Braiding One’s Hair Outside Nigeria: A Lesson in Humility and Resourcefulness

So today, I was looking through Youtube (for the umpteenth time, to find yet another tutorial on how to braid her) when I came across Adanna Ohakim’s (daughter of former Imo State Governor) hair tutorial videos. While I’ve been a fan of hers for sometime now (mostly because I’m fascinated that despite her father’s wealth, she has managed to be successful in her own right, getting through medical school and having over 100,000 Youtube subscribers with her husband David for their reality show vlog) I was never quite prepared for what I learned:She braids her own hair. Tiny individual twists. And wait for this–she recycles her artificial hairs (attachment) several times; she doesn’t throw them away after one use like most of us do. Daughter of a former state governor.

Now, if you have never lived in Nigeria, you may not understand why I’m impressed by Adanna’s industry and resourcefulness. If you live in a developed country where labor is expensive (I know someone who makes in an hour in U.S. what he made monthly when he was in Nigeria), however rich you are, you probably drive your own car, cook your food, wash your car, change your baby’s diaper, etc. In Nigeria, however, even a middle-class family can afford a chauffeur, a chef, ten domestic servants, etc. So in Nigeria, a girl with Adanna’s background will likely have domestic servants waiting on her. Living in Dublin however, Adanna doesn’t just cook her food, she does her hair– a service even the poor in Nigeria can afford.

While in Nigeria you can get a beautiful braid done for between 2000 and 7000 naira (10 to 35 dollars), in Los Angeles, for example, getting your hair done in a salon will set you back 250 dollars, and at least 100 dollars if you get a freelancer to come to your home to do your hair. Freelancers are cheaper because they don’t have overhead costs to worry about. Given the current dollar to naira exchange rate, many Nigerians in diaspora are not willing to spend that much on hair. So taking a cue form their African American counterparts, many Nigerians have learned to do their hair themselves. The alternative would be wearing wigs year-round on a stunted, dandruff-ridden, matted hair ( I know you hate the picture; but don’t judge). I’m not exaggerating. Today, I spoke with a friend in UK who told me she alternates between three wigs–but given how great she is I’m sure she takes good care of her natural hair.

Leaving Nigeria changes one’s values and one’s perception of things. In some ways, it changes one’s idea of what really matters. For example, what does it matter whether one’s bag is a channel or run-of-the mill? When I was in Nigeria, I had a friend who bought mothercare bathtub which cost about five times more than the ordinary plastic baby bathtubs because she didn’t want her colleagues to think she was cheap when they visit her new baby. I have another friend, an amazing one, whom I tease that she wouldn’t buy a running shoe without a ‘good mark'(the swoosh) because she only buys Nike.

When you leave Nigeria shores, nobody cares about how you are dressed (except you are a Kim Kardashian) and when you realize nobody is assessing or judging you in that way, you make decisions based on what works for you and not on what other people might think. For example, Adanna’s, Ohakim’s daughter, mum and her sister bought her new baby Ralph Lauren and Gucci clothes but she told them not to ‘spoil’ the baby with designer clothes because she won’t be buying them; she would rather invest them for the future, she said. She can follow through with this decision because she is in Dublin. Were she in Nigeria, the pressure to ‘represent’ when her father’s minister and governor friends visit will make it harder for her to put her family’s long-term financial goals over designer baby clothes.

I imagine that in Nigeria, if someone wants to do her hair herself, friends will judge her for being cheap. But here, braiding one’s hair is the norm. Most of my Nigerian female friends have learned how to do their hair. One, a doctor whose mum was a public office holder in the past administration was wearing tiny braids she did her self when I visited her about two weeks ago. Another, an RN who makes six-figure salary braids her hair and her daughter’s. A colleague, who shortly before she left Nigeria to join her husband in U.S. worked as an apprentice in a salon where she was teased about how a ‘whole’ lawyer can be learning how to braid hair, doesn’t spend money on hair as she and another friend of hers take turns to do each other’s hair. Yet another friend of mine, also a lawyer, fixes her own weaves.

Watching these young women do their hair has thought me that we can do anything we set our minds to. Years ago, I would never have imagined that it is remotely possible for someone to braid their entire hair–a task that takes even professionals as many as ten hours. I would have wondered how one can reach the back of one’s hair to braid. But I have seen many girls do it on Youtube and my girlfriends have shown me it is possible. Adversity indeed forces one to be resourceful.

Just as I have realized one can indeed braid one’s hair, something I considered impossible before, you will realize success is attainable if you surround yourself with positive people. But if you continue to hang out with people who after realizing their cheese have been moved only mourn its lost without looking for it, your cheese will be permanently lost.

In particular, as Nigeria’s economy continues to worsen, one can surround oneself with friends who will curse the present administration but do nothing to help themselves. In the alternative, one can surround oneself with people who know that now, more than ever, is the best time to make good money in Nigeria, either by producing things that are no longer imported or finding some other opportunity presented by the depreciation of the naira. (An acquaintance, a young man who is barely thirty, bought a car just from the money he made by moving money back and forth between Nigeria and another country with a hard currency in the wake of the economic crisis).

Thanks to my hair-braiding friends who inspired me to write this post but who for privacy reasons I cannot openly acknowledge. Now, let me watch more hair videos with hope that very soon I will join the hairdressers club.

P.S: If you are in Nigeria, do you know anyone in Nigeria who braids her own hair? I’d love to know.

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