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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 18 June 2018

Brushing off the stigma of baldness

It is true what they say about hair loss – you lose it without even knowing. That’s me. It was the most elegant of robberies

Bald man, close-up, rear view. Getty Images
Bald man, close-up, rear view. Getty Images

One article that caught widespread attention on the regional Twitter-sphere recently suggested that McDonald’s French fries could be a cure for baldness.

According to scientists at Japan’s Yokohama National University, dimethylpolysiloxane, the chemical used to cook French fries – and apparently handy in stopping oil from splattering during the frying process – has been used in studies that have seen bald mice growing new hair.

I came across this information in my downtime – truth be told, it was shoved down my throat by a mixture of family, friends and acquaintances.

This resulted in what I would call a “bad hair week” – a week when it seems everywhere I looked, there were articles related to baldness, as well as online advertisements touting the latest treatments on the market.

Then last week, during my aunty’s most recent Abu Dhabi visit, she casually dropped the information that one of our relatives was considering flying from the United States to Turkey to undergo a hair procedure that sounded eerily like a horticulture project – the terms “seeding”, “planting” and “growth” were bandied around.

The message was clear: there is hope for baldness. But then it’s something I’ve come to accept. The talk from family and friends was all rather ludicrous considering I don’t miss any one of my lost follicles. Not once have I longed for a full head of hair or fallen into an existential crisis because of my lack of tufts.

On reflection I realised my nonchalance is not some hidden wisdom, but partly to do with the balding process itself.

It is true what they say about hair loss – you lose it without even knowing. That’s me. It was the most elegant of robberies. My hair unwittingly receded to such an extent that when I opted for the shaved head look more than 15 years ago, it simply never grew back.

I brushed it off like a failed relationship and moved on, but not before my family tried one last time to “reconnect us”, so to speak.

I remember my grandmother coaxing me to take part in her own hair-revival experiment – sorry, ahem “treatment” – which included my scalp being rubbed with some kind of oil mixed with garlic. I respectfully declined, declaring I didn’t want to smell like a cross between a vampire slayer and a piece of bruschetta.

Sinking deeper into my thoughts, I came to an epiphany about the reason I never feared baldness, and it goes back to my fondest childhood memories during my time in Abu Dhabi in the 1980s.

I was about 8 years old and would look forward to every second Thursday, when my father would invite his buddies to our flat on Airport Road for card night. As it was the lead into the weekend, I was allowed to stay up late and watch the half a dozen or so intellectual Eritrean men play their hands. Some of them were former teachers and diplomats who had fled the violence back home and made their way to Abu Dhabi to accept less-stimulating jobs, in turn sacrificing their own ambitions to safeguard their families.

I can still picture and hear them laughing through the thick cigarette smoke, holding cards and hot tea, as the living-room light bounced brilliantly from their many balding heads – my father's included.

That group eventually split in the early 1990s – most took the golden opportunity to permanently re-settle in new countries such as the US, Canada and, in our family’s case, Australia.

I reunited with one of my father’s gang – gregarious former teacher Mahmoud Kanoni – two or so years ago when I attended his daughter’s wedding, here in the capital. His big, bald head shone among the festive masses as he laughed about how that 8-year-old he remembered (me) had also joined the bald club.

It was the last time we would meet. Mr Kanoni died about a fortnight ago, surrounded by his family – all of whom are educated, naturalised and on their own path to success.

It was the hard work of people such as him and the rest of my father’s baldy card-playing buddies that has inspired me to not only dream big, but also to set my hopes higher than what research involving French fries might generate.

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Read more of Saeed's columns:

The time for change in the UAE has arrived and we sure do need a lot of it

The natoor is an enduring reminder of old-school ways

A thank you to Tiffany Haddish from an Eritrean

The story behind a signature: One UAE resident’s tale is a sign of the times

Spring in the UAE: A time filled with regret and guilt

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