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Mira // Natural Hair Style Icon

Avatar • Jun 18, 2010

Where are you from?
M:
I am a proud Southerner – originally from Mississippi. After finishing my master’s program last year in public administration I accepted an awesome opportunity to work in Côte d’Ivoire (a country of 20 million inhabitants on the west coast of Africa) in the field of rural and educational development. Before coming to Côte d’Ivoire, I had absolutely no ties to the country!

What is interesting about Côte d’Ivoire?
M:
Oh my! A better question is…what is NOT interesting about Côte d’Ivoire! I think one of the most interesting things is that there are approximately 60 different languages, in addition to French, spoken here. Ivoirians often speak the official national language, French, and at least one or two of the 60 languages.

Another interesting aspect of Côte d’Ivoire is that there is about the same ratio of Muslims as Christians which creates a certain religious harmony and respect that is sometimes atypical in the United States. In my neighborhood, there is a mosque and a church practically side by side. So, depending on the time of day, I will hear chants from the imam or the hymns from the evangelists.

And the presence of Obama is everywhere! I have eaten Obama cookies, smelled Obama cologne, seen an Obama printing shop, passed by an Obama apartment hunting business, and have ridden in an Obama taxi! Oh, and did I mention my Barack Obama flashlight? I hope President Obama knows how much he is revered in this country!

What is the natural hair scene like in Côte d’Ivoire?
M:
For the most part, the natural hair scene begins and ends with young girls. Typically school-aged girls and young women sport natural TWAs (teeny weeny afros) or fades but this is most often because of school policy and not because of style. Adult women here – dare I say it – in general, wear weaves more than American women do! (Of course this is based on no real statistics, just my observations.)

Right before I departed for Africa, my permed-Southern-belle-of-a-mother told me that since I want to “go back to my roots” (meaning that since I want to be natural and all) I’ll now be surrounded by like-styled divas. And, yes, I did believe her! After all, I thought, this is Africa. Now, I realize that some of my preconceived thoughts of this country were wrong!

Natural hair for adults, in my experience, is viewed as backwards. I have been asked, “Why don’t you get a perm?” and “You guys (meaning Americans) like wearing your hair like that (meaning natural) over there, don’t you?” or “Why do you guys like wearing your hair like that?” I have been also called “rasta”.

Clearly, I do not have dreads but for some Ivoirians: natural = nappy = dreads. I was once told by a colleague, “Yeah, you have dreads but we can tell your hair is clean.” Thus, rasta is synonymous with dirty. When I asked why this is the case, I was told that dreadlocks are common among the homeless and mentally disturbed. In other words, those who do not have the means or sense to do anything with their hair. From what I was told and from what I see, dreads are not in fashion (perhaps even rejected by society) and are rarely seen except for among some footballers (soccer players) and artsy folks (singers, artists, etc.) And yeah, this is Africa.

Why did you go natural?
M:
I sort of went natural by accident. I was living in France 2006-07. Before I arrived, I asked myself questions that so many of us Black women face when going abroad, “What will I do with my hair?!”“Will I find a Black hair salon?” “Will I find products for relaxed hair?” Since I was not going to be living in Paris, I knew that keeping my hair up would be a challenge (i.e. no Black salons in town). So I decided to get a weave before arriving in the country.

In February 2007, after 5 months, I decided to take the weave out permanently. At this point, I had not had a perm since arriving in France so my hair was about half natural and half permed. I successfully removed the weave from my hair and then went into the shower to shampoo and condition. My hair was completely matted and my boyfriend told me, “Just cut it.” He has never understood my hair hang-ups. For him, cutting it was the most practical thing to do. For me, it was an ultimate horror. After I too saw that cutting my hair was the only sensible solution, I sat on the kitchen floor and he cut my hair until all that was left was a small fro. It was sad and funny at the same time.

Of course, in my ignorance, I did not dare to go in public with my small fro. My boyfriend could not understand that either. The next day, I got microbraids. I covered my fro in braids and weaves for a year and three months. Just before moving to New York for grad school, I decided to “free” myself. It was my first time wearing my natural hair “out” in public and it felt great! That was May 2008. I haven’t looked back since.

What’s your regimen?
M:
I thank my sojourn and lifestyle in Côte d’Ivoire for my simple hair regimen. I alternate weekly between these two routines:

Week 1:

Week 2:

  • Shampoo (Whatever I have on-hand)
  • Strengthening Treatment (Joico K‑Pak)
  • Co-Wash
  • Apply Leave-In
  • Apply Gel Thoroughly
  • Bun Hair

I have made many mistakes with my hair since going natural and it took some time to establish a regimen that worked for me. One of my mistakes was obsessive trimming. The growth rate of my hair had no chance against my scissors. I was cutting my hair so excessively was because each time I saw a knot at the end of my strands or one of the many hair splits, I would freak out and cut. Since September 2009 I haven’t put scissors to my strands and now I can accurately evaluate the progress of my hair. Now, I just accept it as a characteristic of my hair and don’t worry about it so much.

Is there a blog/webpage where we can find you?
M:
www.fotki.com/froggibleu
www.blogspot.com/mirabellacharm

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Jenna
Jenna
10 years ago

Very Good Read!!! LOL at Rasta!

beautywithcurls
10 years ago

Beautiful Girl & Hair!!.…It’s So Sad That So Many African Countries See Their Natural Hair As Backwards,Hopefully They Will Eventually Find Their Way, Again.

beautywithcurls
10 years ago

It’s Was American Women Of Color That Inspired Them To Relax Their Hair, They Watch This Country Very Closely.…African Women’s Hair Regimen Has Change So Much In Twenty Years, It’s Amazing At Times!

Kasandra
Kasandra
10 years ago

@beautywithcurls American(assuming you meant black) is not hte only country were black women relax/straighten their hair. To say they watch this country closesly is not 100% accutrate. Black Erupoeans, Americans(North & South), and West Indians relax thier hair. Just to single out black American women as an influence on African womens hair regimen is unfair!

Janay
10 years ago

very good read,I use to think that African women did not relax their hair but since going natural i have found out different and it amazes me.

beautywithcurls
10 years ago

Kasandra, I Am Aware Of That From My Travels( I Also Live In The Caribbean) That People Are Permed Everywhere, I Am Saying That They Look To The Americas First For Lots Of Things Etc…Fashion, Music, Hair, As Well As Europe, Latin America And Asia Who Also Looks To America To Check Out What’s Hot…It’s Not An Insult, It’s What I’ve Seen With My Own Eyes When I’ve Gone To This Places…I Said Women Of Color Because Latinas, East Indian,etc Perm Their Hair Too, So I Didn’t Single Any Particular Group Out.

beautywithcurls
10 years ago

Oh I Pressed Submit To Soon.…Remember Garrett Augustus Morgan, Sr. And Madame C.J. Walker And They Were Americans, I Should Also Mention When I Say Hopefully They Will Find Their Way.… I Meant They Will Find A Appreciation For Natural Hair And It’s Beauty Whether They Choose To Go Natural Or Not, I Have No Problem With People Who Wear Relaxers I Have Problems With People Who Wear Relaxers And Think Curly, Kinky Or Coily Hair Is Ugly And Uncouth…In Other Words People Who Judge People For Their Hair.

dajewel the curly chemist/tiffany g from facebook
dajewel the curly chemist/tiffany g from facebook
10 years ago

yeah, i am from the Caribbean and sadly, we pay attention to what people in the States do…so, i co-sign with beautywithcurls.

LushAfroBush
LushAfroBush
10 years ago

This is so wonderful to hear.

Coffey
10 years ago

Once again,
Another awesome natural hair story. I love reading about natural hair experiences from abroad.

Cassie
Cassie
10 years ago

I’m so glad to see young African American women like Mira traveling and living in foreign countries. Wonderful and adventurous.

Mira:

Enjoy your time abroad in Cote D’Ivoire!! Keep traveling before you marry and settle down. Wish I had done the same.

Shukura
10 years ago

What she said about the dreadlocks is sooo sad, like you really wouldnt expect to hear that in africa
dreadlocksare beautiful and shouldnt be associatd wid something negative

Christy Hyman
Christy Hyman
10 years ago

How I LOOOVVVVEEE reading about expatriates! :):):) If I did not have children I would work abroad as well. However it is very heartening to see a sista working and empowering in the Motherland. Also like to see our President getting some shine(since he doesn’t get too much over here). Great post!

Yvette
Yvette
10 years ago

I think this is a great eye opener for many about what life is like in different parts of Africa. It seems as if many Americans (black, white, whatever) have this preconceived notion that all Africans are sporting natural hair styles. Quite the contrary. Because of new technology, there are so many ways for Africans of all nationalities to view American lifestyle. They copy this as a way to feel progressive and keep up with the times. Many of my cousins back home in Ghana all have permed hair to the point where their hair is almost an unnatural brown… Read more »

Susan
Susan
10 years ago

Very interesting story. I can relate because I’m African. Natural hair is seen as backward, unprofessional, unmanageable and reserved for little girls who are not old enough to get a relaxer yet. Most girls relax once they reach teenage. Some do it later sometimes because their mothers won’t pay for it, so they wait until they are working. Nowadays, even little girls get perms and relaxers. People look to American women for fashion. Some even believe that weaves are real hair when they watch celebrities on TV or in movies. I have to admit that I believed it too when… Read more »

SamraAmrikeeya
SamraAmrikeeya
10 years ago

Mira:

I wish you great success in Cote d’Ivoire and wherever your travels take you. I’m an expatriate as well and will be headed to Malawi later this year. During a recent visit there, I was saddened to see most women wearing weaves or having damaged relaxed hair. My twists received a lot of curious stares!

sarah
sarah
10 years ago

Hi just wanted to say that i like your post however i just wanted to say that i am from kenya but live in the US and that there are a growing number of kenyan women and a growing number of kenyan men who wear their hair natural or in locks. So the comment about Africa being mostly permed is a generalization. Though there are alot of women who chose to remain permed and are still backward in their thinking, it is not the whole of africa that is that way. Perhaps that is just the state of affairs in… Read more »

DaliSalvadorAde
10 years ago

What a wonderful interview! I loved reading about your experiences!

thelady
thelady
10 years ago

i really enjoyed your post

metoo
metoo
10 years ago

Hmm..I don’t get it why do we think African SHOULD be gung-ho about being natural or that there should be more naturals in Africa? And why do we feel “sad” about people wearing weaves?Let’s all just breathe and let folks be. We spend sooo much time judging folks and trying to uphold a certain image which causes us to unintentionally look down on other peoples preferences.

Glad to see young people traveling around the world instead of staying in the great America.

FurryCoconut
FurryCoconut
10 years ago

Just to single out black American women as an influence on African womens hair regimen is unfair!”

But she’s telling the truth. One of the reasons why Africa is straight-haired is because of exposure to western stars. Most of these stars are African Americans.

cherchezlacurl
10 years ago

Great post! Good luck, Mira, during your stay in Cote d’Ivoire! As with some of the commenters, I am African (Nigerian), and can attest to a growing number of Nigerian men and women embracing natural hair (I can’t really speak for other countries, because cultures and social mores vary widely within individual African countries, let alone across countries). It shouldn’t be too surprising that relaxed hair is popular amongst African women — America and Europe produce the majority of entertainment consumed around the world — Africa included. In the US, many people base their personal style on celebrities, etc. and… Read more »

Crystal
Crystal
10 years ago

How random that I came across this post, I’m also in Cote d’Ivoire!! I’m in Abidjan and here for a few months (Like you, I have also worked in France…) Anyhoo, I completely agree with your observations about natural hair (or the lack thereof) in Cote d’Ivoire. I am transitioning to natural (11 months post last relaxer) and expected to see some beautiful natural hair here. I expressed my surprise to two local women here (after they asked me questions about my hair) and they said “Well, you know we (Africans)like to do what you (Black Americans) do.” Just thought… Read more »

Rae
Rae
10 years ago

Oh I had to comment!! I’m from Cote d’Ivoire (been living in Montreal, Canada for 10 years now) and I’ve been wearing my hair natural for a year. As much as I love my country I know for sure that it’s going to be a challenge for me when I go back with my natural hair, NOBODY I know there has natural hair (at least in Abidjan, the economical capital)!! Anyway, I hope you enjoy your time in my beautiful country, I miss it so much!!! Take care!

beautywithcurls
10 years ago

I’m Not Sure That Was Directed Towards Me But I’m Only “Sad” About The Perception Of Natural Hair Some People Tend To Have In Africa…I Couldn’t Care Less If People Wear Weaves.

Ruvarashe
Ruvarashe
10 years ago

First of all I have so much respect for you on this journey you took to leave your home and serve in a foreign land. I am Zimbabwe and just like you have a mix of people who wear their hair relaxed or natural that is the same case in Africa. Locks are not completely associated with a negative thing… but the truth is many people that are homeless are seen to have locks due to the unability to take care of their hair and the fact that they have more important things to worry about besides hair. There are… Read more »

Mira
Mira
10 years ago

You guys are amazing! Thanks for your comments. I send positivity to you all from la Côte d’Ivoire. Bisou, Mira

Black Married Momma
10 years ago

We have to remember that most modern African countries were colonized and did not gain independence until the middle or late 20th century. Our brothers and sisters may be in the Motherland, but they are dealing with the aftermath of colonization and white rule as well. Surely this has an impact on what they perceive as visually ideal.

CaramelBunni3
CaramelBunni3
10 years ago

Thank you! I never thought about knots as a characteristic of my hair. I guess I’m cutting too much as well. You have opened my eyes.

tamara
tamara
10 years ago

Most of what is said in this article about African women not wearing natural hair is true. I am a Malawian and have been getting a perm since I was eight,had a break were I rocked a teeny weeny afro as per high school regulations and immediately went back to perms in college which I know regret. Now I wish I had the courage to go natural like most people on this site as my hair is damagaged from weaves etc

anne
10 years ago

Indeed most of what is said about African women perming and wearing weaves is true. I am a Malawian too, sharp Tamara!!! and it is sad that we view our hair as backward. I posted a note on my facebok page about my natural hair journey and my friends attacked viciosly and they tried to discourage me. They were actually swearing by their weaves and perms despite the dangers and the history behind these things. But i have fallen in love with my natural hair and i am not giving up. And yes it is true that most African women… Read more »

anne
10 years ago

oooh by the way, it is nice to finally see an article about Africa, written by an American in a balanced way and not just all negative like they always do. At least she acknowledged that the African are individuals too unlike some article that say things like africans have no minds of their own.

Rashaan
Rashaan
9 years ago

AFRICA IS A CONTINENT NOT A COUNTRY! Im from Senegal (west Africa) near from Cote d’Ivoire and in Senegal the dreadlocks thing is much appreciated! TO EACH COUNTRY OF AFRICA ITS OWN THOUGHT ABOUT NAT’ HAIR! Im done.

Isaiah Opalka
8 years ago

I together with my pals have been analyzing the nice helpful hints found on the blog and so before long developed a horrible suspicion I never expressed respect to the web blog owner for those tips. The young men happened to be certainly joyful to see all of them and have seriously been making the most of these things. Thank you for actually being indeed accommodating and also for utilizing such quality ideas most people are really eager to understand about. Our own honest apologies for not saying thanks to earlier.

MIra
8 years ago

http://mirabellacharm.blogspot.com/

My link has changed since original post.

Shadae S McKenzie
7 years ago

I’m just trying to find the right hair treatment for my type of hair. My hair is reall thik; but I really dont wanna have to perm it anymore. all I want is to have my natural hair, do you have any great ideas that could help. If you do you can find me on facebook Shadae Mckenzie, thank you.

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