Being of Portuguese descent, I have more facial hair than I am often comfortable revealing. I often shave my “beard”, “mustache” and “sideburns” to appear more normal in the United States. I’m too afraid of waxing and electrolysis is apparently extremely painful. So I just live with stubble.
When I was in second grade, a little boy told me that I had a mustache. I told him that that must mean that I’m manlier than he is. He ran away and I was proud of myself.
Yesterday morning, the women all gather around me and talk about my beard. I am used to this. In Portugal, the women in my family are all accustomed to seeing women with lots of facial hair. They tell me I shouldn’t shave it because it will grow back thicker (something someone should have told me when I first started shaving at around 14 years old). They show me the wax they use. They tell me I need to use wax because when I shave it looks bad.
I tell the women here in Haiti that I don’t like my “beard” and I leave it at that. There is nothing I can do to fix this; that I know too well.
Later that day, the principal, an American that has been living here for a number of years, sits down with me and we chat about everything from computer class to teachers that think I’m cute. “I wasn’t going to tell you this,” she says to me, “but Joseph [another teacher] went up to me today and said ‘Isn’t Beth gorgeous??? Look at that beard!!!’ I told him not to say anything because in the USA beards on women are not good things but I thought you’d get a good laugh about it!”
She goes on to tell me that in Haiti, facial hair on women is extremely sexy. I smile in a mixture of amusement and confusion. If this is true, I have certainly reached my paradise, where something I have been covering up for years and years is actually a mark of beauty here.
Venezse is sitting with me in the courtyard this morning. I’m reading and tanning my legs while my upper half lays in shade. She scratches my psoriasis-affected scalp (another thing that I am embarrassed about myself), letting the flakes fall to the ground, grooming me. We talk about our day and how hot the sun is. She graces her fingers over my chin and I tell her how embarrassed I am about it; that people in the USA don’t like women with facial hair.
She smiles warmly, the way Venezse always does. She has the wisdom of a 90 year-old woman, that girl. “Well they need to like it,” she says to me. “They need to like it, because it’s a part of you.”
It’s amazing the things this girl teaches me about life.
Beth is the founder and CEO of Wanderful, which she developed while riding through the streets of São Tomé and Príncipe on her blue Yamaha motorcycle. She is the creator of the WITS Travel Creator + Brand Summit and has been recognized in Business Insider as one of 17 travel industry changemakers, as one of BostInno's 50 on Fire, and as one of TimeOut's 10 people changing a better Boston.