In October 2011, I went to America. I decided to get my hair cut. I got a Mohawk. Indeed, I have a Mohawk—shaved side, long hair down the center (13 inches long now). This haircut would get me a few stares and comments in America. So how many do you think it has gotten me here??!?!?

I cut my hair not really knowing how people would react. I figured if the response was bad, I could always just do the Hijab (covering your head). I did get some pre-hair cut reactions from people I knew. I showed them pictures of the haircut I wanted and asked them how it would go over in the culture. After seeing the pictures, my Azerbaijani friends advised against getting the haircut thinking it would be too extreme for the culture. I mulled this over for about a month. Should I not do it and stick to my Alansky quote saying “If your hair is a barrier, cut it off”? I didn’t want to create a barrier. On the other hand, I am American. They understand that I am different. I can get away with things that don’t stick strictly to the culture. Plus I would be showing diversity, right? After thinking about it, I decided to go for it. Why not!? I joined the Peace Corps. Why not have a weird haircut while I do it!

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When I came back to Azerbaijan, it was late. I was staying at my Azerbaijani friend’s house and would get her opinion about my new haircut. She didn’t hate it!! Plus it didn’t offend her family and conservative mom. They all thought it was very interesting and asked “Why do you want your hair to look like that?!?!” My friend liked it and said it suited me. From there, I decided to shock my town and not even try to wear a scarf. My host mom in Shamkir really liked my haircut, as did my host mom in Sumgayit. I thought that was wonderful! If I can get older women in Azerbaijan to like my hair, why won’t everyone else? Not all the responses were positive. I can walk somewhere, past people, or go guesting and I get the same question from all Azerbaijanis, “Why did you do that to your hair?” I usually say, “Because I like it” or “It’s for fashion.” Those are the best responses I can come up with because the response “Well, why not?” doesn’t really work. After my short explanation, I usually ask them if they like it, and they have responded with various answers. I also get unsolicited responses from shop owners or other people I run into. Here are some of the most memorable ones:

You were much prettier before.

You should let your hair grow out again.

Is your hair falling out?

You know you can take a pill for that?

I don’t like it. My hair is much prettier.

Plus, I feel like I am inspiring other young women in Azerbaijan. I went to GLOW (Girls Leading Our World) camp where girls come for a week to learn about leadership, goal setting, and small project planning. Many of the girls there loved my hair and wished they could do something like that.

For everyone who doesn’t like it, there is someone who likes it. It’s a great conversation piece. I am happy I did it. I get to be myself, show how people can be different, and have people accept me for who I am. It is a different culture, and I have had to change and assimilate. But you don’t have to change everything about yourself.

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