Natural Hair Care While Living Abroad In An African Country

The editor's "fishtail" style, braided by a Namibian braider.

The editor's "fishtail" style, braided by a Namibian braider.

The natural hair revolution is sweeping across Africa. It is a stunning renaissance. As a foreigner, the significantly cheaper costs of hair styling and amazingly intricate braiding styles will take your breath away. However, as a Black expat in Africa, you might still have some uncertainty or hit some bumps in the road when it comes to natural (and relaxed) hair care on the continent. Here's what I've learned.


Speak Up To Your Stylist. Do Not Subject Yourself To Torture.

Remember all those times growing up that you silently suffered through torture at the hair salon? Shudders. I was one of those kids (and teenagers) who would stoically bear through perm burns, stiff necks, and too tight braids during hair appointments without uttering a single complaint. I was shy and never spoke up.

If you're moving abroad, leave that shyness back home! Just because you are the foreigner doesn't mean you let anything fly with a hairstylist or braider. Be respectful, but firm. If you don't want three people in your head at once, say so. If the cornrows are way too tight, stop 'em.

Also keep in mind that for some people, your accent might be difficult to understand and so instructions can sometimes get lost in translation. So be clear. And remember, there’s always another stylist who will do the work at your comfort level.


Prep Your Hair Thoroughly Before Your Hair Appointment.

Many of my African sisters are simply brilliant at braiding and styling. Unfortunately, a lot of those same women skip over the steps of actual hair care. I once went to a local Namibian salon to have my hair braided. The sign said they washed hair as well so I agreed to get the works - a wash and re-braiding. But the sister barely scrubbed my scalp! And I, the never offending foreigner, didn’t complain. I just quietly sat in resentment.

Another time I went to a salon with my natural hair lightly detangled. The braider then insisted on blow-drying my hair straight. I refused because I don’t ever blow dry my hair because, heat damage. Well, the braider became visibly annoyed at the fact that she now had to part through my thick 4C textured hair as she braided. Something I do myself all the time.

I get the feeling that these rush jobs happen because time is money. And because thicker hair takes more effort to deal with. Some of us simply do not understand natural hair. So if I do go to a local braider my hair is pre-washed and conditioned as well as well thoroughly detangled.

Ask Locals For Recommendations.

If you see someone with a cute hair style, do what you'd do back home. Ask them who did it! There is a chance it may very well not have been an official stylist, but someone’s friend or relative. This could mean a very informal hair styling appointment with you sitting in someone’s home or vice versa. In the event of the latter, a polite gesture would be to have a refreshment to offer your stylist.


Try To Get The Local Name Of The Style That You Want Done.

While you’re admiring someone and getting the details of who did their hair, don’t forget to ask them for the name of the hair style (if there is one). You might even ask them if you can take a photo of their hair. Where I live in Namibia, what is called ‘Senegalese twists’ in New York are actually called, ‘Rasta’ here.


Compare Costs

Ask the person whose referring you or better yet, a trusted friend, about how much you can expect a certain style to cost. This is to make sure you’re not getting a ridiculously hiked up foreigner price.


Where To Buy Hair?

Nowadays you can find local African vendors for weave bundles, braiding hair and other hair products right on social media! Check Facebook, Instagram, classifieds sections of local newspapers, and ask nationals where you can buy the hair that you want. Social media is also often a great place to find traditionally made oils and the likes. Sometimes vendors will arrange to have your hair purchases delivered right to your doorstep. This is new millennium African marketplace living at it’s finest!

Sometimes vendors will arrange to have your hair purchases delivered right to your doorstep. This is new millennium African marketplace living at it’s finest!

Bonus tip: A sizeable portion of the continent is hot. So when traveling, carefully pack hair products such as oils and butters (oils, butters) as they often melt in heat!


Keep An Eye Out For And Follow Local Natural Hair Movements

There are so many natural hair movements popping up across the continent that I can’t even keep up with them! Like these gorgeous naturals turning heads in Cameroon!

Wondering about where to get your natural hair done abroad? Not sure where to find great hair products? Or maybe you just want to meet some like-minded women in the natural hair community.

Google natural hair movements in your country of choice and see what pops up! Many of the popular American natural hair product brands are now being sold by independent retailers across Africa. You should also search through social media. This is also a great way to make new friends! I've met tons of phenomenal Namibian women here through the local African Naturals hair movement that's sweeping across Namibia!


Don't Take Offense

There have been many a time that I've walked past a salon with my fro out and proud. To my surprise, I was often hawked at by stylists who decided that my hair wasn't "done". When in fact, my high afro was my hairstyle. I also get the feeling that my mother-in-law, love her to death, prefers my hair braided then out in a fro'd hair style.

Moral of the story is don't get easily offended. The normalization of natural hair still has a long way to go, even within our own communities.

What hair experiences have you had while abroad? Natural or not, share your tips in the comments section below!