So this weekend Bibi decided it was time we had my hair done – something I both looked forward to, and dreaded. Women here where their hair for about a month before switching it, and I wasn’t sure what I’d do if I hated the way it looked. That being said, I was curious. Moreover, there were serious advantages to braiding my hair – not washing it for about a month, Malians getting excited and thinking I’m cute, etc. So, on Saturday afternoon, Bibi and I set off for the coiffeuse at the market near our house. It was the perfect day to go, as it was cooler than usual, so the little hut where we waited to have our hair done was quite comfortable. The walls were lined with photos of different styles, and packages of weave, and women would sit and talk while they waited to have their hair done. This is clearly a social place. While we were there, women came and went and chatted with each other.
As I waited, I watched other women sit (unflinchingly) as their hair was pulled this way and that. Then, after the styling was finished, the coiffeuse would light a small cloth on fire, and run this quickly over the scalp and the braids to eliminate fly-aways and spare strands. This part rarely went over as well, women put up with it, but they tended to flinch and cry out more. The interesting thing, is that nearly every woman here has some sort of fake hair woven in (even those with really short styles). Moreover, those who have apparently natural long hair often have the most work done. They usually have their short hair braided close to the head, and then the weave is sewn in. Apparently, this has become a sort of vicious cycle, as women often want long hair, but so much is ripped out during the braiding, that they have a lot of trouble growing it. Moreover, there’s so much dust and dirt everywhere, so they’d have to work really hard to keep it clean and manageable – and it would look kind of like a fro for a while, and I have yet to see ANYONE sporting that look. So, they continue to braid it, and keep it super short. That said, I’m not sure that this practice is any worse than us dumping chemicals in our hair to change it’s color and texture.
Eventually it was my turn to have my hair done. The first problem we had, was that my hair is totally different than any they’d seen. They were all very interested in me and my hair, most of them coming up to touch it as the coiffeuse worked on me. The problem was first, that I have a lot of hair, and it would fall in my face and make things really hot (thank god it was a cool day). Bibi ended up sitting next to me and holding it off my face half the time (she’s the best). The second problem was my hair’s texture – curly and thick, and prone to tangles…I have never wished more that I had less hair. Granted, I probably have less hair now…I’m sure she ripped out a ton. The coiffeuse would yank out all the tangles she ran into as she braided my hair. Overall, the process was excruciatingly painful and took over two hours to complete. They would ask me if it hurt, and if I admitted it, they would laugh and say “Yep! It hurts!” So helpful. By the end, I was exhausted, my body was totally shaking and flushed from pain and I was ready to get out of there. My host mom was super sympathetic and told me to take Tylenol when I got home. And Bibi made me feel better by saying that her head hurt a ton too. That said, it was a worthwhile experience. And, as I expected, Malians totally love my tresses.
So now I have braids! Not sure how long they’ll last, but I’m keeping them as long as possible! My head has gradually stopped hurting too! So now they just mean that Malians think I look prettier and I don’t have to worry about washing my hair for a bit! Both of which, are kinda nice.