WHAT IS ABUNDANT, EXPENSIVE AND HARD TO MAINTAIN IN AFRICA? THE NATURAL HAIR EPISODE WITH CHANNAH
Talk on Natural Hair and My Experience in a Local Hair Salon.
Although natural hair in a more literal sense means not containing harsh chemicals that alter the natural curl pattern in the hair that grows out of the heads of different races; Natural hair as a whole means curly, coily, kinky hair texture and this is more synonymous with people of African descent.
The Afro is a symbol for African people and is known for its lustre, shape and political statement but it has been exhibited with negative connotations for centuries as more people adhere to European beauty standards.
Since I went natural, I’ve been dreading going to my local salons. It’s even more discouraging because I don’t have one that I trust to handle my hair. The scene of the average hair salon in Lagos is a small shop filled with children running about and inexperienced girls that are just learning the service or using your hair to practice and most of them do not care about customer service. My hair is a type 4c with the annoying tangles but it has super softness that surprises everyone and this makes me uncomfortable because most hair dressers tend to linger when making my hair, cause me more tangles and are too impatient to untangle it well enough.
The average hairdresser in Lagos does not like to listen to demands and is most times unable to attend to your hair effectively; from the dragging of your hair from your scalp, to the rough loosening of old braids, poor washing/conditioning of your hair and the failure of delivering the next style you want to put on. I eventually started learning how to perform protective styles for my hair and properly care for it, I must confess it’s not a breeze, but I do enjoy every bit of it.
When it comes to natural hair, it takes months to finally understand your hair; what products it likes, what it rejects. More often than not, the best option is natural herbs or products with organic ingredients. As of 2017, with the decline of the Naira, my favorite 6oz bottle of Almond oil jumped from 1,000 Naira to 1,950 Naira which is practically 2000Naira, but retailers give you the remaining 50 Naira to “buy water” which means that from January to July this year, the price had increased by an extra 1000Naira and this is very similar to various other natural hair supplies and makes most people straighten out their hair because they can not afford the fees to maintain healthy hair and buy the products as they perceive them as exorbitant.
My 2016 was spent buying countless hair products, as this is what makes me happy but now i’m sticking to more DIY products like using my mother’s olive oil and more of soy oil to pre-poo my hair and detangle or using my dad’s honey as my hair masque.
According to a 2016 article in CNN’s African View: an article that seemed to be all about L’oreal, the sales of conditioners and relaxers went up by 11% in Nigeria; a number that must have reduced by this year as more women are embracing their beautiful natural hair textures or we are just finally paying attention to it. The article also talked about how brands were using dark women with straighter hair in advertising to drive up sales because straight silky hair appeared more attractive and easier to maintain and this has been the effect on people for years in the country and Africans at large.
In Lagos, when you ask for the price of certain services like washing or plaiting of hair, the prices are normal and affordable but immediately you reveal your natural hair texture, the prices go up to ridiculous amounts for the same services that they render to straight hair as natural hair is deemed too hard to handle and time consuming. In a country filled with black women, the hairdressers are not taught how to attend to natural hair and see it as a daunting task and some go as far as complaining when making the hair or asking you to use a relaxer, saying that your hair is “due” -a term used to signify that the hair is untamed, hard to comb and thick, as they prefer relaxed hair because it makes the work easier.
I’m going to tell a story about my experience and also use this opportunity to digress a bit. While the lady attending to me kept grumbling while making my hair, the most appalling thing happened. A man came to shave his beard in the salon — it is a unisex salon. The barber wasn’t around so he decided that he was going to do it himself. I thought he was going to use a straight blade like most people would, but he picked up the clipper and went to work without even sterilizing it or brushing dirt off the clipper. When I asked why he used the clipper, he said the clipper was a better option for him because shaving sticks caused him bumps. He finally finished with his face and proceeded to try shaving his nose hair with the same clipper everyone uses. I gave him my two cents on the matter and I hope he heeds my advice and takes proper caution next time.
Sterilization is very important and I implore that you should own a personal hair kit and if you can’t afford one, you should always ask to see them sterilize all the things they use on your hair, because many skin infections are contacted through these objects.
After my old twists were out, we moved to the washing area. The hairdresser asked me to let her have breakfast as she opened early and was hungry. She finished eating her Amala and Ewedu and washed her hand without soap. I told her to wash it with soap and this made her murmur incessantly. After washing my hair once with my products, I told her to wash it again seeing as she hadn’t washed it well, she complained that this was why she avoids natural hair because of the wahala and washed it lackadaisically. As a Naturalista , heat is often the devil that comes to steal length and strength of your hair strands and so we are warned against using any. I refused to let her use a blow dryer on my hair and she got angry saying that air drying my hair would waste her time. After drying and retwisting my hair, she asked me to pay an extra 100 Naira for the sealing mousse I used and asked for a tip before I left.
According to some of my colleagues, the service is even worse and more expensive in salons made to just attend to only natural hair carriers.
My issue with the whole experience was not the entirely terrible service but why it is so hard to find a place that can handle natural hair and also maintain regular charges in a country filled with black people.