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Ene Abah: The Struggles of a Woman with Kinky Hair

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Ene AbahI’ve noticed that there is a natural hair movement, or so it seems…

I’ve always had hair so thick and tough that when I was growing up, I did not look forward to my hair being washed, or loosened or combed. In case you don’t get that, I’ll explain. A person of African descent has hair that is curly, kinky, curly, coily… (so many words could go into describing our hair), might not always have the pleasure of just running hands through. When water touches our hair, it shrinks and becomes the toughest it can be.

I remember back in secondary school, school mates would refuse to plait my hair because of how thick, full and tough my hair is. So at the end, their fingers would hurt (well, that’s what they said!). Bless my school mother, Anne, she would always come to the rescue. As difficult as my hair was to manage, it was made worse because I could not keep plaited hair for more than a week, as it would make me look untidy – well except it was plaited so tightly that it would give me little boils at the edges from how tight it was. I had to make that sacrifice sometimes sadly.

Everyone thought my hair should be relaxed, they all said I had no business with my hair being natural. I agreed to this, seeing that relaxed hair looked easier to manage. I had long, full, thick and dark hair. My mother, on the other hand, would not allow me relax my hair until I got into senior secondary school. That was our compromise. But I’m assuming she might have held if off longer. She always said the chemicals were quite strong and I was still growing. Anyway, when I got into senior secondary school, I started relaxing my hair during holidays…it made my life so much easier. But the part where I had to plait my hair weekly didn’t change. In general, when I plait my hair, it finds ways to get out of the cornrows.

My experience with relaxers was that my hair didn’t relax properly. My scalp is tender while the hair on it is tough, there is only so long I could leave relaxers on for. My scalp always got burnt when I relaxed my hair. The edges wouldn’t look nice for a few days until it would dry and peel off. It annoyed my dad all the time! Then, two weeks after relaxing my hair, my hair would not be so sleek anymore and from there, it would just get worse. If I made a mistake to let water touch my hair, it would be another story. Except I planned to go to a salon where so much setting lotion would be put in that it would drip down into my clothes.

I liked to relax my hair every two months but at some point, my hair dresser advised that I relax my hair every six weeks because of the nature of my hair. This went on for years, I changed relaxers constantly as I was looking for a suitable one for my scalp and hair.Shrunk
Eventually, my hair/scalp would not only burn but I would lose my edges once I used relaxers. The last few times I relaxed my hair, I noticed that the edges would disappear, all around, and my hair had stopped growing. So I decided in July 2013 that I would not continue. I decided to return natural but I had no clue how I would manage my hair. While I was looking for solutions, I mostly had the hair in protective styles. Each time I went to a salon, the stylists would complain about how much growth there was that needed to be retouched with relaxers. I intentionally turned deaf no matter how many times it was said to me. I had been looking around for people who might know how to manage natural hair as there were people with natural hair around, then I found a group on Facebook!

In May 2015, I decided to do the big chop…I cut off my relaxed hair and I was pleased to share this in the group. I was encouraged and told what to do. I learnt all the hair terminologies like the big chop, deep condition (DC), moisture DC, protein DC, inversion, bantu knots, twist out, hair regimen and so much more. I was excited. Then I started to see some who bashed people with natural hair and others who bashed those with relaxed hair. I wondered, why? There is enough room for all right? Just what is good for the goose might not be good for the gander.

Bantu knot out

Bantu knot out

A Vietnamese friend of mine saw my natural hair for the first time back in 2010 and laughed so hard at it. She was genuinely stunned. My hair had been in a protective style with extensions. She came to visit me while I was taking out the extensions, then loosened the cornrows. The whole time, she was fascinated. The minute I finished loosening the cornrows, like it was timed, she burst out laughing. I wondered at first then asked what was funny, she was choking on her laughter that she could only point. Previously, she had seen my hair in protective styles or it was sleekly relaxed. I struggled to explain how our hair is and she got curious, but never managed to go to the salon with me.

I’ve had people from other races talk about our hair, how we change hair styles all the time and how we seem to change with our hair. Recently, I had a Canadian, Dutch and French talk about my hair, saying they always tend to meet me with different hair styles. We laughed about it. The French went on to feel the extensions I have on, and I don’t remember his exact words, but my reply was “nature has been kind to you and you have it so easy”. He didn’t find that funny and was beginning to protest that nature was also kind to us. I laughed at him and told him that there was no need to get sensitive, nature had blessed us all in different aspects and it was laid to rest.

People are a bit too sensitive for my liking these days. There shouldn’t always be a deeper interpretation of what’s said. Can’t we just have normal conversations anymore? But, that’s a matter for another day!

Now, my edges are yet to fully recover but I am managing, I have learnt how to care for my hair and I am still learning, it has been a journey indeed and yes, I change my hair a lot because our hair cannot be sleek and nice without relaxers.

In its natural form, it stands right up there. Even with our hair, there are different hair types, I am still unsure which I have, but I think I have 4b in some places and 4c for the most part. More people are aware now that there are ways to care for and maintain their natural hair, even for people like me.

Twist outI have heard things like ‘hair brings out the feisty side of you’ or ‘it must feel like a new you, more powerful’. For me, it’s just hair! Just as there are other parts of my body, my hair is one part. I am only excited that I can groom my hair and not lose all my edges, I am happy to learn how to care for something that is a part of me, I am happy not to have to keep my hair a certain way that society expects but how I please.  There have been stories of women like me losing jobs over hair, really?! I think it is rather shallow minded to expect people of all races to look the same. The races are different and all races come with different packages…More women of African descent are standing up to this injustice, see two of such stories here and here.

ShrunkenHair for me is not a movement, it’s not a political statement, it’s hair. The big deal is that more people have become aware of the constraints we have and how much time and energy have to go into us maintaining our hair. More people want to maintain their hair in its natural glory and not be pressured to make it look a certain way. But when we have a bad hair day, please bear with us, it’s not as easy as grab, twist and tuck. It sounds more like deep condition, do the LOC/LCO (Leave in conditioner, Oil and Cream), twist or make into bantu knots, leave overnight, loosen and fluff the next morning. Or if I need to make a protective style, I’ll sit in the salon for four to eight hours, if not more.

So, before talking about hair being a political statement or a movement, remember that we did not choose our hair type, we woke up like this, we were born this way. So it is more about recognising that there are differences and letting everyone just be the way they are.

Ene Abah is an adventure lover, naturalista, food lover, travel lover, writer and is particular about sending positive vibes to others. Some of her interests are in writing, travelling, reading and generally enjoying life. Ene’s writing has been published in Top Chic magazine, Imbue magazine and on Imbue's website. She blogs at http://belletammy.blogspot.com.ng/ Follow her on Twitter @tammyabah and on instagram @belle.tammy

22 Comments

  1. Jill

    March 21, 2016 at 1:45 pm

    I have been natural since 2011. I got to relax my hair when I was in SS2 after much pleading from my mum but turned out to be a big mistake. For several years whenever I relax my hair, the next week it will become due. My hair started cutting, that every December i would trim it short thinking my hair needed trimming. I continued like that till I went for a free hair consultation organised by a popular Hair product company. After the test, the Doctor advised that I stop relaxing and grow my hair naturally.
    Its been 5 years now and not an easy journey. My mum continuously complains when I carry my hair without any protective style on..she tells me that people are laughing at me whenever I let her know of the compliments I receive daily from unknown people…to think that she didn’t want us to relax our hair when we were growing up.
    When I got my new job, after some weeks, I was told to do something to my hair since we were going to visit clients the coming week. Since I was relatively new to the job, I ended up fixing a weavon. But now, as long as my hair is nicely styled, I can rock my natural hair for as long as I want to the office.
    I don’t regret being natural one bit….healthy hair, happy me.

  2. ThatGhanaChick

    March 21, 2016 at 2:01 pm

    BN where is the like button? I use to have the same issues when my hair was relaxed(well it never got relaxed) and my scalp burnt so much gosh! it was really uncomfortable, coupled with dandruff too mehhnn was it hell, going natural hasn’t been easy, I mean my hair is kinkier than 4c (lol if there is anything like that) but the fear of relaxer burns is the beginning of wisdom. I just can’t put myself through that struggle again abeg! i’ll rather braid my hair or wear a wig.

  3. Iphee

    March 21, 2016 at 2:08 pm

    This is my hair soul sista!!! Your childhood hair journey describes mine to T.
    Then my older cousins would make the thread hair style ( I hated it with a passion). The 1st night it was made…. Your head area would literally be ON FIRE. If it was extra tight you would sometimes involuntary shudder/shiver ( for lack of a better phrase to describe it). Getting a comfortable position to sleep became an art form… For at least 2 days your neck will be stiff ( that should be classified as child abuse….. Lol )

    Pain was gain tho for my hair would straighten out for at least a week after loosening the thread and would be soft & longer. My shakara will not have part 2 when I pack it into 2 top knots when going to church on sunday(lol)

    As early as primary 5 I started applying relaxer to my hair ( thanks Revlon) – Sensitive scalp vs thick impregnable tightly curl that never got properly relaxed but I eventually also suffered from thinning edges and my hair became over processed.
    Last year I chopped off my hair & tried going the natural hair route….. Let’s just say I found myself very often close to tears at the salon and having to take pain relievers when putting my hair in protective styles. I have finally resorted to texturizing my hair it’s better all round for me.

  4. Natu

    March 21, 2016 at 2:42 pm

    Gone are the days when I use to burn my scalp just so that my hair will be straight. I am glad I grew out of that phase. I have been natural for five years now and there is no going back for me. My hair is strong, healthy,shiny, voluminous and long. African hair is just so beautiful to me and the versatility is out of this world!!!
    #teamnatural

    ,

    • The real dee

      March 22, 2016 at 5:43 am

      How do you care for your hair? What products do you use? I stopped using relaxers and decided to go natural a few months ago, and taking care of natural hair is a task.

    • Natu

      March 22, 2016 at 11:01 am

      Hey the real dee. I wash my hair every two week with cream of nature sulphate free shampoo. I then use the shea moisture deep conditioner. You can use any deep conditioner of your choice. I leave the deep conditioner in my hair for 2 -3 hours. My hair is usually super soft after doing this. I use a cotton tshirt to dry my hair. Once my hair is damp, I add in my homemade sheabutter mix and put my hair I’m mini twist. I have been doing this religiously for five years and my hair is at tailbone length.

    • whoa

      March 23, 2016 at 3:41 pm

      Hey natu! tailbone length????
      Are you mixed race? whats in your shea butter mix?

  5. naya

    March 21, 2016 at 3:24 pm

    Am soo pained right now, i was natural till my first year in the university, i had a very long virgin hair, mine wasnt hard it was actually normal but that time people will be telling me to relax my hair, dat am i a deeper lifer? even my friends, it got soo bad i finally decided to relax, my hair is still beautiful and long it looks like weave on, my pain is dat just three years after dat deeper life hair is now in vogue, now the girls dat relax hair are now made to feel bad, those friends are now telling me to be a naturalista. Am just scared of doing d almighty big chop and my hair doesnt go back to my formal hair state, so am deciding to continue with the relaxers and love my hair, am just tired of d naturalista friends i have rubbing it in my face, it is painful.
    Moral of my story it is good to be patient and take ur stand, if i had just waited for three more years, i would av been on the cover of naturalista magazines, lool

  6. Blessed more!

    March 21, 2016 at 3:54 pm

    @ Naya, lol at my hair wasn’t hard, it was normal. The way some naturalistas describe their hair, ehn? Fear go catch you! Yeah, I have natural hair and my hair is normal, not ‘hard!’. I think I can understand why you feel pained! You loved your natural hair, but just had to relax it because of the pressure. I would feel pained too. I always like to do things because I want to do it, not because anyone made me do it. Natural or relaxed hair, as long as it is healthy, they’re both very beautiful. And, yes, you can still go back to natural hair anytime you want – if you really want too. Don’t tell yourselt it’s too late and don’t be afraid. Your hair would still be ‘normal’. Trust me. 🙂

  7. Koffie

    March 21, 2016 at 4:49 pm

    My hair is ‘harder’ than 4c, it’s probably 4d. I mean the thing used to break combs in salons (and hairdressers always told me there was no space even when their shops were empty) when I was growing up. Then I started relaxing it in my SS1 when momma finally gave her grudging go-ahead after plenty whining from me. You should have seen how happy I was and how I practically nursed my first cup of creamy crack like it was my saviour from all the painful hair days. You know how when no one wants to plait your ‘stubborn’ hair and you finally find a willing person but they in turn pull your hair so tight like you killed someone but you can’t complain too much cos “oya ma gbe ori e lo”? That was me growing up.
    The relaxers did more evil than good. It’s been about 10 years or more since I first relaxed my hair and every single time, my scalp has gotten ‘burnt’. The burnt part then gives you dandruff episodes later. I changed to using the fancy kits when my mum walked into the salon one day and saw me crying while the relaxer was being washed out. She didn’t know it was that bad. Using the kits didn’t help (I switched to Organics abi na Olive oil). The day I said I was done was one day I came out of a salon in Yaba to buy a wig nearby and I hadn’t been there for up to 3 minutes before someone asked me why blood was coming out of my head. I was scared ehn, she guided my finger towards the blood and yep, it wasn’t anything else I had mentally prayed it would be. How the blood trickled out of the mat of hair and heavy cream, I still cannot explain. After that day, I vowed to never use relaxers again. I kept my vow for a full year. Then I said maybe texturizers will suit me better as they spend less than 10 minutes on your head. I told the stylist to make the application process as fast as she could cos my scalp is super sensitive, she kept saying ‘yes ma’ and became even slower as if to ‘show me’. Before she was done applying it, there was blood trickling down the first partition of hair. She screamed and asked me “Aunty, did you wound before?”. I was so mad, she blamed it on everything else except her slowness…maybe the texturizer is too strong, maybe I recently washed my obviously-dirty hair, maybe the sun is too much. That was about two months ago and I honestly don’t know what to do. My natural hair is tough even with over-priced Sheer moisture and Cantu conditioners but on the other hand, my scalp can’t handle even 5 minutes of relaxers/texturizers. Is there a brand of texturizer made for children specifically (that you’ve tried for yourself or kids before)? I’m at my wits end. Please do not say transition again (it cut my hair) unless you’re supplying those all-natural conditioner/shampoo/moisturizer/spritz yada yada. Natural hair looks good on people but my own natural hair is a mixture of ‘evil and villian’, Evilin. Did I mention that I still battle with dandruff? When my hair was natural, it was so thick that I couldn’t find the dandruff cos to even part the hair and get to the roots na wahala
    I need HELP!

    • MC

      March 21, 2016 at 10:09 pm

      Wait! You think your scalp was bleeding because she was too slow in applying the relaxer?
      On at least two separate occasions your scalp bleed shortly and during after application…AND you’re still considering using those (type of) products?
      Because you don’t want ‘hard hair’?

    • ifelove

      March 21, 2016 at 10:34 pm

      @koffie! My hair isn’t as hard as yours but I’ve got sensitive scalp so I use organics kids(extra Virgin olive oil) and it works for me plus the lady that applies mine has a PhD in the art of hair processing(i kid! Lol). She does my hair right.
      I had a bad run in with dark and lovel et al and I actually was team natural for about 2 years. Being tired of the many issues of natural hhir maintenance, I Had to search for baby relaxer and it’s woorked perfectly for me since.

    • MzD

      March 21, 2016 at 11:34 pm

      Flat iron and big ass wide tooth comb is your friend. I flat iron my evil or villain hair before plaits and use water, oil & conditioner to soften for braids. (I can come & die) Mine also breaks comb…so I spray water to comb now. No action is to happen in a dry or villain state. {Any hair dresser that cant manage my terms is not on my side}

    • Ene Abah

      March 22, 2016 at 12:21 pm

      My hair seemed ‘untamable’ at the beginning but as I have continued, it is responding and I am finding out how to care for it. Note that what works for one person might not work for you, you’ll have to keep trying till you find what suits your hair.
      My hair regimen:
      I deep condition with ingredients that are always available at home – mayonnaise, honey, lime and olive oil. This serves as a moisture DC for me. But the best moisture DC my hair loves will be when I add avocado and aloe vera gel into these ingredients. I mix them all together then apply to my hair. When I use avocado, I have to blend. Some people recommend that you apply this to freshly washed hair but it works better for me when I only spritz lightly then apply. I tie with a bag and carry on with my life.
      When I do a protein DC, I break an egg into the mayonnaise, honey, olive oil and lime then mix them all up. I leave the DC mix on for a maximum of one hour, minimum of 40 minutes then wash with sulphate free shampoo or black soap and condition. Once I rinse out, I do the LOC – liquid is leave in conditioner, I have tried only two and only recently started using this. Sometimes the water is enough liquid for me. Then for oil, I use coconut oil (I make my coconut oil), and cream. My cream is a shea butter and coconut oil mix. Then I twist, put in bantu knots or whatever style I choose.
      I try to spritz everyday – my spritz bottle consists of 80% water and 20% oil (coconut oil or olive oil). I generally do this in the mornings just before I shower.
      When I have my hair out, I DC during the weekend, during the week I just spritz. When I have a protective style on, I do a protein DC once I take it off. I don’t do protein DCs very much as I find that it strengthens the hair. I don’t need more strength to my already thick/tough hair. But the protein also has it’s benefits after a PS and it gives it a bounce.
      I do not have dandruff but every now and then, I do a dandruff treatment which I hear also helps to retain length. That would be with onion or ginger…Blend and extract the juice, then put it in your hair for 30 minutes then rinse and DC. I do not bother rinsing, I just apply the DC mix as usual.
      I hear the purple onions are better for this. It has worked for my sister with dandruff.
      Phew! I hope this helps….

    • Paula

      August 30, 2016 at 7:49 pm

      I hope it does…gat real problems wif dandruff

    • jhennique

      March 23, 2016 at 3:47 pm

      Hello Koffie. I know hair and i know your pain. Let me help you handle yours.

    • Kbear

      April 8, 2016 at 2:24 pm

      Stick to ur natural hair biko. I dont think i ever want to experience that thn called relaxer ever again. So uncomfortable and it go burn scalp join. Pls just find a good natural hair salon.

  8. beetee

    March 21, 2016 at 4:56 pm

    Ikr, where is the like button… This is so the story of my life !

  9. Sidney

    March 22, 2016 at 12:38 am

    These are so nice. Have friends on virgin hair, I must say it’s pretty cool. You can pretty well manage your hair with no stress. I recommended this for girl friends that are on natural hair, trust me, it has worked perfectly. A young lady gave me her product, #loveydovey pure organic virgin coconut oil # as a gift to moisturize my skin and she said I could use it for my hair to help treat my terrible dandruff and to soften my hair. Behold my sister – in law came to visit me, she took it for her little daughter whose hair was natural. It worked well for her. So I decided to get one now for myself and I shared with my girlfriend who is on natural hair as well. Trust me this particular coconut oil has being of great help to me and my naturalist friends. Loveydovey lady advise, you wash hair with liquid black soap, cream your hair with coconut oil while you still have moist in your hair, to absorb fast, shea butter is equal great. If you need the coconut oil, she makes cold and hot press, you may contact her on 08183779180 or check her on her Facebook page.
    facebook.com/loveydovey. she sells original natural products for hair and skin and I forgot to say, her price are pocket friendly!!! Am not paid for this, I believe genuine products should be promoted.

  10. Dammy

    March 22, 2016 at 12:14 pm

    I got my liberation when after nysc, job wasnt forthcoming&i enrolled for an hairdressing advance diploma course,I stopped relaxing since I already knew the rudiments for any kind of hair. During the 9month course i got a job which i had to wait till i finish b4 i resumed. I did my big chop & one day one of the ogas came into my department saw my hair & asked I dnt come to work the following week without a weave on it. Like seriously! i couldnt even wear my Gods given hair texture to work except its relaxed or covered wit hair extension. I started hating my job, i woke up one day nd decided not to go anymore since i had other skills nd my dear ogas wldnt even allow me exercise one of it on myself. Now I happily wakeup&make money in the comfort of my room doing what i love to do & wearing the kind of hair i love to wear.

  11. jhennique

    March 23, 2016 at 4:13 pm

    Im natural. Have been all my life. Never relaxed. so its the only thing i know how to do to my hair.
    Im good at it. I get results. I help people with their hair. If you are interested holla [email protected].

    Let me not deceive you, with the current FX rate and products exactly double their prices or even more (im not kidding) please hold money oh. But i promise im still the cheapest natural hair consultancy your money can pay for. *wink*

  12. Paula

    August 30, 2016 at 7:53 pm

    Seven months dwn d natural lane n I jst gat 4 inches

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