Natural Hair Wahala By Esi Woarabae Cleland

Natural Hair Wahala

By Esi Woarabae Cleland

Published on Mon, Sep 22 2008 by Esi W. Cleland

About a year ago, I shaved my head on my birthday. It was my way of celebrating my 25 years on this planet. I saw it as a fresh look, a new beginning, and a statement of self-acceptance. At that time, I was still in the US and in graduate school, and while I found it rather odd that that none of the twelve white male colleagues in my graduate program offered any comments about my bald look, I was grateful that no one made a fuss. A year later, my hair is about 3 inches long and I am back at home, in Ghana. In the US, I braided and styled my hair myself and I found it pretty easy to maintain my hair. Not so in Ghana.
 
My first rude shock came when one fine Saturday morning I walked into a hair salon which had a big sign advertising it as a natural hair salon. When I asked the young man how much he’d charge to give me comb coils, he said twenty. Ghana’s money being recently redenominated, I thought he meant twenty thousand old Ghana cedis, but when I sought clarification, I was informed that he meant twenty new Ghana cedis, or two hundred old Ghana cedis, the equivalent of 20 US dollars. It seemed to me like a ridiculously high price to charge for an hour of his time. So I left, and found a different salon where they gave me comb coils at quarter that price. I thought this overpriced salon was an anomaly but I have since learned that all the salons that specialize in caring for natural hair in Ghana charge those kinds of rates. Funny that we have to pay more to keep our own hair in our own country!
 
Having found this moderately priced salon, I thought I’d stick to it, but on my third visit, I wasn’t so sure. Because I’d gotten comb coils on my previous visits, I felt that it was time for a change so this time, I asked for box braids. Imagine my astonishment when the owner and head of the salon responded by saying that she didn’t think they could do that using my natural hair. I stared at for about half a minute not knowing what to say but after I’d recovered from my shock, I told her that I knew it could be done because I had done it several times on my own. I then grabbed a section of my hair and in front of her, proceeded to braid it. After she saw my braid, she instructed two of the girls who worked for her to braid my hair for me. The girls who seemed very displeased at the prospect of braiding natural hair got to work, but I had to instruct them several times in order to get the result I wanted by which time I’d started to seem like a very fussy person. They asked me several times why I didn’t just get twists instead of box braids, as they had done that before for others. I insisted that I did not want twists. Even though I finally got what I wanted and paid only two cedis for it, the whole experience was very emotionally draining and I can’t understand that I have to go through that kind of wahala (difficulty) just to get my own hair braided in a place where people can get all sorts of store-bought hair attached to their own in braids.
 
Also, here in Ghana, people feel they have the right not only to voice their unsolicited opinions about my hair but also to advise me against it. Some have gone so far as to ask me if my work place allows me to keep this hair. One argument I’ve heard against my wearing my natural hair is that given the nature of my job, I need to look older, more serious, and professional which apparently natural hair is anything but. Just as they see me as strange in wanting to wear my natural hair, I too don’t understand the Ghanaian woman who perms her kinky hair, and then purchases imported kinky hair which she then attaches to her now straight hair. Which of these ought to be questioned? Wearing one’s own hair or wearing store-bought hair that looks like the hair you relaxed? I’m too thick-skinned to let any of the comments and attitudes weaken my resolve to wear my own hair in my own country, but the comments reflect the mentality of a people who have lost touch with themselves and have blindly adopted everything foreign including hair and style of dress.

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