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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.
I may have mentioned before that Nigeria is a challenging place to live. The traffic. The scams. The many grocery stores one must visit to find all the things you can find in one trip to Safeway. (By the way, I did find a grocery store that has artichoke hearts. They cost a fortune, but what are you going to do?)
Last weekend, my survival skills were really tested. It’s rainy season, and a big storm blew through. So big that it knocked out the satellite that gives us access to the American Forces Network (AFN to those of you in the know). Which meant that I couldn’t watch all of my favorite shows. Which – yes, I watch too much television and this was an opportunity for me to read more, knit more, ponder the universe more. Whatever. “Elementary” you guys. Is that asking too much? This is really not a problem, right? Because I have internet. And I have a VPN, which allows me to access Netflix and Hulu and if worse comes to worse, I could always buy the episode of that show I really want to watch on iTunes.
Except my internet service was spotty. The light, that light on the router, the one that is supposed to be just a steady blue light: it’s blinking. It’s not supposed to do that. Blinking light = no internet. Okay, this is not ideal, but I can handle it. I will go shopping. Or go to a movie. Or have lunch at a restaurant.
Except my car battery is dead. It’s Saturday afternoon. My car battery is dead. Dammit!
And that’s when I learned the value of having “a guy.” My neighbors have “a guy.” When their car needs an oil change or a tire rotation or even some body work, they call the guy. The guy comes and picks up the car at the Embassy, does what needs to be done, and returns it before the end of the day. This is a good guy, a great guy. They gave me this guy’s number. These are good neighbors, sharing his number, because I kind of feel like I would want to keep this guy all to myself. I called him last Saturday at around noon, explained my situation, and asked him for help. He said, “What time do you want me to come over?” I said, hesitantly, “1:00PM?” He said, “Okay.” And here’s the kicker: he was here at 1:00PM! You have no idea how rare that is in Nigeria. (I cannot tell you the number of times I have been told “I’ll be there in 5 minutes.” I finally figured out that “5 minutes” means like half an hour in Nigeria-speak). He was on time. He. Was. On. Time. He looked at my car. He said, “It’s the battery. I’ll be back in 20 minutes.” He left. Twenty minutes later (just like he said!), he returned with a new battery. He installed said battery. I paid him. He left. I now have a guy to handle all the car stuff. Tomorrow, he’s coming to the Embassy to pick up my car and change the oil. I have a guy.
I have another guy. This guy’s number is saved in my phone as “AFN Tech.” I called him. “I have an unstable signal,” I said. “I cannot watch AFN.” (“Elementary,” I did not say). He understands my plight. “I will have to reset the satellite,” he responded. He came. He reset the satellite or whatever it is that they do. It didn’t work the first time. He came back and jiggled the handle or whatever it is that they do. And AFN is back. “Elementary,” y’all. I have another guy and he totally gets me.
I’m on a roll. On to the internet! Well, actually, I don’t have a guy for internet. That problem resolved itself on its own. Would it surprise you if I told you that when the blue light is blinking, you have to turn the router off and then turn it back on? (Why is it that the solution to most things computer-related is to turn the device off, and then turn it back on?) So I turned it off, and turned it on, and now I have internet.
Nine months into this adventure, and I learned something. Yes, Nigeria is challenging. Yes, these people are probably the worst drivers on the planet. Yes, many Nigerians have a very fluid concept of time. But if you have a guy (or two or three!), all things are possible. If you have a guy, your problems will be solved. If you have a guy, you will survive this crazy, amazing, wonderful country.