This is a guide for my family and friends about my life as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Cape Verde, Africa. I teach English as foreign language to high school students in Boa Vista, Cape Verde. Also as a disclaimer, the comments expressed here are solely of the author and do not represent the United States Peace Corps, the American Government, or any other governing body.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

There are several things to say at this point, but I had an interesting thought the other day. To continue my observations and amusements of the Cape Verdean people, I discovered something interesting recently. My first year English students, to whom I teach Literature, recently read O. Henry's "The Gift of the Maji" and they loved it. Usually I get a lukewarm response from my students; usually a select few like the story I assign and the rest are completely indifferent. But this one they actually got into, and they participated in class more than usual, too. I was surprised, I didn't think that this particular story would have such an effect.
Briefly, for those who are not familiar, "The Gift of the Maji" is the story of a couple who sacrifice their most precious possessions in order to buy the other a nice gift for Christmas. The story is ironic, in that the woman cuts her long and very beautiful hair to buy a gold chain for her husband's pocket watch. The husband, however, has sold this watch to buy combs for the woman's hair. So in the end they are both left with fairly useless gifts.
Anyway, I asked the question: "Who do you think made the greater sacrifice and why?" Well here is where the debate started. I always thought that the man made the greater sacrifice simply because hair grow back, and eventually the cobs would be useful again. But it would cost money to get back the man's watch. This was my assumption, and I wrongly assumed again that everyone believed what I did. Boy was I wrong. When I went to put this response on the board, there was an uproar in class like I had never seen. Oddly enough, it was the boys in my class who voiced the loudest protests. Hair, they claimed, was such a precious thing, that to get rid of it would be the biggest shame. The watch was a watch, they said, get some money from somewhere and you can buy it back easily. It was all the boys in the class who spoke out against cutting hair, which led me to my thoughts about the different opinions Cape Verdeans have for beauty and appearance.
Cape Verdeans have this opinion about hair that treats it kind of like this precious commodity. It wasn't until I asked Nilton and other Cape Verdeans I know that I realized that hair is like a status symbol. It kind of goes back to the whole 'mixed race' status I have mentioned before. A 'pure blooded' African has hair that's thick and course and breaks easily. Those that are more interracial have finer hair that can be brushed and styled and not just simply braided. Children and adults alike are often touching my hair, and when (on extremely rare occassions) it is blow dried and worn down, I always get comments and exclamations and more attention on the street. I've been told that cutting my hair would amount to a minor crime and that I would then be ugly. Well I always been sort of attached to my hair so I'm pretty sure I won't be cutting it short again any time soon.

On a separate note, as I have been here so long, I feel myself completely separated from American reality. I have this romanticized ideal of what America is and all I can seem to think about is the good. I know that when I get back home, I will be sourly disappointed with the state of things there, but I just haven't been there in almost two years. So much can happen and my memories and feelings have warped. My perspectives and views are all off I know, but I just can't relate to life there anymore. I was writing this blog about hair, and then I realized, well, maybe they do feel the same about hair in America as they do in Cape Verde. I actually have no clue. I can't comment on the differences anymore because I don't know what they are. I'm in this 'purgatory' state almost, not part of this culture yet not part of my own. It's a bizarre feeling, one I am anxious to get rid of. I just want to go home now, back to the America I keep romanticizing. I want the reality to hit me already and then I want to get over it. I'm anxious to have my real life back. I know I have done well here, and actually if you go to the Peace Corps home page you can see my name in a recent press release :)

Anyway, I am anxious to get home.


Anonymous Danielle said...

ME TOO! I CAN'T WAIT!!! Do you have a date yet? Hugs!!

09 April, 2008 17:55

Blogger Melanie said...

very interesting that hair is a status the same time though, think of what an impact a different hair style has on people's perspective here in America. And most importantly...COME HOME!!! love ya and miss you and can't wait for you to be just a few hundred miles away!

09 April, 2008 21:31


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