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:
- Co-wash (Aubrey Organics Honeysuckle Rose Conditioner)
- Apply Leave-in (Paul Mitchell The Conditioner)
- Apply Gel Thoroughly (Eco-Styler Clear)
- Bun Hair
- Shampoo (Whatever I have on-hand)
- Strengthening Treatment (Joico K‑Pak)
- 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.