The Complex Subject That Is African Hair

This is the longest I have stayed with short hair. I think I cut it short sometime in July or August 2016 after I ran out of styling options. I didn’t realize then that it will stay short for this length of time. Trust me, it has not been an easy journey.

My hair is the kinky type and for some reason, I find it way easier to manage when at its full length. Sounds absurd, I know but for me, I tend to feel the kink less when it’s longer. I feel it more when it’s short because it coils, shrinks, gets untidy easily and the problematic areas are easier to spot. Basically, everything that is considered wrong with African hair in its natural form.

I’m sure you are probably wondering why I’m talking about hair when this is a Creative Writing blog and not a Beauty blog. I mean, I have to talk about hair! In as much as I identify myself as a Writer, I equally identify myself as an African woman, whose natural hair will remain a constant reminder of her heritage. I might as well address all the insecurities I face with my own kinky head!

As a child, my hair was literally unmanageable. There’s a humorous story that goes around in our family about how my mum, always ensured my hair was in a bonnet as a toddler. This is actually true and not fictitious. I even have a photo as proof.

I am told that my hair was too kinky to the extent that I would not let anyone touch it. The only time I sat quietly and still, was when my uncle on mum’s side paid us a visit and felt he needed to sort out my hair situation. So he asked for a comb and Little Miss Fussy was surprisingly, calm the whole time he combed the shrub on my small head. His hands must have had a magical effect on me!

Lower primary was no different. For some reason, my hair would stubbornly fail to grow at the back. That time, TCB was considered an African hair product of choice and my mum constantly used avocado in addition to that, as special treatment for my stubborn hair. Of course in lower primary, nobody really cares whether you have good hair or not, but that did not stop us from noticing the difference on our Somali and Indian counterparts.

I remember this Somali girl in my class who would take out her hijab, the minute she got to school and give us free access to her long, soft, curly hair. We combed and plaited and twisted until it was time to go home and she put on her hijab again, to avoid getting into trouble at home for letting her hair loose in the first place. The Indian girls were equally generous with their silky, dark hair.

I happened to chance on an online discussion once, where some women of African descent, complained of strangers touching their hair without their permission and I did not really seem to get what the fuss was all about.

These Indian and Somali children in primary school whose mothers, I presume, had painstakingly styled their hair neatly for school that day, still let us African children with our sometimes, rugged cornrows touch and play with their hair. I’m sure we always left it very untidy with our inexperienced little hands and yet an adult somewhere, felt offended when someone touched their hair, out of what I considered pure curiosity. It’s time our African manes also got attention!


My first day of high school, I was quickly drawn to the long, permed hair of some of the girls. That morning, my mum with a pair of scissors had cut my hair short, believing that it would be hard for me to maintain it while in boarding school. Hair that had taken years of tender, loving care to grow into a full mane. Probably the best I had ever seen my hair. How wrong she was! The school I was in, provided a blowdryer per house to be shared by 80 girls.

Mind you, many of these girls had short hair much to the advantage of the ones with longer hair needing maintenance. Plus perming your hair was allowed under the assumption that it was neater than natural hair. However, with perming, came the belief that natural hair was not as beautiful for us impressionable, teenage girls.

It was not long before I joined the bandwagon just to look prettier. And sure enough, the boys noticed! For a girl who had not really gotten a lot of attention from the boys in her first year of high school, it was indeed a pleasant surprise to have a couple of  “suitors” now.

In adulthood, my hair surprisingly blossomed. It was still kinky but it grew to lengths I sometimes did not expect it to. The first time someone touched my hair “without permission” was a Swiss friend of my cousins, who had never really experienced natural, African hair before.

She watched me intently, the previous evening while I undid the braids then waited expectantly, for me to come back from the salon the next day, only to marvel at how it looked. Obviously, my hair and that of another friend fascinated her to the point where, she took photos of our heads to show her brother in Switzerland.

I didn’t really find her curiosity offensive, as I had grown to appreciate my African hair to some extent at that point. That does not mean that I haven’t endured hairdressers, who gladly made mean comments while working on it or times when hair chemicals backfired on me. It takes a certain level of courage to finally admit that your hair is not perfect but you still embrace its imperfections.

Of course I haven’t been spared of the misguided belief that only housegirls have their hair short. Many times, during this current short hair stint, I have been asked by women why I do not like making my hair and each time, I have explained that the hours spent at the salon discouraged me at some point. The looks I got in return, were a mixture of concern and wonder.

Funnily enough, my eyes have been opened to the many natural, African hair beauty products in the market. I do not really remember a time, when they were this many and one of the shops I like frequenting while in the capital, is one that has a whole aisle of natural hair products! How amazing can that get. I have equally experimented with some just to see the results.

Nowadays, you don’t really need a blowdryer to soften and straighten your natural hair. Trust me, the heat from some of those things is enough to cook a meal so you can imagine what it does to your hair. Some of these hair products are all you need to get the desired result.

One thing I have learnt about African hair is that it can only be made maneageable when you fully understand it. No hair type is the same. I see this even in my own family. While my sister’s is long and soft, my mother’s is thick and can grow to amazing lengths and mine kinky and of medium length, yet we probably carry some similar genes being of the same family.

Patience also is key. African hair does not grow overnight. It takes a longer period depending on it’s texture. If you would love to have healthy, natural, African hair do not force it to grow. Nurture it patiently until it gets to that desired length. And once you realize that hair chemicals do not work for you, ditch them for good like I did along the way.

Wishing you a hairful journey!


Girl looking in the mirror. Photo sourced from Google

It was not long before Mama Brian got a replacement for Jesca.

She arrived, timid and wide eyed. Looking like the slightest scare would cause her to burst into tears. With a village aura around her. The one that urban dwellers found appalling and sometimes humorous.

I knew she would go through the whole orientation process. Make a few stupid mistakes here and there, receive a thorough tongue lashing from her employer, quickly learn the basics of city life and eventually, join the ilk of house helps who had already spent a significant amount of time in employment.

One thing I have never understood in my whole duration in the city, is why an employer expected you to be enlightened but not too enlightened at the same time. Almost like you could not be trusted if you ended up completely refined.

In Mama Ken’s house, it was totally okay for Angie to dress in a fitting pair of jeans but wrong for me to dress in a pair of tights under a knee length dress. It was totally okay, for the teenagers to spend as much time as they wanted on their phones but wrong for me to keep receiving calls on my simple phone. It was perfectly in order, for the teenagers to hang around the living room when there were visitors but wrong for me, to appear the slightest bit interested in conversation that did not concern me.

I have since concluded that urban dwellers have this deep seated insecurity, that makes them suspicious of anything likely to threaten their position of enlightenment. I have no desire whatsoever to compete with my employer. As a matter of fact, I’m beginning to experience a different kind of awareness. One that is confusing even to myself.

The awareness that I’m actually a beautiful girl.

Beautiful is not a word I would have used to describe myself with in the past. I like to think of myself as plain. I was a late bloomer. I remember my breasts started developing long after Priscilla’s had already blossomed into a full chest.

Quite recently, as I was taking a bath, I noticed just how full my breasts have since become. There is a large mirror in my employer’s bathroom. It is one that I have never bothered looking at in the past. For some reason, with that awareness of the changes in my body, I found myself staring back at my naked reflection that day. Even my hips appeared larger in the mirror.

Then I smiled.

It is a good feeling realizing something about yourself that you had never known in the past. For the first time, my clothes felt drab. The shapeless lengthy skirts and simple tops that I wore in the house did not feel like clothes I wanted to keep wearing. They did not flatter this new figure like I wanted.

But then I wonder if this kind of awareness is even right. Mama Ken has lectured me in the past about the opposite sex. Not that I have ever acted in ways that showed I was interested in men in the past. Mama Ken tends to mention in passing that men can derail a woman and especially a naive girl from the village such as myself. Sometimes, I wonder if she equally takes her time to lecture her children on the same.

Employers seem to have this mentality that the worst can only come from their house helps and not their own kids. Having made a promise to her son not to say anything, I cannot tell Mama Ken that a girl shows up at her house on most weekends when she and her husband are away working. I don’t want to lose my job for withholding information.

So if Ken was ever to get caught, let him get caught by either of his parents. I have since decided that it will be easier for me to pretend then, that I knew nothing about it.