Bring on the holidays

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

We simply need to have this conversation again and again right now

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

A friend of mine living in the UK sent this link to me after the BBC Show broadcast an episode last week with a panel of South Africans in which the question was, now that Mandela is gone, what happens? The discussion quickly turns to #BOOINGGATE - addressing the issue of how the South African president, Jacob Zuma was booed during Mandela's memorial by thousands of people, including ANC supporters.  This is a very important conversation to have now. We are desperate for this and other platforms to speak about how we truly feel. This is only the first 17 minutes of this video, watch the rest of it here - it's extremely interesting and a brilliant summary of the state of affairs in this country, especially at 33.12 minutes

Honestly, I didn't want to post anything on my blog last week until I had something relevant and pertinent to say.  I couldn't eschew the magnitude of this moment as a country by posting anything that's not related to the place we find ourselves in.  The last 10 days have been difficult for us and because we were in mourning, I wanted to stay focused on the grief we are feeling, the aftermath of a watershed moment and thoughts about what is going to happen.

 I have been speaking to a lot of people whose stance on Mandela's legacy and where it should go from here, is radical to put it succinctly.  I am generally extremely emotional about the legacy of Apartheid and how we still see it everyday on the streets and talk about it almost every time we get together to eat and drink when everybody in the room can be classified as one race. We speak about it from different perspectives and with different fears.  We still have palpable racial tensions, hangups and problems we have not dealt with.  Problems that manifest themselves through the violent crimes we commit against each other.  There have been jokes about Night of The Long Knives circulating the internet and dinner tables.  That fear from whites is not actually a joke.  The anger that blacks have is not laughable. We have a leadership crisis.  E-Tolls. Nkandlagate. The Fake Interpreter and the fact that somebody that has been charged with murder, rape, kidnapping, attempted murder, house breaking and fraud was standing that close to some of the most high profile leaders in the world.  He is also schizophrenic. How did this happen? How on earth did the ANC embarrass and endanger themselves to this degree?  I was listening to a radio interview last week in which it was revealed that in the last 12 months, South African had over 2000 service delivery and protest strikes - that's more than the Arab Spring put together.

That said, we had the entire world's gaze focused on us for 10 days.  Visiting journalists, researchers and story tellers have been in our midst, telling us what they see when they come here.  They offer opposing perspectives.  They see the beauty in our frustrations, they marvel at how normal we think we are. They try to keep up with our drinking and can't.  They immerse themselves in the well of history we have to draw from.  They are jealous of our freedom to be.  African Americans and Black Britons can't believe how good we have it here, how much freedom we have to be ourselves, how platforms are desperate for our voices to be heard, how much we are seen.  South Africa is so God damn complex.  I'm proud to call it home but our home has filthy tendencies and dirt that needs cleaning up.  How does this discussion make you feel about where we are?

I'm aware that a blog such as this is supposed to be a platform to escape the daily deluge of bad news and anxieties that we face but my mind is filled with the kinds of issues discussed in BBC Question Time the panel discussion.  I'm so happy that it's the last week of work, that we will all have a little time to reflect on the last year as we prepare for the new year.  My blog turns four next year and I shall celebrate that with the look I can't wait to reveal to you in the new year. 


Thursday, December 5, 2013

Lupita Nyong'o is a Kenyan actress who stars in British Director (not the American actor) Steve McQueen's 2013 epic 12 Years A Slave film (the one that Brad Pitt turned down the role of a slaver in because he didn't want his kids to see him portraying such a role so he became a producer instead).  She was born in Mexico (hence the Spanish first name), raised in Kenya and educated at the Yale School of Drama.  She is gorgeous and talented and worthy of a toast.  I think 2014 is going to be her year. These images are from an editorial in DuJour Magazine. 


Yaaaaaaay bitchez be back!!!

I hope you've had a good week and for those of you who are having Christmas parties, this is the only time of the year where I wish I worked for a company because we freelancers, never get to go ''completely bevok'' on somebody else's buck at this time of year.  

Today I would like to share a wonderful product that I discovered on Twitter. @LuluAndMarula commented on something I said on Twitter and the name and photo piqued my interest.  It turns out I was just about to discover some really good shit.  Lulu & Marula makes 100% Natural Skin Products from botanical oils like aloe and marula, sourced from South African farmers and mixed in Joburg, in fact right here in Hyde Park.  I checked out the time line and contacted her immediately, a few days later she had dropped off some samples and here we are.  

I've been bathing a lot more than usual and taking some time in the evenings to sit in front of my dressing table to lather away.  These products are unbelievably rad, they smell delicious and that they're actually good for your skin is a 13th cheque.

First of all, how cute is the packaging? Lulu & Marula is the brain child of 24 year old Jesslynn Schlamm who officially launched the local skin care range in October 2013.  She has a full time job in advertising and does Lulu and Marula as her side gig.  She has always had an interest in personal skin care, formulating her own natural ingredient body potions and trying them out on friends and family for ages.  She's self taught people because thank Frau Universe for the Internet and books.  Before she launched the range, she would bring home made balms and oils to the office where the people that she worked with would scoop them up to a point where they started making orders. 

Recently a designer friend* of hers approached her wanting to do branding for the various products, so that they can be sold beyond her personal network. And what a great job she did. I love the brown bottles, they say clinical and legit without the made in a lab using rabbits and hamsters as living testers. The black on white and colourful pattern packaging is what made me send this girl an email when I first saw these products. I am a packaging freak. I will go to Woolies and specifically buy a new food or product because of the way it is packaged. 

The complete range is still growing.  At the moment, it consists of bath and body oils, body balms, hand and foot balms and there's even a facial treatment range which I am very excited to buy this December.  The products are all Marula based, an African fruit whose antioxidant and vitamin rich oil is great for all skin types.  These products are also suitable for people with skin disorders like eczema and psoriasis. Discover the full range and start placing your orders by visiting her online store

For December only, Jesslynn and I are offering and Mili and Lulu special where you can buy any of the products and get a 20% discount.  To redeem the discount, you can order form her directly by mailing (instead of going through the site) and quote the discount code ''LULU&MILI" then make an EFT payment and she will post you the product.  You guys know how I feel about local products, when they are made by young bright women, we are seriously obliged to support them.  Place your order. This is an order. Okay, enough.  

 *In life you need friends who will take you forward 


THIS VIDEO MADE MY BLOOD BOIL. Literally. It's not yet uhuru for women and we need to speak up at every opportunity we get. Against bigotry, sexism, racism and bullshit that purpotes one gender better than another or race better than another.  Speaking of contentious issues...I am currently masticating on the issue of the word bitch and its cousins beeyatch, bish, bitchez and birtch in our daily lingo and in popular culture in general.  A good friend of mine and leader of her generation and I had a lengthy discussion about how this word is in actual fact an impediment to the emancipation of women.  A very interesting discussion which I would like to pose as an issue once I have penned down some real thoughts on it.  I have noted the use of the word in the post above.


Thursday, November 28, 2013

Holler if you see it. 


I love my job.  I've just received an invitation to attend the premiere of Jeune et Jolie from the French Institute of South Africa.  I watched this trailer a few weeks ago and was wondering whether this film would come to South Africa.  There's something about Marine Vatch and as a fan of Vladimir Nobakov, this looks deliciously unsubtle. The film is out next Friday.

How Do Africans Kiss?

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

When I clicked play on this video, I was astounded to find it so literal.  I have watched it  4 times since discovering it yesterday and I think it is brilliant in its simplicity and so refreshing in its candid approach to a strangely strange question.  How do Africans kiss?  The first answer ''I don't see Africans kiss'', at first seems silly but there's some truth to it, that Africans kissing isn't something that continues to be pervaded in popular culture.  I don't know how true it is what the man with the long dreadlocks says when he says ''African's don't kiss''. He killed me when he says ''I only learned how to kiss when I came here to America.  Kissing with tongue is like having meat in your mouth.  It makes you want to throw up at first but now it's nice''.  The fact that this video was made though means there's a definite element of mystery and simply a lack of education about African sexuality. 

When I was a teenager, I used to think about the correlation between Missionaries and the missionary position.  Did Missionaries ''teach'' us to have sex like that?  How have Africans been having sex through out history?  Did blow jobs and culliningus come with the white man and the white woman? Have we been misled into thinking that this was the case?  Are we that ignorant? Were we indeed really practical when it came to sex? These are questions I have always wanted to know.  

My father's PhD Thesis briefly deals with this matter.  It's a broadly cast but detailed undertaking to explain Xhosa culture and cultural practices and it looks at the cultural practices and their significance in all 13 groups that make up The Xhosa Nation.  Traditionally, Xhosa teenagers who had not yet come of age, who had not yet gone through Ulwaluko (male circumcision) and Intonjane (a ceremony celebrating the transition from girlhood to womanhood which thank God did not involve female circumcision) but had reached puberty, were encouraged to engage in sexual play.  There would be times when a parent would know that her daughter has gone to that particular part of the river to ''play'' with a boy from the same village.  I don't know if it was entirely celebrated but human sexuality was acknowledged and accommodated within the society.  I don't know if they didn't engage in full on sex but teenage pregnancy wasn't a problem in pre 20th Century Eastern Cape. Girls would hardly have their periods until around the age of 18. This was because their diet didn't have the protein and hormones our modern diet has so their bodies took longer to ''develop'' meaning they had an extended period to fool around without worrying.  I remember an old relative of mine discouraging us from eating eggs as teenagers because girls were never allowed to eat eggs for this reason.  It was only when Victorian English culture and it's draconian attitude towards sex and sexuality, did the attitudes about sex and sexuality in this part of Africa change.  I wonder how many similar stories can be found in other parts of the continent. 

I have never sought this knowledge out though, I'm pretty sure there is a thesis somewhere that delves into African sexuality.  I remember watching Generations in varsity with friends and a kiss between Sibusiso and Karabo or whoever, always being followed by an ''eewww'' because Sibusiso couldn't kiss in the way we were used to.  I remember words like ''Their lips are too big'' being bandied about and it being normal to associate abnormality and even antagonism to Africans kissing.  Isn't it fascinating how self loathing can seep so deeply and sit so comfortably in our psyche?  I refuse to believe that we didn't have our own ways of engaging in sex, that we didn't have kissing, even if it wasn't the Hollywood style passion kiss.  If anybody can save us from our ignorance by sharing some information and shedding some light into the matter, please come forward.  I'll also take book recommendations. 

Yesterday I borrowed ''All About Love'' from my friend Stephanie, a book that deals with Love in general but because it's written by bell hooks, focuses its gaze on love in black communities and the lack of a particular, necessary kind of love in black families in America.  It also talks of the lovelessness in our society in general, how we all cower behind the fear of loving or seeking love because we've been exposed to how much one can hurt as a result of being in love.  How a lot of us engage in risk free casual sex affairs that are devoid of an emotional connection because it's easier to not be vulnerable to somebody else.  I'm digressing but it's a lovely thick topic to discuss on another day, how normal it has become for people to say ''I don't want a relationship, I just want to have fun'' meaning they just want sex and not the responsibilities that come with sex. How on earth is that fun if you're the one that's being somebody's c*m bucket?  I've fallen into the trap and I know plenty of people who have engaged in casual sex relationships. Yes it's fun in the beginning but somebody always gets hurt somewhere along the line, because to some degree, sex without love is violence.  Many of my friends disagree with me on this, as I'm sure many people do, but over the years, my stand point on the subject of casual sex hasn't changed. Somebody is always being short changed because they are too afraid to come clean with their emotions.  And whether you like it or not, you do form an emotional connection with someone you are casually boning for a certain period. Remember Hannah and Adam in Season 1 of Girls?  How many of us can truly continually divorce emotion from a sexual experience? Men have learned to do that but I refuse to believe that they have less emotions that women. They hide them somewhere good but they are there. Again, I digress. I need an editor man. Once I start writing about a subject I am passionate about, I can't stop.  Please lend me your thoughts on any of these subjects.

Happy Tuesday.  

A new job for the new year?

Monday, November 25, 2013

Happy Monday people, I hope you all had a good weekend.  I had a lot of work towards the end of last week and so was a bit quiet on the blogging front. I'm back now and have some good news :-)

I saw the first draft of the new look blog and it's all kinds of awesome.  It's a very new approach to doing this, a rather serious one considering that this blog has been the most consistent part of my life since 2010.  Serious in that I'm going to start taking it much more seriously and go in different directions with the content.  But more on that in the new year.  One thing I would like to incorporate into the new site is this recruitment situation I started last year where I was trying to connect different people in terms of employment opportunities.  I got an email from a friend of mine last week saying he's looking to hire a Senior Designer and whether I could help him spread the word.  

So here's the word: 

Senior Designer Position

Threefold Creative is looking for a senior designer with experience and core competence in brand design and development as well as experience in creative direction of motion graphics, short-format film and animation. The prospective candidate would be working at a senior level and responsibilities would include: conceptual development, graphic design, client interaction.

Candidates need to show examples of conceptual work executed for National and/or Global Brands. Passion projects & personal work portfolios can be included as well.

Please send Portfolio and ONE PAGE work history to - please upload any motion graphic related work to VIMEO or similar and attach links. 

About Threefold Creative

Location: Johannesburg

Threefold Creative

PS these are the guys that are doing my new website.  They are very cool.


Wednesday, November 20, 2013


Monday, November 18, 2013

On Sunday morning I posted this tweet.  An old friend of mine George was so touched by it, that it made it onto his ''Favourite Tweets'' page and I think I got quoted for the first time ever.  I can't claim that this is an original idea.  I started thinking about this after watching Before Midnight, the third in the amazing series of films by directors and writers Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke.  I think these three films are in my top 5 films ever because they aren't so much about the traditional narrative in story or film making.  All three films are essentially a series of very long and very interesting conversations about life, love and relationships, told candidly and ever so accurately.  This idea where you live your life consumed by your boyfriend or girlfriend, husband or wife, your kids and all the people that are the most important to you, came up in the third film when one of the characters complains that she has no time for herself.  I won't be a spoil sport by divulging any more of the plot but this particular notion inspired a very interesting change of mind in me personally. 

I don't think I have ever discussed my relationship life on my blog with good reason.  One, It's nobody's business.  Two, and this is fucking hilarious, there is no relationship life to discuss and it has been like that for about two years.  I'm 28 and when I was younger, or at least when I ended my last relationship in 2011, I thought by now, I would certainly be in a stable relationship probably heading towards marriage and all that trite we are fed as children, teenagers, and young adults of ''marrying age''. It's not complete trite that life is better when it's shared with a partner. Humans are social beings.  I remember visiting my sangoma earlier this year and having a consultation about general life things.  I never ask her about what my romantic prospects are because I would rather have it as a complete surprise.  Sometime during the consultation, we started talking about relationships and while we didn't get into any detail about my prospects, she did relay the importance of being with someone you love and advised me to talk to my ancestors and ask them 'how are they supposed to eat if I don't eat'? ''Phela they must send you someone so that they can have cows otherwise they will starve for eternity'', she said.  I laughed about it and left but at the back of my mind, it did plant a seed of doubt as to whether I would ever find someone to truly love.  While I know that falling in love and getting married is not a priority right now, there's always that niggling feeling that makes me feel like...well, like shit. 

In the last two years, I went from saying: ''I'm too young/I don't want to settle down yet/I want to explore my sexuality/Yeah ok let's make out and go to your house/Why hasn't he called?/There's nothing wrong with calling him first/''Sooooo what is this, What are we doing?/I can't deal with black guys/I'm done with white guys/I'm really tired of watching DVD's by myself/This bottle of wine isn't going to finish itself//Yeah no see you around/Sex without love is violence - to my current state which is ''I have not met anyone I like enough to change my life for''.  In that tumultuous period of youthful indulgence, I hooked up with handful of guys, one smoking girl, some of them nice men and others rats and snakes, and nothing was ever serious.  It was all just for ''fun'' even though deep down it hurt that my phone wasn't ringing the next day with requests to see me again. In retrospect, thank God because while some of them are nice human beings, we are mismatched and it took me a while to realise that that's ok, that it's not always about me. I tried the ''let's just kick it'' approach and I'm terrible at it.  I get too emotionally involved and I can't help it and eventually I realised I should never have to leave my feelings at the door for anyone. After a year of  fooling around, I decided that I'm not going to do anymore random hookups until I meet someone whom I actually like and can see myself in a relationship with.  That was in motherfucking July of Two Thousand and Twelve.  I've been very good and haven't broken my rule bar one drunken night with someone I used to date. Essentially, I've been a nun. I've been on one terrible date this whole year and for the most part, there have been no boys in my hood and I would love to say that I've been mature enough to accept that that's ok. No it hasn't. It has sucked. Mostly because of how I chose to look at it.

Unfortunately, for the last few months, I have been complaining to my friends and acquaintances about how tired I am of being single already, how lonely I have been feeling, how I need to have a steady boyfriend who will appreciate my boobs while they are still taut, someone who can help me make decisions, someone to be funny to, someone to be vulnerable and intimate with, someone who will bear witness to my existence and all the other wonderful reasons why it's nice to have a really nice partner in your life.  My other single friends and I have parleyed about this many many times over dinner and drinks, all of us swinging between self pity and resentment over one little fact: there is a real and very serious shortage of like minded men of a certain age and inclination for independent, intelligent and attractive (mostly black) women of certain inclinations in Johannesburg.  [This is a meaty topic for a new series I'm starting in January]. I've been living on the dark side of high expectations and have generally felt despondent, resentful and frustrated with the romantic part of life.  

  The media, my friends in happy relationships and society's unspoken rules about gender roles in romantic relationships - all of these factors are contributors to this ''What's wrong with me?'' attitude that some single women tend to have. The word ''single'' is contentious because it projects being in a relationship as the rule and being single as the exception.  Plus it's always directed at women. Men are bachelors, we're winy single ladies waiting for someone to put a ring on it.  I believe that that perception is where the problem starts.  It's nice to have a relationship but it's very damaging to the self esteem if one is always constantly looking out of the window where the grass is perceived greener, finding little fulfillment in one's solitude. I think this is what happened to me.  I started behaving as if I'm supposed to have a boyfriend, having ridiculous expectations on myself and any guy that showed a mild interest in being in my life, blaming ''society'' for daring to place these expectations on me, blaming men of course for me not liking some of them enough and just generally being a belligerent wet blanket with a terrible attitude towards myself about being living my life alone. God bless this new apartment of mine because as soon as I moved in here, my attitude, because of the environmental change, also changed for the better. 

The one thing that comes and goes as it pleases is a sense of loneliness that try as I might, visits me and stays for as long as it likes.  And then disappears again for an indefinite period, before is returns to arrest me.  Whenever I feel lonely, all I want to do is be alone with my thoughts, my journal and a pen.  The irony. I recently decided to let the loneliness in instead of cheating on it by going out to party or to visit a friend or to engage in the many ways of distraction.  There have been times when I've just let it be and just wallowed in it until it tires of me and leaves and those times have inspired some special insights into myself, namely that it's the source of my creativity.  I have sat for hours spilling myself onto paper thinking what is the cure for loneliness? Is it this? Driving to a place just to be somewhere, surrounded by people? Even people you don't know? Is it walking around aimlessly looking for something to need? Something that will justify your intake of time?  Why does it feel like I'm waiting for someone to come and interrupt my life just so that I don't have to be in it alone?  

I don't think this feeling ever entirely goes away and I learned that from speaking to married people who said they could identify with some of my feelings of loneliness.  I did some research on loneliness (of course I did) and started to feel better because I found that it's a condition or state of mind that all human beings can relate to at different stages in their lives.  It is the cauldron of our favourite poems, novels, films and works of art. I read quote upon quote by famous people whose work I admire and I started to look see it as an aid instead of an enemy.  My moments of loneliness have suddenly become a conduit for me to discover other parts of myself and to practice spending time with that person, not until someone comes to interrupt my existence so that I can not be lonely, but because my existence is not vapid, there's something to engage with and it starts with me.  I've always loved my own company but binge watching series in bed is not the same as spending quality time with your thoughts and feelings.   

The result of this change in attitude is the point of this post.  I have spent a lot of time wishing for a future I am not even sure I really want yet.  I have spent a lot of time convincing myself that my wishful thinking will lead to what I wish for and in the interim, have missed a golden ticket of an opportunity: being in my 20s and loving the lack of responsibility that being single, child free, independent and young comes with.  I have family members and friends who are happily married, who have beautiful children , something I want for myself.  But certainly not right now.  When you're young, your life is consumed by school, your parents, rules and most of us don't generally get to know ourselves until we are living independently.  When we're in our twenties, we fall into the dating trap: we tend to rush to want to get into relationships when we are not emotionally and mentally ready for the kind of commitment they require. Then the next thing you know, you've spent the last 5 years of your life with someone you love deeply but you have not lived a life of meaningful independence.  You have not enjoyed the freedom that comes with just being a human being with means to tackle the limitations of life on your own steam. 

The reason I'm sharing this is because I know there are other people, including men, who have been at odds with their relationship status.  I found solace in stepping back and looking at the bigger picture, that while there are some Sunday mornings where I would rather be cuddling a man than an empty box of Chicken Licken wings, I am still very young and there is plenty of time for the REAL responsibilities of adulthood when I am older.  

For now, the fact that I can:

 Pack a bag, head for the airport and just text my family that I'll be back soon
Apply to go and study any where in the world without consulting anyone
 Go out and sleep wherever I want
Have my space to myself
Cook with only me as the judge 
Make mistakes with only me as the biggest judge
Read and sleep with no interruptions
Wear a dress with side slits all the way to my boobs and be felt up guilt free
Comfort myself
Sing and dance with nobody watching
Be inspired to write by self inflicted pain
Be bored without expecting anyone else to entertain me
Be broke because I don't have other mouths to feed

And a whole other bunch of reasons to enjoy being single and responsible for yourself only.  

I'm learning that my time and space are valuable things that I must enjoy now because I might not always have enough of either to myself. Is this a selfish approach? Probably, but it's great.  I still look out the window sometimes at that other grass, but with new eyes, with a new sense of relief, more kindness towards myself and a very satisfying sense of ''I can look but I'm not required to touch''.  The fact that I have no idea what this prince charming will look like is the best part about going out into the world - that I could meet him today, next year or in a few years.  The sense of freedom inherent in the notion ''my life could change at any moment'', is the medicine for my loneliness and real joy in my young life. I think that all human beings want to feel like they have the freedom to pursue their desires, even if we aren't always going to do whatever it is we desire, but that freedom to be is what saves us from boredom and loneliness.

An Ode to Joburg

I'm obsessed with this image.  Bradley Kirshenbaum of Love Jozi the T-shirt label sent this to me the other day after he finished designing it. ''Mili it looks like you'', he said.  Hahaha it totally does. Or are we projecting our mutual love for Jozi? Whether it does or whether it doesn't, I love it and can't wait for this new website to launch so we can buy t-shirts with this image on them.  If you look carefully, you'll see the city's iconic landscape re interpreted.  I'll share the new site when it's up and running.  Spread the word and this beautiful image. 


Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Nigerian writer, blogger and now photographer Oroma Elewa has just been named as a new style icon by Refinery 29. Where have they been? This girl's been on it for a minute.  I visit her blog regularly and mostly it's filled with beautiful imagery of her.  Because of where she is (New York) and the kind of beauty she is, it's much more complex than categorising it as an ego blog. There's something about her that makes me a little jealous.  That's how I know that her messaging is successful. What she stands for has value.  Her perspective on black beauty is evident in the photographs she takes. Yes it's of models that mostly look like her peppered with images of herself by other photographers.  What I admire is the freedom to be an artist without carrying the weight of black women's body/skincolour/hair issues heavily. Oh the issues are still there, but they don't appear heavy enough that they can't be carried by ''other'' viewers.  Like her own beauty, her perspective draws you in. 


Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Kerry Washington is everything. Seriously.  I'm obsessed with Scandal and actually miss Fitz, Huck, Melle, Cyrus, Harrison, Abby and Quinn when they are gone.  Sometimes when I'm not sure what to say or do in sticky situations, I secretly ask myself What Would Olivia Pope do? So lame but it works. Kerry looks amazing as always in this In Style Magazine shoot styled by the one and only Haidee Findlay-Levin, a South African stylist whom I had the pleasure of meeting and working with when she was here for a W Magazine story in 2012.  Haidee is equally amazing.  She's just launched her website, the rabbit hole of style where I found these images. Visit 

The African Hair Salon (Part 2)

Friday, November 8, 2013

Yesterday's post was about my general frustration with African hair salons in Johannesburg.  It was more like a mini rant that ended on a bit of a sour note.  

Part two of my story is about an actual visit to an African salon in Yeoville.  Last week I ventured around Rockey Street in Yeoville looking for the right hair salon that would be able to duplicate the above hair style from a photograph taken by Nigerian photographer and artist Okhai Ojeikere circa 1960s.  My previous braiding lady had tried and failed dismally, thus ending my relationship with her.  Hair salons in Yeoville are a dime a dozen.  They are in every open crack of free space, some even operating as pavement specials.  I drove around for about 20 minutes before deciding that my mission was futile, how was I going to know what's good just by looking from the outside?

As I turned into the hilly section of Bezuidenhout Street on my way home, a small salon next to an internet cafe caught my attention.  There was nothing special about it but something said I should go inside and see what it's about.  I walked down the hill and entered the salon to find a man listening to music on his earphones sitting on a white plastic garden chair.  We exchanged greetings and he asked if I had come to cut my hair.  I said no I would like to braid it and he stood up to go and get ''mama''.  A burly woman wearing a pink and white kaftan walked in and smiled that smile you smile when you know you are going to get money.  She greeted me and asked me what I wanted to do.  I said ''A funky African hairstyle'' and she looked confused but said ''yes''.  She walked over to the wall where a poster of general hairstyles was hanging.  It was printed and laminated a long time ago and was full of gaudy hairstyles that didn't interest me.  I said ''no not like these'' and she said ''yes''.  I explained that I wanted a plait that could be adorned with cowrie shells or brass jewellery and went on and on giving examples of hair styles I dream of.  All she said was ''yes, yes we caan doo that'', nodding reassuringly and pulling out a chair.  It was about 4.30 in the afternoon and I had other things to do so I said I would be back tomorrow with a picture and she said ''yes'' and asked for my phone number.  She had a comforting aura and facial hair that made her look like a very pretty man.  I left the salon none the wiser but happy that I had an appointment.

The next day I arrived at 08.30 and she wasn't there.  The young man that had greeted me the previous day asked me to wait, ''Mama was on her way'', he said.  I waited for her, examining the little room that had no sound system, no TV and no bells and whistles.  I realised that there was a lot of business that goes down in this little space.  On one side there was a sewing machine on a little sewing table.  Tucked away in the corner was a shelf of sweets and chips you don't see at big retailers.  To the right was a single bed and behind me was this young man and his hair cutting station.  A tall dark man entered and sat down for a hair cut.  A few minutes later, a young woman entered and sat at the sewing table, put on very big headphones and started singing a French song at the top of her voice with her back to the rest of us.  Another woman with a half done head of purple braids came in and sat down next to me.  She had perfectly round features. A round face, round eyes and two circles shaped like an 8 as her lips.  She had a very beautiful baby boy on her lap, also perfectly round, with lips darker than the rest of his face.  

Mama arrived and greeted the room.  Everyone but me and the man getting a hair cut responded as if they were pupils and mama was the teacher, ''Morning mama'' they chimed.   She had short permed hair and was wearing a blue and white kaftan.  She came to stand between me and the woman with the baby.  The woman still had half a head of braids to plant and I had told Mama that I only had two hours before I had to go.  As if they had spoken in some secret silent language of the eyes, they agreed that she would start with me.  ''Did you bring the picture"? I pulled out my iPad and showed her the picture.  ''Ah that's a very nice one, very very nice one'' she said and the next thing I knew, everyone in the salon was looking over my shoulder at the picture chiming ''Beautiful, very nice and who is that in the picture''?

The next few hours were to became the best hours I have ever spent in a beauty salon.  What was meant to take 2 hours ended up taking 5 and I didn't feel a minute of it nor did I feel the pain that comes with corn plaits. At first I had my guard up, assisted by my cellphone and iPad and I wasn't interested in engaging anyone.  There were about 3 languages being spoken at the same time: the singing lady at the sewing table was speaking French on the phone.  Mama and the mother were speaking another language and the man cutting hair was speaking a language from Nigeria.  I was playing with the foot of the baby and he was smiling.  Mama and the mother switched to English so that I could also be included in the story and soon, Mama kept looking at me asking ''Are you hearing that? I say are you hearing that''?  Her reactions were dramatic but sincere, said in a thick Congolese accent.  ''What did I say? I say what did I say?" she asked the room.  I had no idea what they were talking about. Things continued like this for about 45 minutes, me giggling under my breath at Mama's astonished expressions and the mother, now with her breast out for her baby's meal time, chatting away.  The woman at the sewing machine was still singing French songs literally at the top of her voice and nobody seemed to mind including me.  One ear was listening and singing and the other ear was listening to Mama and the mother's conversation.  She would chime in sporadically, speaking louder than her singing voice.  

A young boy of about 15 came in.  ''I just came to say him mama'', he said as he blocked the small entrance.  Mama turned around and with one hand held on to my braid and with the other hugged the young boy.  ''Hello my son, how are you''? and the boy said something as he left the salon.  He really had just come to say hello.  She had a bottomless warmth about her and without demanding it, people just respected her. A few minutes later a girl in her mid twenties came in.  My head was bent forward because Mama was plaiting the back of my head.  All I could see were the girl's legs and her big feet pressed onto the floor.  They were pitch black and shaped like a Jamaican sprinter's legs.  They were perfect and very hairy.  She was boisterous and loud.  She stood next to Mama and started plaiting the ends of the braids that Mama had planted on my head.  She came in with a new subject and the conversation changed.  I wondered why she didn't start finishing the mother's hair.  It became evident that she just wanted to be physically close to Mama.  She was there for all of 15 minutes before another person stood at the door with his hands on his hips.  The leggy girl stopped, turned and shrieked as she jumped and ran out of the salon.  It turns out that she works at the salon down the road and the man who stood at the door is the owner of that salon and had come to look for her.  We all laughed at this crazy girl who would risk her job just to come and see Mama.  Mama says she does it all the time but he keeps her job because the customers like her. 

Just as the leggy girl left, another young woman came in.  She was holding the hands of a drowsy little girl of about 3 years old.  The woman sat down behind the mother and started braiding the mother's hair.  Her accent gave her away.  She was Zimbabwean and her little girl's name was Emma.  Emma was chewing amaKipKip ever so slowly and not looking like she would make it through the end of the hour.  The Zimbabwean woman spoke very fast, as if her sentences had to escape as quickly as they could in order to be understood.  She asked me what church I go to and I thought ''Oh God here we go...''. Luckily Mama interrupted her. ''Let the girl be'', as if she could tell that my answer would send Emma's mother out of the salon. It was about 11am on a Friday and she had just come from the informal church on the field next to my building.  They spoke about the church and then jumped into the touchy subject of her husband.  I was picking up stompies but it was clear that her husband had left her and she was very depressed about that.  Everytime she tried to dog him, Mama would say all of the following again and again: ''It's fine'', ''You are fine'', ''Praise God for your health'', ''As long as you have your health''.  ''Nobody has died from no haasband'', ''There is no grave waiting for you to jump into'', ''You have your health'', ''Praise God for your health''.  The woman was defeated and changed the subject back to church matters.  Mama spoke with kindness and the reassurance of someone who has more life experience than the rest of the people in the room.  People kept coming in and out to greet her. I absolutely fell under her spell.  We started talking about my hairstyle, my interest in West Africa and they were quite enjoying my ''natural'' ways.  ''Are you a Rasta?" asked Emma's mother and I smiled and said no.  I had this magazine in my handbag and took it out to illustrate my interests.  The whole salon nearly went up in flames of awe.

Emma was losing her battle against sleep and started crying.  Her mother said something dismissive to the child who was tugging at her mother's dress.  Her hot sentence ended with the words ''Useless girl''.  Mama stopped plaiting my hair, gave a stern look to Emma's mother and calmly said ''You don't say like that to her, you don't say like that to a child of tree.  She is in need of you and is hungry and drowsy.  You need to listen to ha''.  Emma's mother obediently apologised to Mama, picked up her little girl and started cajoling her. Mama told Emma's mother to take a packet of chips and ''give the girl'' so that she can be occupied.  Emma sat on a chair quietly picking at the chips. 

An important man entered the salon.  Mama's demeanor changed completely as she greeted him.  The priest had come to ask something in his new car which he had just driven from Cape Town.  The conversation inside the salon was about the car, some saying he could have put it on a train, others saying that it would have been too expensive.  Mama was outside talking to the Priest and I could see through the window that she had the respect that strong black women like her have for priests and that strong Afrikaans women have for die Dominee.  It almost wilts their power. She became extra soft and almost child like in her demeanor.  They stayed talking for a while and when she came back inside, the conversation in the room petered out to acknowledge her entrance.  It was like something out of a story book.  She had an energy I had never encountered.  I was a fully converted Mama-ite by now. The cone shaped part of the hair style was quite tricky for Mama to do.  I didn't trust her but wanted to let her figure it out.  The whole room became involved in trying to work out how to make the cone.  My misgivings dissipated into the hot air and I was secretly wishing she would take long to figure it out because I was so enjoying her touching my hair.   I kept asking her questions that started with ''Mama'' just so that I could say it like the others.  I brought the picture out and we all marveled at her successful job of duplication. 

I was done by lunch time and walked to Checkers on Raleigh Street to go to the ATM.  The whole thing cost me R200 but I paid her more because not only had she done a good job, she had also really made my hours on that chair really pleasant.  She had a startled expression when she counted the money and smiled and hugged me.  I hugged her for longer and asked for her phone number.  I said goodbye to the other people, brushed my hand over a sleeping Emma and promised the purple haired mother that I would kidnap her child while she was in the bath.  

The Nigerian barber asked for my number and I thought ''Oh God, here we go....''