I got my hair braided today to put a few weeks of illness (hence my silence) behind and start May with style. Getting hair braided is a tiring experience. First, one has to walk in to the braiders and negotiate a price while they speak in unknown african languages mixed with some french (later, you find out that they can speak english quite well). Second, one has to buy the hair and accessories which exposes one to the perfect marriage of chinese manufacturing and retailing conveniently located next to the african human workforce. Then, one has to sit for several hours, a research paper clutched in hand, but drifting between the slumber induced by having one's hair pulled tight and the tension of guttural voices of the braiders blasting in your ears in senegalese/ghenese/ french and occasional english. There is a factory mood with several chairs laid out in two rows, each with a seated victim and hovering braiders. The victim can hardly see the mirror in the front because there is a heap of papers, handbags, hair and accessories piled in front of it. So, the victim and his hair is deeper under the control of the braiders than the language barrier would indicate. As the victim suffers, culture (50 cents on the radio), market (men pop in and out carrying CDs, socks, handbags and other merchandise for sale), and society (men come in and flirt with the young braiders or husbands come in sheepishly and get cash from the older braiders and the children fly in and out) flows. It is a feeling of total helplessness. But when ultimately one perseveres, triumphs, pays and leaves, one is rewarded with the check-that-out look of the kids in the street, and strangers act deferentially in subways and stores. Nirvana. Yes, I now have a new look. Black and red beads, short braids, goatee, but no moustache.