After a little over two and a half years, I went to the salon this week. Yes, two and a half years, no, I have not been growing one big dreadlock on my head. Okay, now that that bold declaration is out of the way, here’s a little background information. In 2011, while I was in fourth form, I decided to cut my hair. The BC. Non-naturalista folk, BC stands for ‘Big Chop’. Unlike in the religious context where BC are the years ‘Before Christ’, the years pre-enlightenment, in the world of textured hair BC is the beginning. This is the point of enlightenment after which full edges, voluminous bouncy curls and good vibes only follow. Not to sound biased against anyone with textured hair who chooses to wear their hair in any other way, but c’mon, I’m a naturalista, of course I will tell you all about the much greener grass on my side. I cut my hair on the day I finished my mock examinations. Came right home from a horrible Fasihi paper (Kiswahili…hmph!) picked up a pair of scissors and chopped it off. Loved it! A few hours later after washing my hair, shrinkage manifested. Hated it! I immediately regretted my decision, but the beauty of occasionally throwing yourself into the deep end is that you leave yourself with very few choices, two, sink or swim.
I was sinking for the first few months, barely treading water, hardly staying afloat, managing to still have a few strands of hair holding on to my scalp by some miracle. The thing is, we are so inexperienced and unequipped to care for our hair(or used to be) in it’s natural form and I just did not know what to do with it. So I did what I had always done when I did not want to deal with my hair, I put it in braids and forgot about it. After all, I had to study, KCSE was staring me in the face. I had a set of braids done and believe it or not I kept them in for about two and a half solid months. They got untidy and were causing great scarcity around my edges. I ignored them studiously, studying. A lot of that was also driven by the fact that I was terrified of rocking hair as short as that of my brothers’. I kept thinking of all the people who had told me I did not have the face or head for it, for short hair, for a fro, and I just was not ready to discover whether or not they were right. I did not want the world to judge my head so I stuck my nose in books and buried my head under braids. I’m thankful that I did not have to look at my hair for the better part of any day. Consider this a public apology to my family and friends who had to regularly interact with me through those trying and confusing times, no one should be subjected to the sight of hair slowly wasting away, no one!
KCSE out of the way, I finally had time to go to the salon and again did what I knew best, slapped on another set of braids and enjoyed my December holidays stress free, wearing someone else’s hair or factory manufactured hair, because I did not know what to do with the hair that grows out of my own damn scalp!
At the end of Jan of the following year, I was heading to Australia for a few months and started to realise that very soon, it would be just me, my hair, and a bunch of people who knew no better than I what to do with my hair.(In this case I don’t mean the average Kenyan stylist, I mean Caucasians.)
Enter YouTube. YouTube is my best friend guys! Okay, it is not, but YouTube makes me very happy! Everything is on YouTube! In the future, I will probably be able to home school my children by just drawing up a curriculum of YouTube videos to watch! Ha ha! (I am only joking God, please still give me children, I will be good to them and take them to school, maybe, or develop an all rounded curriculum for their study that includes more than just YouTube videos.)
I discovered naturals on YouTube. You know how YouTube works, you watch one video and suddenly there are suggestions of similar content in truckloads. I watched just one video and it led me to an alternate dimension where people loved their natural hair, where they did not keep burdening and hiding it with braids and wigs and weaves every two seconds, where they just wore it out as it was, without trying to force it into submission, without attempting to make it obey the laws of gravity by changing its chemical composition or mercilessly frying it to a crisp. I took a gamble and decided that is what I would do while I was in Australia, let my hair be. No one there knew me, knew what I looked like with relaxed hair or braided hair, no one there would have seen my head in any other light so even if my head was indeed too big to rock short hair or too fat and chubby for a fro, they would not know me looking any other way and would just accept me. So I started loving my mane.
After this epiphany, it was about a year and a half before I let another person who knows what NOT to do with natural hair handle my hair .ie. A Kenyan stylist. When I did once again find myself in a salon, I had braids done, afro kinky, a bit more acceptable for the curly hair texture because the braids aren’t synthetic so they cause minimal breakage. In my case I kept them in for much too long and again got into the comfort of not having to deal with my hair on a day to day basis and my hair suffered! I lost quite a chunk when I undid the braids and promised my hair that never again would I put myself in a position to forget and neglect it as I had done.
Fast forward 6 months after that, my cousin was getting married and I was on the wedding line-up. My cousin, the bride, was not too much of a bride-zilla about what our hair looked like, so I endeavoured to find a salon that would set my hair in a nice twist out or something similar. I remember asking around for salon recommendations from a few of my friends. I got three or four suggestions, all in town, and a day or two before the wedding, visited them one by one asking if they could set my hair as I desired, I had a few pictures in tow. They all turned me away. Each and every one of them. Every stylist I spoke to, upon seeing the pictures, asked me if I would be relaxing my hair first and when I said no, they assured me, with all their knowledge and experience spanning years in the business, that my hair would look nothing like in the pictures unless I first relaxed it. Of course I knew this was not true because all the pictures I showed them were of naturalistas. As much as none of them could do what I wanted done, I have great respect for the ones that turned me away admitting they could not do it. What I did end up with, was a lady who decided she would take my money and then kinda just got HAM on my head. My hair was yanked, my scalp scratched, prodded and burnt and in the end my hair looked nothing like I wanted it to. As unhappy as I was with the results, I still paid her. (I am such a passive aggressive.)
Of course that was not going to do for the wedding so the stylist who came to put finishing touches on the bride’s and brides maid’s hair styles literally took my situation from zero to hero! A true Cinderella story. He came through and did what he knew to do best, he burnt my hair into submission and submit it did. I was really happy with what my hair looked like. It was all my childhood dreams realised. Long, thick, silky smooth, flowing and all mine! I was ecstatic! The stylist gave me his card and made me promise to call him once the wedding was done. He said I had amazing hair that would always look amazing if relaxed. He was totally going to hook me up, he said. I never called him.
My silky hair was gone in less that 24 hours. We went out for the wedding after party and at some point in the wee hours of the morning I was caught in a bit of a drizzle. Not to mention all the dancing and sweating that comes with nights out. By morning, my hair had (literally)woken up from that dazed slumber that had it swinging and swaying in blind obedience to the laws of nature. My fro was mostly back along with my good friend shrinkage. The clock had struck midnight and my time as Cinderella was up.
(By using this Cinderella analogy, I may be unintentionally perpetrating the fossilised notion that good hair is in a nutshell Caucasian hair. Long, silky, sways with the wind, can be flipped with a strategic shake of the head, you guys know the movie scenes I am referring to. Let me clearly state that this is not my intention. I am merely playing with words. )
A week after that, I washed my hair and could not believe how heat damaged my ends were. I was so disappointed! So sad! 2 years gone down the drain for 24 hours of hair that society says is what is beautiful and acceptable. It was not worth it! I toyed with the idea of slowly growing it out but never being one for murky waters, one day I picked up a pair of shears and did it all again, BC-2, bigger, better, bolder.
I had not been to a salon or had anyone other than myself handle my hair since. Not until this past week. I went to the salon this week. Given my history with salons and stylists, you might be in a better position to understand my anxiety at visiting one after so long.
Over the past few years, the number of naturals in the country has grown, we now even have locally made product lines to care for natural hair. Winning at all fronts! I have seen and heard of natural hair salons but have naturally, yes, naturally, been very skeptical. I have talked myself into and then out of checking them out very many times! The deciding factor this time was the fact that I’d be going with my Aunt M. To hold my hand, as she has many times before, and share the experience.
First, the sinks for washing hair are as uncomfortable as they have always been. Haven’t there been advancements in hair care technology these past few years? Phones can be banks, cars can drive themselves, but still my neck comes out feeling like I just threw it in the washing machine to be tumble dried! Tsk!
I was not amused by the fact that the lady who washed my hair had zero patience with tangles. She repeatedly yanked a comb through my hair. Sure it had been treated and conditioned but no, just no. I say no now but I just sat there (passive aggressive me, remember?) and came up with the outline of a questionnaire that I will go through when I am serious about getting a regular stylist to be helping out with my hair. I feel I need to first know them as a person, their hopes and dreams, their greatest achievements and regrets in life thus far, what their relationship is with their parents and siblings, before getting to the nitty-gritty details of their relevant experience. How long they have been natural themselves, if at all. Needless to say, if they are not naturalistas, there ends the conversation. Is their natural hair philosophy dominantly governed by the desire for length or for health and volume? What are their detangling preferences? Would they gently cajole the tangles out of a lock of hair or would they set out to remove them by any means necessary, including use of brute force? At this point, my aunt M. called out to me from the other side of the curtain, just to ask if I was alright. I bet she too could hear that screeching sound the afro comb was making as it yanked two months worth of hair growth off of my head! I told her I was fine.
When she finished, the Ethiopian lady washing my hair said to me in her broken English, “It clean now?”
“If you mean my face and shoulders in addition to my hair, yes, I think you covered all ends.” I thought to myself, the better part of me now drenched.
“Yeah, I think so,” I gently replied to her.
That was followed by a straw set, whose results I love so much I am prepared to(have already) forgiven all injury that took place in the several hours prior. I love the results so much I would even recommend their services! Here’s the thing, yes, I have whined about some of the treatment my hair and I received, but if their process is anything to go by, Kenyan stylists have come a long long way! To think that a few years ago I was turned away by four salons who declared they could do nothing for my hair unless I first relaxed it to walking out with the most beautiful head of straw set hair, and it is still all natural man! Plus, I’m pretty sure that a week or two from now, when I wash my hair, my ends won’t be hanging limp from any heat damage! Why? Well, the first thing they did was a raw shea butter treatment and they were quite generous with that shea butter! Allow me to digress and say that if you are paying KES 1,000 for 200g of raw shea butter from your supplier, you are being robbed in broad daylight! Look for me. Aunt M and I were later talking about how the amount of shea butter used on our head for one treatment was so much that if the KES 1,000 per 200g was the actual value of the stuff, our salon trip would have cost, on average, over KES 15,000 in total. It did not. It cost a 10th of that, each, for everything!
Parting shot, if you are a naturalista and have mild to full-blown anxiety at the thought of visiting a salon, be brave, try it out. Kenyan salons have come a long long way! You should probably(definitely) be much more assertive than I was. And please make sure they really do know how to deal with natural hair, I mean, the fact that the first thing the stylist did was smother raw shea butter all over my head, and in such generous quantities, instantly put me at ease! I knew she would not be secretly trying to relax my hair while washing it! If the first thing the stylist asks you is whether you would like a relaxer, your naturalista senses should, needless to say, start tingling immediately! Besides, you deserve it! I see you out there with your hair in a twist out, or a bantu knot-out, or in twists, flat twists, or a DIY crochet, hair always on fleek, I know all the work that goes into that, hours, possibly spread out over several days…you deserve a break! Plus, when a professional gives you a head massage, *eye-ball rolls*, it just takes you places! Feels amazing! Oh, and your hair will look and feel fabulous!
P.S. If you’d like to see the results…here.