My African hair

A part of my Africanness that I have battled with all my life is my hair. In its natural state, an afro is not always an easy hair-do to wear. If you lean back in your chair, for example, it gets messed up.

While in primary school I had my mother and older siblings take care of my hair for me. Back in the day when hair-relaxers were not that common, we would stretch our hair for special occasions with a hot iron comb. For an extra special effect, the stretched hair would then be left in curls for a good number of hours – ideally overnight, so that the following day the big curls would be tight and neat. In my earlier school days, I was blessed with hair that was of a nice reasonable length and could be pulled together into one nice big bun. Then the advent of hair-relaxers and other electronic gadgets like electric curling tongs and hair straighteners came. I enjoyed those glory days when I was the centre of attention at school with my hair all done up, nice and bouncy in curls. Alas, the glory days did not last for some reason.

When I went to high school, for some strange reason – adolescence perhaps - my hair fell off and would not just grow beyond a few centimetres. Gone were my glory days. I tried plaiting it and employed all manner of tricks and myths but it just remained stubbornly short. I was then in my teens and long hair is supposed to be a woman’s glory, but mine refused to budge longer than an inch or two. I tried to convince my high school friends that in my younger days I had, had nice long hair, but they refused to buy into that, after all what mattered most was nice healthy hair in the present and not the past. By the time I was in my last grade at school, I threw in the towel and decided to just let my hair be.

I am not sure if it was fate or hormones or a combination of the two, but as soon as I completed high school, my hair started growing back. The first thing I did was to use hair-relaxers which made it nice and soft and easy to manage. However, the downside is that many relaxers would burn my scalp. At one visit to a salon, I explained my predicament to the hairdresser who offered to change relaxer creams. The next day my scalp was burnt so badly that I had scabs. So I switched back to creams that I had been using before. After a couple of years the creams made my hair fall off and I still could not find any products that were gentle and easy on my scalp. Frustrated, I cut my hair and stopped using relaxers. That was twelve years ago and my hair is now healthy and I am enjoying my afro to the fullest.

However, like I mentioned, the afro-look does not do it all the time for me, since it means walking about all day with a comb in my handbag to ensure that it stays in shape. The dilemma is compounded when afros are not considered a ‘professional’ look in most circles. So now I find myself travelling the middle road of braids and weaves – wearing my hair natural only when ‘occasions’ permit….

©Mwanja Ng'anjo #BeingAfricanInAfrica