|Image by Okhai Ojeikere|
Still on the subject of neighbourhood discovery, last Friday I ventured out to Raleigh Street, which becomes Rockey Street in the heart of Yeoville looking for a hair salon. My old hairdresser used to be in Yeoville but she would usually do my hair after hours at my place in Illovo. While this decision was logistically driven, the truth is that I didn’t want to spend 7 or 8 hours in some hair salon in Yeoville because African hair salons generally lack certain comforts that I like. They can be trying spaces to be in.
When I used to shave my hair clean, I would go to the Ghanain Hair Salon on the corner of Corlett Drive and Athol Oaklands, the one with the paintings of Oprah, Alicia Keys, Chris Rock and other African American celebrities on it. The last time I went there was to undo my braids this time last year. The salon was not fancy, in fact it had a lot of ghetto vibes but it is owned by old God-fearing people and a nice woman who never spoke but smiles and always handed out ice-cold mini bottles of water as you sat down to read the oil-stained magazines. I liked the woman because she wasn’t intrusive. The man of the establishment ruled it with an unbecoming zeal for the Holy Spirit. There would always be extremely loud church sermon DVD’s in which the out of breath Nigerian or Ghanaiain ‘’prophet preacher’’ was always going on about the wishes of the Devil or the covenant of His Holiness.
The salon wasn’t great, like most African salons these days, the qualities that used to determine the art of hair styling – skill and creativity – have been replaced by nail painting, simple braiding, relaxing and putting in weaves. The ladies can plait or do intricate styles but you always have either bring them a reference or direct their each and every movement if you want to be happy. I grew up in Butterworth where my mom would take my two sisters and I to a Ghanaian house salon (somebody’s house) down the road. Going to the salon was an adventure. It would start out in tears that streamed down our little faces, faces that were buried in between the knees of Aunty so-and-so who always wore Ghanaian print kaftans as she pulled and tightened our hair with thick black thread. Once she was done, we would look like mini aliens with our heads covered in coils that went in every direction. ‘’Kodwa mama sizolala njani?’’ (But mama, how are we going to sleep?) we would ask as we left the house salon, faces stretched to perfection. And she would say ‘’Sakhula kusithwa suffer for beauty thina’’ (We grew up hearing you suffer for beauty). The idea that at the end of the pain we would look ‘’beautiful’’ consoled us enough to get used to it In all honesty, we did feel beautiful as we walked home. The hair style would be incredibly uncomfortable to sleep with for the first few days but the memory of the pain was drowned out by the compliments we would get from our dad and other grown ups. The point is there was panache in hair styling.
African (South African ones included obviously) salons these days are very different. I’m not talking about Le Looks or Sandton Hair, the fancy overpriced ones (Two months ago, I paid R700 in a Parkhurst salon to trim my already short hair and colour it) in malls who have nice amenities but a lot of them also lack in the creativity and skills department. I haven’t enough experience in those ones. I’m talking about everywoman’s salon. I have obviously not been to all of them and I stand corrected on my view of them. But I write what I see. I was going to retell some salon tales but it would make this article too long and negative. So I’ve summed it up into:
My Top 5 Peeves about African Salons in Joburg:
1. The hairdressers are never skilled enough. You always have to explain to them and then show them what you want.
2. A lot of the times the hairdressers have way too much attitude
3. The salon itself is usually dirty and full of hair everywhere
4. They NEVER have the right hair products, always washing natural hair with Wella or Soft ‘n Free shampoo. These products are not designed for kinky African hair and it doesn’t seem to bother a lot of people that there are no really great products for natural hair that are easily available. Don’t tell me about Mizani, which I believed for a while until I realized that it’s L’Oreal’s ‘’African expedition’’ experimental product that is also not that amazing despite the great marketing. The only thing that works for our natural hair is coconut oil, cocoa butter and some other home made concoctions that are not readily available. This is a missed opportunity. African Americans have products like Carol’s Daughter and we Africans with our relentless curls have not created a product that is designed for our particular kink. I have recently started using Moroccan Oil products and while I really do want to use this product for life, it still has made no visible difference to the texture and strength of my hair. Any tips?
5. The gay stylists at the fancy salons are always too familiar.
I feel like this story has taken on its own course and is not in fact going in the way that I had planned. But it still needs to be told. I’m going to end it here and tomorrow, continue with the details of what happened at the hair salon in Yeoville where I did this hair style last Friday.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on African hair salons, your experience of them and whether you can relate to what I’m saying or whether you think I’m talking out of my bum.