That creamy crack…

Some of my earlier posts on this blog were stories I shared about my experiences going natural aka cutting off my relaxed hair,  aka coming off the creamy crack .

I haven’t shared much on my hair in recent posts but after many ups and downs, my hair has reached that awkward length where it’s too short to tie up and too long to look cute. I’ve found myself getting frustrated and considering relaxing my hair so, I decided to read the post below which I wrote (and never published) after a disastrous creamy crack relapse. Hopefully this will encourage me and those of you in a similar place to keep going. I’m not promising anything though…

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For now anyway…

– OCTOBER 2014 –

I messed up.

I was 7 months into my natural hair journey, when I noticed that my hair had developed a bad attitude problem. We were getting along just fine when one day I woke up, the honeymoon period was well and truly over and my hair had turned into a jerk! It was coarse, dry, brittle and rude. The only way that I could manipulate it (temporarily), was by massaging it with water and olive oil.

It no longer looked cute and short but rather like a mean looking tangled hedge. Lately, I’d noticed people no longer looked at me when they spoke to me but rather, at the attention seeking little hedge growing out of my head.
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So, after a particularly bad hair week,  I decided enough was enough and found myself at the hairdresser who used to look after my relaxed hair (schoolboy error no. 1).

“Oh wow, you cut your hair!” Dawn exclaimed a little too forced. I smiled politely. She ran her hand over my hair (over not through) and for a spilt second, I saw a flicker of panic on her face. But, she quickly composed herself. I chose to ignore this observation (error no. 2).

“So, what will you be having done today?”, Dawn asked.
Feeling a bit defeated, I explained that I was having a tough time managing my hair and that I wanted to condition it and make it more manageable. Immediately, she recommended a perm. She explained how a perm was a gentler treatment which would make my hair more manageable whilst also allowing it remain somewhat natural. Now, normally before I try a new product on my hair, I would research it to death. But on this rainy autumn morning, I didn’t feel like asking too many questions. I shrugged for her to go ahead (error no. 3). As soon as she started lacquering the cold paste onto my hair, I regretted it.

I felt the Ammonium Hydroxide, Ammonium Thioglycolate, Amodimethicone, Colorants, Fragrance, Polyquaternium-11, Styrene/Acrylates Copolymer and Water (apparently) eating away at my hair like an acid. The smell burnt through my nostrils. It smelt like a strong concentration of hair remover.

Had I done my research, I would have found out that Perm aka “PERManent” contains 2 of the key ingredients found in hair removal creams. The thing is, I wasn’t actually trying to remove my hair!

Over the next 2 hours, my hair tossed and turned as it was stripped and tortured. My scalp tingled and my head started to spin until I felt dizzy and unwell – sympathy pains perhaps. It felt like my whole body had joined the protest. Eventually the riot subsided and my hair emerged broken down to a more docile version of its former self.

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Example Natural hair before and after relaxer

I touched my softer “more manageable” hair  which looked more ridiculous than before and the 1st wave of regret hit me. I realised my hair had been a metaphorical child – perhaps a toddler going through his terrible twos and I’d given up on it (OK, a little dramatic – but I was upset lol!).

The 2nd wave hit as it occurred to me that although it seemed the whole “perm thing” had “happened” to me, subconsciously I’d orchestrated it on account of the upcoming conference which 300 of my colleagues would be attending. I guess on some level, I wanted to conform and look “normal”.

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It’s funny because for me, cutting my hair was never about going “natural”  in the technical term or proving a point to anyone. It was more about me experimenting with my God given afro hair and hopefully feeling comfortable in it. It was not something I had intended to do forever but on that Saturday morning, I knew I hadn’t done it long enough to reach whatever earth shattering objective I was trying to achieve.

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The next morning, I made a call to get my hair braided. At the 2014 October Conference, I had long wavy braids. I got a couple of lovely compliments in contrast to the curious stares. Sadly it felt good.

4 months later, I cut off all the permed hair. Back to square one.

Behind the scenes

It had already been predestined that on my 30th birthday (the eve of my party), I would spend 5 hours sitting in a chair, getting my hair braided, occasionally, switching bum cheeks to thaw the numbness. Although I would have preferred to watch something mind-numbing on E4, I would end up being “bullied” by my equally bored hairdresser to switch the channel to BET or the Nollywood movie channel. All these things were certain for me… and in fact, for some of the guests attending my party the next day.
I had however afforded myself a small degree of control by asking Bintu, my hairdresser to do my hair at my house. It had been years since I had had my hair braided at any hairdresser’s house. I had been burnt too many times to count.
Everything would start reasonably well. However, as soon as it felt like we were nearing the half way mark, she would ask to be excused for 5 minutes while she made a “quick” meal for a small collection of irritable and mildly restless children. Half an hour later, she would return, closely trailed by perhaps one of the aforementioned restless children. Said child would linger around demanding the attention of his mother, my hairdresser.
Eventually, he would find his way into my handbag and in one swift move, expertly retrieve the chocolate bar I had packed as a snack. The mother would lazily tell her cheeky little monkey not to touch auntie’s bag. The twinkle in his eye would tell me that he was in the habit of finding similar delights in handbags belonging to other “aunties”. Like me, the other aunties would eventually surrender the tasty treat in exchange for a little peace and quiet.
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On this particular “trip to the hairdresser”, I had decided to use my time in the chair to do all the last minute preparations for my party. I made lists, called guests and was having a rather efficient time. However, Bintu was in a particularly chatty mood… well, more than usual.
She was having another crisis in her life and wanted to explain all the details to me… I passively listened to her tell about some trouble with her husband back home as though I was listening to a radio show, catching enough details to sigh and gasp at the right moments. After pausing for the appropriate amount of time, my mind would wander back to the party.
“Do I have enough food?” “I must remember to text Kuda” I thought, as I added to my growing list.
I tuned back in to hear her voice rise further still, now bordering on hysterical. Hers was a pain that had been slowly stewed and garnished with a generous dose of resentment.
“Well, that’s not very good”, I added, not quite sure if that had been the most relevant response to whatever she had just said.
This carried on for a few minutes. However, like white noise demands attention, so her anguish had become so loud, I could no longer hear myself think. I tensed up.
“Bintu, can I pray for you?”, I finally asked.
The noise stopped. For the first time in about half an hour, she was quiet.
“Yes please”, she answered in a small voice. 
I invited her to sit next to me and held her hands. “Dear Heavenly Father…”
Over the next 10 mins, I prayed the best prayer I knew, asking God to give her His peace, which surpasses all understanding. I felt her pain in my own heart, which caused me to weep with her.
When I finished, my Muslim hairdresser and I said Amen and opened our eyes, both moist and teary. She looked at me and smiled weakly “thank you,” she said. I smiled back.
The peace settled with us for the rest of the afternoon while we chatted about life, birthdays, God and men.
5 hours later, I emerged looking like a cup full of super hot stuff. I dropped Bintu off in town and went to give her her £50 payment. “Make it £45”, she said smiling. “It’s my birthday present to you”.
I smiled, touched by her sweet gesture. “Thank you Bintu”.
That’s the thing about black hairdressing – we all wish we could peel off our hair, drop it off and pick it up later when it’s all done and pretty. In our rush, it’s easy to miss some of society’s most beautiful moments of sisterhood, with the incredible humans who make our hair happen.
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We are each other’s harvest; we are each other’s business; we are each other’s magnitude and bond.”
Gwendolyn Brooks