I shouldn’t have gone. Everything about the place felt wrong. The glaring sunlight, the white hot rays and baked islands. Some of the mission team looked like they belonged there with hair dark as crow’s wings and skin bronzed and burnished. By contrast, I looked bleached and pale, my hair transparent and feathery.
I struggled from day one, the poverty overwhelming me. I thought I lived on an average income but these people survived on next to nothing. The shacks they lived in were barely better than a garden shed. I couldn’t relate to them. I had nothing to offer.
“Still moping?” Jenny poked her head into the room I was sharing with five others. “Come on, Celine. You can’t sit here on your own.”
“I’ll do more harm than good if I come. You go and I’ll stay here and pray.”
“You could have stayed home and done that.”
“I’ll go to the market then.” Anything would have been better than the embarrassment I’d felt at the first couple of meetings. The sense of not belonging; the awareness that I was perceived as a rich white woman.
Jenny rolled her eyes and stalked off. I felt a bit bad but I was shy and really felt like an intruder at the meetings. I looked different, sounded different and if the truth be told, I was terribly homesick. I wanted to be home with my husband and two daughters; back at the hairdressing salon where I fit in and knew what to do.
The market was open air and I was surprised at the variety of goods available. Kitchenware, dried herbs, plastic bins, cheap jewellery and toys huddled side by side on rickety tables. Keen vendors flashed smiles at me and negotiated prices in broken English, holding up fingers and pointing at goods.
It was on the far side of the market that I found the stand with hairdressing supplies. Sharp scissors, clips and slides, hair chalk, glittery beads and feathers. It was an intriguing mix and I picked up a few items, wondering if I should take them home for my girls. It was at that moment that inspiration struck. I haggled with the vendor for a few minutes and when I left with my bag of goodies, I sensed we were both pleased.
Jenny sat next to me at breakfast the next morning. “We’re doing woman’s ministry today. You coming?”
“Actually, I think I will.”
Jenny’s eyebrows arched in surprise. “That’s great! What changed your mind?”
“You’ll see.” I boarded the bus with the others, backpack in hand. The temperature was high even though it was still early and sweat prickled my back.
Jenny made sure she got a seat next to me. “We’re going to divide into groups and do sessions with the woman and their children,” she said. “We want to teach them basic life skills and hygiene.”
“I’ll take a group,” I volunteered, surprising myself. Sure I had an idea, but wasn’t sure how the locals would take it.
I started off slowly with a mother and daughter. “I can cut hair,” I explained. “And if you like, I can show you different ways to wear it.” Their English was fair and they both asked that I trim a couple of inches off the length. I combed their hair out, cut the dead ends off and then twisted it into sleek braids adorned with feathers and beads.
Two hours later, I was surrounded by women of all ages. My hairdressing corner had been an instant hit and I looked into each of their eyes as we talked about styling and beauty. It almost seemed frivolous but each moved on with a new hairstyle; their tresses adorned with clips and bows and glitter; with beads and feathers and hair chalk.
On the bus back to town, Jenny made sure she sat next to me again. “I knew you could do it,” she said.
“It wasn’t anything spiritual,” I said. “I still feel like I don’t fit in with the rest of you.”
Jenny took my hand and looked me in the eye. “You gave them a sense of worth by what you did today. The response we had when they moved on to our other group sessions was the best we’ve had so far. You connected with their hearts, Celine.”
After a long moment I allowed a smile to spread across my face. “Yes, I did,” I replied.
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