When I was growing up, some of my closest friends had “black hair” – otherwise known as curly hair, otherwise known as afro hair. Back in the day, access to black hair products, and hair stylists who had a clue about how to manage it, were pretty limited. As in, basically non-existent. Acceptance of diversity was also in its early stages (translated: having afro hair was not “cool.”)
From these friends, I learned some key lessons about the culture of curly hair:
– Weather (i.e. mist, rain, fog) and gym class (i.e. sweating) were things to fear – as they caused the dreaded “frizz factor.” Since we lived in a temperate rainforest (the west coast of Canada) and went to school (PE class again?!), this was a daily challenge.
– Finding a competent hairdresser was akin to finding the holy grail; losing a competent hair dresser was cause for collective mourning. No joke. I was at a BBQ when word spread amongst my friends (young adults by that time) that their beloved hairdresser was moving back to Jamaica. As I tried to continue the conversation, one of them stopped me in mid-sentence and said, “I’m sorry; I can’t talk right now.” No joke.
– Managing curly hair takes work and time – a lot of both. A visit to the hairdresser is a day-long event. No quick in-and-out appointments. It takes hours. Food is often ordered in for sustenance.
– Ensuring you have the correct tools is of paramount importance. When I was staying over at a friend’s house years ago, I asked her if I could borrow her hair brush. “Hair brush?!” she recoiled in horror. “There are no hair brushes here.” Right. Only wide-toothed combs or maybe a pick. Got it.
– It’s all about the product.
Little did I know that I would one day have a daughter with curly hair, and management of said hair would become my daily preoccupation. Luckily, hair products are easy to find now (except in South East Asia, land of poker-straight hair), the internet is a treasure-trove of hair management and braiding tips, competent hair dressers are relatively easy to find, and acceptance of hair diversity has come a long way (i.e. curly hair is cool).
Until the other day, Meskie had never had her done in a hair salon. Back home, a lovely Ethiopian teenager we know comes to our house periodically to braid it. I have also developed some rudimentary braiding skills over the years (“rudimentary” being the key word here).
Since we landed on African soil, Meskie had been admiring the incredible hair styles women sport here. After consulting with a lovely lady at our guesthouse, we made a trip to a hair salon here in Fish Hoek. (Side note: only here could you walk into a salon without an appointment and proceed to have your hair braided for 3+ hours).
Her experience was everything I hoped it would be: Full immersion in black hair culture. Tiny salon teeming with people. African soap operas blaring from the TV. Animated chatter in various languages. Ladies making a fuss over her. Food ordered in. Front row seats to amazing hair styling (Seeing a woman having hair sewn – as in needle and thread – into her corn row braids is something to behold).
She loved every minute of it. And she emerged with the most incredible braids – truly a work of art. Best of all? Watching the skip in her step as we walked back home to our guesthouse apartment. She was on cloud 9 – and more beautiful than ever.