Monday, 22 October 2012

Natural haircare: A minimalist attitude.

I decided to go natural and stopped chemically straightening my hair a little bit over a year ago. I did not come to this decision in an effort to be healthier, though I had grown weary of the burns, scabs and ensuing itching that the chemical straighteners were causing to my scalp. I had simply tired of the perpetually straight and rather limp hair on my head that did not retain any of the curls that I occasionally attempted to put back into it. I then realized that I had no idea what my natural texture looked like. After a cousin of mine transitioned successfully from relaxed to natural texture, I researched further and stumbled upon a large archive of videos on, dedicated to transitioning, caring for and styling natural African textured hair.This is the first time I have worn my natural texture of hair for more than one year since nursery school. I have six sisters and we all got our hair cut like boys, once at the beginning of the school year, and then again after the Christmas holidays. It was cut down to about 0.3 inches short or shorter! This hair cut was part of the uniform requirement for all school girls in our part of the country. This haircut was always administered by our dad. I don't know what it is about hair that gets some women emotionally attached to it, because it is interesting to note that I was the only one who shed tears over the loss of my head of curls at the age of seven (six and seven are the earliest ages when I can vividly remember childhood). Anyway, because of this haircut, and my subsequent attempts at emulating what was considered fashionable in the 90s, I had no idea and went ahead, straightening without giving it a second thought.

Sporadically, during long holidays as a teenager and through out adulthood, a span of about 22 years... yes I'm that old (almost 37); I had worn my hair chemically straightened by a process of applying a relaxer cream to the new hair growth every 8 weeks. When you do this for nearly 25 years, you tend to become an expert in the process and in hair-care products. Getting it done professionally costs a pretty penny, an average of $60 a pop! I did it myself for the most part. I also tried various hair-care products, constantly changing them to find the ones that worked best. What I learned over time is simply this; you can't change how you are naturally. You can, however, cause a lot of damage to your physical and emotional self while trying. Contrary to the general perception of people who know me, I do not have thick hair. Honest truth! I just have hair that is not as tightly curled as is expected. Because of this texture, my hair tends to look fuller, detangles easily, and is generally easier to manage. 

I became a young adult in the late 90s. The whole reason for chemically straightening was firstly, to have an easily manageable head of hair, and secondly, to easily achieve the popular styles I saw in magazines and on other women on the streets. Generally, beauty products are marketed in such a way as to create a hedonistic appeal, but more importantly they almost always exaggerate the results they promise. This I've learned after using most of the popular/salon/expensive/for-African-hair/add-shine/increase-volume/stop-breakage/stimulate-follicles branded products! They won't perform any miracles, but they will deplete your bank account unnecessarily, if you keep buying them. What I've ultimately learned is simply to keep my hair clean and moisturized, and that is easily done with the cheapest shampoos and conditioners on the shelf.  So, when I go to my local chemist/drug-store to buy products, I first browse the store brands which are usually the cheapest. I've watched a lot of natural hair care videos and I'm always struck by the amount of products women slatter on to their tresses. I'm still learning how to take care of my natural hair but I realise that this particular practice just boils down to personal preference.

I can say that I have a minimalist attitude towards purchasing hair-care products. The most expensive product I have bought so far, is the Tiana Extra Virgin Coconut oil, which was on sale for £11 at the time at Holland and Barrett. I've had it for more than a year now and I still have some left, despite the fact that I have used it to cook Jellof rice twice! I recently switched to Holland & Barrett's Perfectly Pure Coconut Oil(store brand), which was on sale for £7.99. This means I don't have to come out the pocket for a major hair-care purchase till next year! That makes me feel really good and I can feel less guilty about splurging somewhere else!
Products I like: Olive oil cream, Tiana extra virgin coconut oil.
Products I no longer use:
Aussie Miracle Hair Insurance leave-in conditioner.
Olive oil cream moisturiser. 

I did experience a little bit of the hair-care obsession with products recently. I got two tubes of leave-in conditioner. I had been thinking about replacing the olive oil cream, but I'm usually too keen about price and smell to buy any of the popular products. I've now stopped using the Aussie Miracle Hair Insurance Leave-in conditioner because I don't like the lingering smell which appears to be more overpowering than my perfume! I came across the Naked Style range of products, formulated for naturally curly hair. They are keen to market their products as being "97% natural", and  "silicone free". The tube of Gorgeous Curls promises to be a "curl taming cream" with "botanical ingredients" which "help to define and add lustre to curls". My my! The tube of Little Miracle leave-In conditioner offers "Shea butter and Argan oil", to "repair and protect dry hair against heat styling and breakage". 

My recent splurge.
The words used to present these products make them irresistible to anyone browsing for products for natural hair. Though I know this, I was hooked. I stood there holding one tube in each hand and looking from one to the other for a good long while. I sniffed both of them and was pleasantly surprised with the mild smell of summer berries from one, and that of almond nuts from the other. I think I stood there a little too long, because I noticed the store security guy lurking around the aisle near me, acting like he'd lost something! Oh well, I went ahead and got them both. I tried the Gorgeous Curls leave-in a few days ago and I'm pleased with the added moisture in my hair now. My texture is pretty much the same and that's expected. The smell is only a very faint strawberry.
My new routine products.
My new hair-care regime is made up almost entirely on store brand products. The results are not much different and I'm satisfied that I'm getting what I want for very little money. Gorgeous Curls for £4.19, Coconut & Almond shampoo for £1.29, Coconut & Almond conditioner for £1.29, and pure coconut oil for £7.99. A total of £14.77, and here are the results, three days into a two strand twist-out. Just about the same quality plus more moisture, for a lot less money.

I can say that I am happy with my natural hair. There are those days when I wish it was as easy to manage as straightened hair, but what I would gain in ease would be lost in beauty. At least, that is how I like to think of it! I`m adjusting to some surprising reactions to it, mainly that of fascination with how it looks. Sometimes I quite like the attention and other times I wish it were a much more common sight and people wouldn't stare so much. My most enduring challenge seems to be how to wear it to job interviews and maintain focus on my personality, submerged as I seem sometimes under all that hair!

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

First steps in the London area

I've finally moved from Birmingham to the London borough of Merton, specifically Wimbledon. I really love it so far. It has not been anything like I imagined. I was dreading the move just a little because everyone knows I'm scared of big cities. I was going to write about something totally different today but it appears I should get this out of the way. I get disoriented by the hustle and bustle and intimidated by all the confidently striding people in big cities. Even more significantly, I realise now that I have never gotten over my fear of crossing busy streets. There is a reason why I have this mild phobia. I think it's mild because it doesn't actually stop me from going about my business. It just means I get a little tense and act jerky... like running across the road at exactly the wrong moment!

I grew up in a small village with one main road running through it. It was a somewhat busy road because back then in the 80s, it was the only way to get from the main town of Kumba, to the General Hospital and the government offices. Like most Cameroonian semi-urban settlements, most villages kind of spring up along busy main roads which act as the lifeline of the settlement. Formally, most rural settlements sprang up along rivers, streams, lakes, coastlines and, usually navigable bodies of water. Today thanks to busy roads, villages look nothing like the typical hurdle of huts in a forest clearing or on the plains. Villages are now the beginnings of urban towns and cities with rows of houses spring up along busy roads.

When I was little in Kumba Town, drivers acted like they owned the road, and were entitled to drive fast, running everything and everyone over! The usual victims were dogs, goats, and chickens, but occasionally,  a child or an adult would get run over by a speeding yellow taxi-cab, a "clando" (unmarked clandestine taxi-cab) or a private vehicle. When this happened, the driver would almost always immediately go on the defensive, and act like the pedestrian had just jumped into the road from nowhere. If it was a child, they always tried to insinuation that the child had been playing in the road. If the child was not badly hurt, he/she would probably get the beating of their life for trying to mess up everyone's day! If the child was badly hurt, then who was right depended on how forceful the child's family was about the matter. The driver was usually required to transport the child to the hospital (this is the General Hospital Road we're on at the moment), and pay the hospital bill. Apart from this, I don't think people usually got the police involved in these sorts of matters. I think it became more complicated if someone died, and even then, most often, there would usually be an out-of-court settlement, probably in a customary court (local traditional court). In my head, the road belongs to drivers who are often reckless, and I have to watch my back as a pedestrian!

I completely forgot about this fear until a few years ago when I moved to the UK and couldn't afford a car. Suddenly, I became a pedestrian in a city. Despite my fear, Birmingham was manageable. In fact, now that I think of it, apart from the six months when I lived in Edgbaston and had to cross the road at a roundabout, navigate an underpass and then cross two busy double lane streets to catch the bus to work, my stay in Birmingham was almost stress free, owing to where I lived for the most part.

My second challenge in a big city, is public transportation. I only learned how to catch the bus about two years ago. Before I did that, I thoroughly learned most of the streets on foot within the city centre. I remember taking the bus for the very first time in Washington DC and getting lost. The thing about taking the bus is you have to at least have an idea of where you are going so you can ask the driver to let you off at the right stop. You also have to catch a bus that is going in the direction you want to go. On this very first time of taking the bus, I was on my way to a shopping mall with a family acquaintance and we both got lost because we didn't have a clue where this mall was located. I can't remember how we got home. That was a long time ago, but I'm none the wiser about this big city routine... catching the bus.
My first trip to the library was to print out my CV. 
The local mall.

Wimbledon station from across the street
Wimbledon station at around 10am on Monday morning. 

Being able to cross busy streets safely is an integral part of living in a big city.
These help if one pays attention

Having a bit of control in the matter.

So far, I've taken the bus once from Wimbledon Broadway, to Colliers Wood tube station. I can do this easily now because I have already walked thirty minutes towards different directions in and around the area. Taking the tube, the train or the tram is quite easy because there are line maps to plan the trip. To me, taking the bus is like a journey into the unknown! I'm not afraid of speaking to strangers or asking for directions. That is not the real reason why I'm afraid of getting lost. It is the reliability of the directions given that I am wary of! I have found myself walking around Birmingham for two whole hours asking for directions despite the fact that some of the directions were given by a policeman! It is just frustrating. I have also been lost for more than twelve hours in Yaounde at night, and had to rely on the benevolence of complete strangers who provided me a safe place to rest my head until they could get me to a police station in the morning. I was a teenager then and when word about it got back to my cousins and uncles, they dismissed it and instead made up stories about my going missing deliberately... out having fun. The things people think I get up to sometimes. Hopefully, that misconception has been clarified today. I got lost in a big city.

Wimbledon Theatre at the bottom of Broadway

I guess my main problems boil down to simply being afraid of being run over and dying... or just being really embarrassed if I don't die right away! The fear of finding myself in the frustrated situation of being lost in a place where the majority of people are clueless. Wimbledon turns out to be quite laid back. Not many people seem to be hurrying anywhere and there are many mothers with strollers. The shops are predominantly Argos, Mothercare, Gap Kids, H&M Childrens, Next and Debenhams. The Library is filled with mother/toddler groups. Broadway is a somewhat busy street with double lanes and I have to remind myself that I don't have to run across when the walking man turns green. The green walking man is my friend!

I will have to get a new phone on which I can access some sort of trip planner. But first things first. I need to get a job and re-establish the security and flexibility that comes from having a steady income. Once that happens, I'm getting all the gadgets I need to conquer other areas of London and overcome my fears/insecurities about big cities once and for all. For now, I've got my Oyster Card and I know how to use it.

Oyster card and travel map.

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