will keep you posted on the developments…"

First Quarterly Report

Submitted on November 1, 2006

First Quarterly Report -
"Braiding: Traditional Art, Esthetic Service or Cultural Expression?"

"It’s amazing how quickly three months can go by! It feels like it was just yesterday that I was leaving for Sydney and now I find myself in Bangalore, India! So far I feel like my project has been going well, not to say that everything has run smoothly – there couldn’t be anything further from the truth – but over the past three months, I have been able to learn some very interesting things by investigating hair braiding customs in three very distinct cultures.

My first stop was Sydney, Australia for a month. I spent most of my time in an area called Newtown, where there is a concentration of ethnic salons. My desire was to volunteer at a salon as a braider, or even as a hairsweeper, but I found that salon owners weren’t really receptive to that idea; instead, they allowed me to visit their salons to conduct interviews with the staff and clientele, observe their hair creations, and photograph the styles, which turned out to be a pretty good arrangement anyway. I frequented three such salons: Ambo Ars Hair Salon, Serengeti Hair Salon, and Afrique Ali’s Hair Salon.

In addition to my salon visits, I would also interview people that I ran into on the street with braided styles. Initially, I was apprehensive about randomly approaching people to ask them about their hair but soon realized that people like to talk about their hair, especially if their hairstyle is unique, and I met some pretty interesting people that way. Through my salon visits and random street encounters, I was able to speak to members of the White, Asian, and Immigrant Black communities of Sydney. My only regret was not being able to penetrate and learn more about the Indigenous community.

I had speculated that the Aboriginal peoples would have a hair braiding culture but was disappointed when the stylists told me that this was not the case. I was not convinced; and after contacting Aboriginal community organizations in Redfern as well as Message Stick TV and getting no real leads, I decided to head to the University of Sydney to see if they had any Aboriginal student organizations. At the University’s Koori Centre, I was able to speak with two lecturers who explained to me that even though the Indigenous people of Australia no longer have a braiding culture (they believe that they probably did have one before being forced to assimilate when the European settlers arrived), a braiding/locking culture still exists in Tasmania and the Pacific Islands. I was disappointed to find this out less than a week before I was due to head to Japan, but I’m glad that I was at least able to get the opportunity to get an Aboriginal perspective on hair, in general.

My second stop was Tokyo, Japan, where I also spent a month. In Tokyo, I decided to use the same strategy that I had used in Sydney: visit hair salons and conduct interviews. I was able to do so at two salons: Room 806 and Hallelujah Hair Salon, located in the areas of Roppongi and Harajuku, respectively. I had hoped to visit more salons in Japan to make up for the fact that I couldn’t conduct street interviews due to the language barrier, but fell ill twice within the month with bronchitis, which robbed me of precious time. In retrospect, I probably should have stayed in Japan longer because, surprisingly enough, Japanese hair braiders now rival African hair braiders when it comes to technique! But I had already bought my ticket to India and figured that I should stick to my itinerary.

Now I’m in India. India has been my greatest challenge so far and where I have experienced my first “real” bout of culture shock. I started in Delhi, where my flight arrived, and ended up staying there for a while because my Indian contacts fell through and I needed time to figure something out. With advice from a family friend, I decided to come south to Bangalore, where I have been able to get in contact with the owner of a hair styling school, who has agreed to allow me to conduct interviews. In the meanwhile, I have been speaking to the local women about Indian hair aesthetics, which include adding floral garlands and fragrant oils to their hair. I have also been able to get a lead in Chennai for a Classical Indian dance group that uses hair braiding as part of their adornment for performances. If I hear back from them, I will head to Chennai in a couple weeks. If not, I will stay in Bangalore and frequent the hair salons here.

One important thing that I have learned over the past three months is that, with Watson, nothing ever goes as planned! At the beginning of my journey, this used to really bother me because I always wanted (and expected for) my game plan to work -Watson has made me realize how much I like to be in control of everything! But I am learning that the Watson experience is all about flexibility, that when a given strategy works in one country that doesn’t necessarily mean that it will work in the next, so I understand now that it’s okay to just go with the flow. I have also found that many of my project leads have occurred without any initiative on my part; I have been able to learn a lot about my topic from random people that I’ve met during my “non-Watson-related” activities, like at restaurants or in the supermarket. This is a constant reminder that everything I do during this year is actually “Watson-related,” whether I’m actively conducting “research” or not, and the more that I think about it, I am realizing more and more that Watson is not a typical research fellowship at all but rather a yearlong life experience."

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Why I love cultural diversity...

So this post is about some of the "interesting" things that I've observed (and, in some cases, have had to adjust to) during my travels so far...

In Oz:
  • you say tomato "sauce", not tomato "ketchup"
  • they drive on the left side of the road
  • you say "how are you going?" instead of "how are you doing?"

In Japan:

  • you can buy ANYTHING from a vending machine, and they're everywhere!
  • everyone rides bikes, even little old ladies
  • people won't try to steal anything from you, except maybe your bicycle or your umbrella
  • they give you towels to wipe your hands before meals at restaurants (I love that)
  • cashiers have special trays for accepting your money and for giving you back your change (I love that too)
  • you take your shoes off and put on slippers, which are provided for you, in offices, cafes, bars, etc
  • public toilets have bidets and volume controls!
  • it's rude to blow your nose in public
  • it's okay to drink alcohol in the streets
  • there's no real anti-smoking policy anywhere
  • you can get arrested for theft for taking an item from one level of a department store to another

In India:

  • you'll be hard-pressed to find toilet paper in the public toilets
  • merchants never have change
  • autorickshaws!
  • men hold hands as a sign of friendship
  • it's okay to belch in public
  • men have no qualms about urinating in public
  • everyone calls you "madam"/"ma'am"
  • there are separate queues for men and women for ticket sales
  • the Indian concept of a "queue" is quite different from the Western convention - it's more of a mob than a line
  • waiters are quite willing to "serve you" your food (dishing your food unto your plate for you) but take forever to take your order or bring you your bill
  • everyone expects "baksheesh" (tip) for everything
  • you can get almost any kind of medicine without a prescription
  • cows
  • everyone wants to know "where you're from, madam"
  • everyone has a cell phone, and I mean everyone!
  • two people will give you completely opposing directions to get to the same landmark


I had an awesome time in Japan and I wish I had stayed longer! Thanks to the help of another Spelman sister of mine, Tiffany Tyson (gotta love the Spelman network), I was able to find someone in the Greater Tokyo Area who was willing to take me in for the month as a "tenant". Engle Thompson, an American lady who's teaching English through the JET Program in Kasukabe, a suburb of Tokyo, allowed me to share her apartment during my stay. We ended up having quite a bit in common - we both attended HBCUs (she's a Howard alumna), we're both travel addicts, we both love Black men (a favorite late-night topic of ours - ha ha), and we were both in the process of applying to law school - so we hit it off, which was essential because we were living in very close quarters (anyone who's been to Japan will know exactly what I mean).

Unfortunately, the cold that I'd contracted at the end of my Oz trip had turned into bronchitis by the time I got to Tokyo, so I was out of commission for a good week or so at the beginning of my trip, and then I got bronchitis AGAIN during the last week...yeah, and the fact that everyone smokes there didn't help either...So basically my research time was cut down to about two weeks. Nonetheless, I was able to hook up with two salons: Room 806 in Roppongi, and Hallelujah Salon in Harajuku, and I frequented both during my two-week stint.

Room 806 was the first salon to offer Black hair care services in Japan and was opened by an African-American ex-pat. They now have two locations - the other's called The New Sanno. I got a chance to interview the manager at 806, Lee, and he gave me some insight into the Black hair industry in Japan. Apparently, the young people in Japan are just loving Black hairstyles - cornrows, extensions, locks, and even WEAVES! But one of the most interesting things that he told me was that Japanese braiders are giving African braiders in Japan a run for their money, and when he showed me the portfolio of the work done by his Japanese braiders, I could see that he wasn't lying! Their braiding was so incredibly neat - I couldn't believe my eyes - and their styles were hot, too!

At Hallelujah Hair Salon, which is Japanese-run, I got to interview the English-speaking stylist, Shintaro, and he introduced me to the concept of the Japanese Black hair magazine -- in Japan, they have Black hair magazines just like the ones back at home, only the models are Japanese! And they advertise Black hair care products in them too! That's when I realized that the Japanese are really not playing around when it comes to braiding - lol - so I bought a copy because I figured people wouldn't believe me when I told them, and that's been the case so far...The day I interviewed Shin they were giving this Japanese girl some really crazy extensions, incorporating colored yarn and such, but of course, I had left my camera battery charging at the apartment - I was so heated!

I didn't do street interviews like I did in Australia because I was intimidated by the language barrier. In terms of day-to-day life, the language barrier wasn't as much of a hindrance as I had anticipated - I quickly learned how to convey messages using a combination of body language and "Nipponized" English (again, anyone who's been to Japan before will know exactly what I'm talking about); furthermore, all of people that I encountered were extremely patient - even when they had absolutely no idea what I was trying to tell them - they'd always give me enough time to figure out another way to get my message across to them, so that really helped. Also, after a while, I was beginning to recognize important Japanese characters (like the name of my town - oh-so-important for train travel- ha). So even though it was sometimes harder to get things done than it had been in Oz, it really wasn't that bad - what really held me hostage was the yen...ugh

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Off to Tokyo...almost...

My life wouldn't be mine if everything ran smoothly (lol)...and, of course, I had problems getting into Japan from Australia - I was under the impression that since Canadian citizens aren't required to have a visa to visit Japan for less than 3 months, that I wouldn't need to fulfill the visa requirement of having an onward ticket to enter the country...Well...I was wrong, and was promptly turned back by Qantas Airlines when I tried to leave Sydney for Tokyo. My roomies were pretty surprised to see me back at Regent Street an hour after we'd said our goodbyes, after thinking that we wouldn't see each other again for years!
I tried to buy a ticket out of Japan from Qantas that night but the cheapest one was going for about $1000! So the next day I went to good ol' STA Travel, where I was able to purchase a cheap ticket from Tokyo to Delhi, and headed to Tokyo that night (thankfully, Qantas didn't charge me for having to change my departure date)...what would Watson be without some adventure, right?

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Oz continued...

So my initial plan was to volunteer at a salon as a braider, or even as a hairsweeper, but I found that salon owners weren’t really receptive to that idea; instead, they agreed to allow me to visit their salons to conduct interviews with the staff and clientele, observe their hair creations, and photograph the styles, which turned out to be a pretty good arrangement anyway. I frequented three such salons: Ambo Ars Hair Salon, Serengeti Hair Salon, and Afrique Ali’s Hair Salon.

In addition to my salon visits, I would also interview random people that I ran into on the street with braided styles. Initially, I was apprehensive about approaching people to ask them about their hair - I thought they'd think I was crazy - but I found that people actually liked talking about their hair, especially when their style was unique, and I met some really interesting people that way.

Through my salon visits and random street encounters, I was able to speak to members of the White, Asian, and Immigrant Black communities of Sydney. My only regret was not being able to penetrate and learn more about the Indigenous Black community. While writing my Watson proposal, I had speculated that the Aboriginal peoples would have a hair braiding culture because of their hair texture, and I was disappointed when the stylists told me that this was not the case. I was not convinced; and after contacting Aboriginal community organizations as well as Message Stick TV, the Aboriginal TV program, and getting no real leads, I decided to head to the University of Sydney to see if they had any Aboriginal student organizations.

At the Koori Centre at the University, I was introduced to one of the Aboriginal lecturers, Shino Konishi, who is currently working on her doctoral dissertation which happens to be on the topic of Indigenous hairstyles at the time of First Contact with the European settlers - what a coincidence! Shino explained to me that even though the Indigenous people of Australia no longer have a braiding culture (it is believed that they probably did have one before being forced to assimilate after the European settlers arrived), a braiding/locking culture still exists in Tasmania and the Pacific Islands. I was really disappointed to find this out like a week before I was due to head to Japan, but she gave me the contact of another Koori Centre lecturer, Leah Lui-Chivizhe from the Torres Strait Islands, whom she said "had hair like mine."

So I e-mailed Leah and we were able to meet up the next week for coffee. Leah explained to me that women in the Torres Strait Islands do braid their hair but not in a stylized fashion. She shared her hairstory with me and I learned that Indigenous women have the same hang-ups about hair texture that Black women do. Aside from hair, Leah and I had something else in common - Jamaican roots (Jamaicans are everywhere, I tell you)! One of her grandfathers was from Jamaica and had immigrated to the Torres Strait Islands where he met her grandmother - craziness! Anyway, she also told me about how she braids her young daughter's hair, and how those hairstyles elicit mixed reactions from her daughter's classmates and their parents, which brought back memories. Honestly, I think we could've talked for hours but we were forced to end our hair talk because she had to go teach a class. Even though I didn't get a chance to speak with more people from the Pacific Islands, I was glad to at least have the opportunity to get an Aboriginal perspective on hair braiding.

Friday, October 27, 2006


After about 24 hours of traveling, including a stop over in Los Angeles, I finally made it to Sydney, Australia on August 3rd, 2006, which marked the beginning of an unforgettable month in the Land Down Under.

With the help of my wonderful friend Toni and the staff of Arcadia University's Center for Education Abroad, I was able to find a place to live for the month (thank you T. Lenoah!) - at 49-53 Regent Street, an apartment building for study-abroad students in Sydney. Initially, I was supposed to live in a single but Andy Franks, Arcadia's Residential Advisor, figured that I'd get lonely, and placed me in an apartment with three roomies...and I'm so glad that she did - my roommates, Madison Wood, Jessie Sommers, and Kate Sauerwein, turned out to be three of the sweetest girls that I've ever met.

My time in Oz was BUSY but isn't that the story of my life? In addition to my Watson research, I was trying to study for the LSAT (not fun), AND spend time being a tourist in Sydney! Splitting my time between the three wasn't easy, especially since there was so much to do and see in Sydney, but I did the best I could with the time that I had... I must admit, when I got to Sydney, I really had no idea of where to start with my research. I knew that I wanted to focus on salons, because I figured that braided styles in Oz would be more of a popular culture thing rather than a traditional practice, but didn't have the chance to contact any salons before I left Toronto. So I turned to my good ol' friend Google for help...and discovered that most of the "ethnic" salons in Sydney were located in a neighborhood called Newtown, and Newtown is where I ended up spending most of the month.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

I have a blog!

Okay, so I know this is loooooong overdue but things have been crazy (but what else is new?)
I hope to create my own website eventually (blog included), but for now this will have to suffice.
I can't believe that two months have gone by so quickly! First, Australia, then Japan, and now I find myself in Delhi, India. So I have a LOT of catching up to do, in terms of posting pictures and letting you know how things have been going...sigh...but everything in due time!