This is the second most common question I am asked in Nigeria. I work in the U.S Embassy’s consular section, so the number one question should be pretty obvious. But if people don’t know who I am, “is that your hair?” jumps to the top of the list.
I should explain. A couple of years ago, I decided to go natural. That’s right: no hot combs, no relaxers, no chemicals. I didn’t make this decision lightly. I loved my straight hair and often received compliments on it. But a few years ago, I discovered that cancer drugs and relaxers don’t mix. My hair was breaking. And since not taking the cancer meds was not an option for me, I decided to drop the relaxers. I also found out my next overseas assignment would be in Abuja, Nigeria and I thought going natural would be easier in this environment. I assumed – incorrectly, as it turns out – that most Nigerian women were “natural curlies” too, so I’d have a lot of local resources.
Truthfully, going natural wasn’t that hard. Some women will figuratively take the plunge and do a “big chop” – they cut off all of the relaxed hair, leaving a teeny weeny afro of natural hair behind. I wasn’t that brave, so I transitioned gradually. I stopped putting the straightening chemicals in my hair and changed my hairstyle to mask the kinky roots and the straight ends. Once my roots grew out a bit, I started wearing my hair in two-strand twists. (Look it up).
At the same time, I did a lot of research about the best products to use on my hair. I read a lot. I Googled a lot. Everyone’s hair is different, so even with the research, it’s trial and error. How does this product make my hair feel? Is it shiny or dull? How does my hair respond to humidity? Is this conditioner too heavy or not heavy enough? And on and on.
Anyway, as I noted above, I incorrectly assumed most Nigerian women be natural like me. Why did I assume that? I think I was basing that assumption on the number of African braiding salons in the DC area, but it really made no sense. I arrived in Nigeria and found the same things I found at home: relaxers, extensions, and weaves. A few naturals too, but mostly relaxers, extensions, and weaves. And there’s nothing wrong with that. It just meant that I wasn’t going to have all the local expertise that I thought I would.
I’m three years into this natural thing, and I love it. I love trying new styles, I love trying different products, and I love watching my hair grow as it gets healthier. Sometimes I twist it, sometimes I braid it, and occasionally I blow it out to see how long it has gotten. I’ve used almond oil, olive oil, coconut milk, and honey on my hair with amazing results, but I’ve also used store-bought conditioners and shampoos. It just depends on my mood. Over the years, I’ve figured out what works for me and my hair.
Which brings me back to the title of this post. I can’t tell you how many times Nigerian women have approached me and asked, “Is that your hair?” Then we spend a couple of minutes talking about how I style it, what products I use, and how easy it is. I’m determined to make a few converts.
So, to answer that question: Yes. It’s all mine. And I love it.