Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Black Hair ~ Abroad and Beyond

If you’re unfamiliar with the black community then you may not be aware that our hair is a big deal for us. We’ve spent centuries trying to make-do with, adapt and find ways of maintaining our hair, especially within communities that may not necessarily produce the commodities and methods we might have needed to make this easier. Nevertheless, there is big business in black hair. Hair products and hair maintenance can get really expensive but black folk aside, all women the world over wear their hair like they wear they clothes – in a way that represents, defines and makes them feel beautiful.

For me, this particular aspect of my life has been a struggle. I never really got into hair. Granted, I had a mother who liked me to look presentable and who took care of that during the earlier years of my life. But as I got older, I became experimental and tried different styles, whether just to fit in or adorn what I thought was acceptable at the time. What all these years, however, had in common was that someone else was doing my hair. And as a result, it wasn’t until recently, upon going abroad, that I became forced to learn how to maintain it myself.

During my university years, I got very close with a girl who introduced me to a new way of looking at hair and it made me re-evaluate all of the things I’d put myself through with regards to it. I’d been to hairdressers in the past who would comb my hair so violently that it made me want to cry. I remember a Jamaican woman saying to me that you had to experience pain to make your hair pretty. I recall walking into a hair salon and requesting them to texturise my hair, only to feel so intimidated that I allowed them to convince me to hot comb it instead. The hairdresser burnt my scalp continuously but I was too afraid to say anything. I remember sitting down for an entire day straight while two women plaited my hair with extensions. The salon was full of kids and on occasion, they would stop to openly have casual discussions with friends and boyfriends all the while wasting my time and money.

Since those days, I have developed a prejudice for black hair salons and up until recently hadn’t set foot in one for over six years. I developed the opinion that black hair salons and the like sucked at customer service and had absolutely no business sense. How could they possibly when they’d set up shop next to each other only to close down, relocate or vanish completely wondering why they weren’t bringing in enough money to keep themselves afloat.

When I’d made my decision to go to Japan, I had relaxed hair but I made the choice to go natural knowing that I would most likely have to learn to take care of my hair myself. As Japan is over 97% Japanese, it would be a difficult to find someone to take care of my hair and I also didn’t really want any strangers in my hair either - there were very few people I trusted not to rip out my hair. Within my first year of flying solo, I did pretty well. I wasn’t great at taking care of my hair – even now I’m not. I wasn’t’ versatile with my hairstyles but my hair grew; it wasn’t falling out of my head. But evidently, as with everybody, I got that itch. I missed having my hair cornrowed and even though I can cornrow, I haven’t really learnt how to do it in my own hair so I bit the bullet and sought out someone else.

The internet pretty much connected me immediately to many resources. Despite the relatively small black community in Japan, we are about and it wasn’t long before I found a hairdresser. I booked a month in advance and thought, perhaps a little naively, that the garbage that I was used to dealing with back home would be different in Japan.

Needless to say, I travelled many miles to get to this hairdresser and phoned on the morning to ask for directions to the establishment (I was only around the corner at the time, and I was also on time) only to be told that they had no record of me on their books. I was livid. In the end, I had to come back at a later time than I had initially scheduled to get my hair done as the salon owner had to make a few phone calls. My hair was done well but when I did eventually come to take it out, I also ended up pulling out pieces of my own hair as well so needless to say, I will not be going back.

Fast forward to now and I get that itch again – you think I would learn - but I made it a rule not to put up with rubbish. I contact a woman who keeps posting advertisements all over the internet. She assures me that she’ll get back to me the following day and to this day, I’m still waiting for her to get back to me. Now it may seem like a small issue – I could have merely contacted her myself – but I’ve started to realise that promoting a service, sort of makes you a business person. And in business, it’s really important to do as you say you will. In Japan, when a Japanese company says they’ll call you back, they call you back. In fact, any decent organisation would do the same. That simple mistake says to me that this woman is unreliable so I will not be contacting her again either.

Even in Japan, the black hairdressers or hair doers here are not doing much to deter my preconceptions of them. I’m not sure why I thought another country would make things different but I do believe in giving chances. That said, I think ultimately, if I’m to avoid disappointment, I should probably simply learn how to cornrow my hair myself. In fact, to any black woman, looking to live abroad, while it is nice to have someone else take care of your hair for you, this would be my advice. Learn to do your hair yourself. Certainly, it’s time consuming but it’ll cost you less overall, you’ll avoid disappointment and feel a great sense of reward knowing that you can put together your own hair on your own.