When I began to intentionally celebrate my Africanness, one of the things I did right away was to embrace my natural, kinky hair. It was great to go back to my roots–literally. I cut off my chemically treated hair and started growing my afro from scratch.
I grew up wearing my hair natural, and there was no shortage of hairdressers who could braid natural hair into numerous and varied styles for a reasonable price. When I left Kenya, I had tiny extension braids put in to give me a three-month buffer before I had to figure out how to take care of my hair in a foreign country. I ended up finding out that there were few hairdressers in Germany who could handle African hair, and those few were terribly expensive. In the end, I decided to be my own hairdresser. The first time I braided my own hair, it took me four hours and looked terribly sloppy. I didn’t have the patience to perfect my braiding skills, so after a while, I settled for the relative ease of using chemicals to straighten my hair.
Over the ensuing years, I alternated between perming my hair and getting it braided. When I got to the US and had access to reasonably priced African hairdressers, once again, I gravitated towards having my hair in braided most of the time. About that time, I ran into an old friend who was sporting a wonderful vintage afro. I had never worn anything like that. So I had my hairdresser cut off all of my chemically treated hair and started growing an afro.
It was a fun experience. Thankfully, my workplace didn’t discriminate against me for wearing my hair natural, but I can’t tell you how many of my African friends thought I had lost my mind. Granted, there were times I took the vintage afro look a bit too far, but I’m an artist and my job is to experiment with new things and push boundaries. I tried different hair lengths, a number of highlights and different afro looks, and then I got tired of all the work it took to maintain the hairstyle. I moved on to the next thing: dreadlocks.
I was fully aware that dreadlocks were associated with Bob Marley, reggae and rebel culture, and that I would probably be profiled because of them, but I was excited about the venture. It took a few tries and a couple of hairdressers before I finally found the look that works for me. I have worn dreadlocks for a total of almost 5 years now. After the first two years, I got tired of wearing dreadlocks, chopped them off and went back to my vintage afro because I missed it. After a year of my vintage afro, I went back to dreadlocks because I missed them. It finally dawned on me that I’m happiest when I can sport a different hairstyle every few months, like I did growing up. For now, I wear my dreadlocks until I find another natural hairstyle that I want to celebrate.