Before we went to Ethiopia to pick up our daughters, I was determined to learn how to do their hair. I had ordered a curly haired mannequin head off of ebay, but never got to practice on it, since our adoption agency went bankrupt. Suddenly, on six hours notice, I was heading to Ethiopia for an indeterminate amount of time, with only a pick and a comb to rely on. Despite the best of my internet I ons, I was underprepared to tackle twin two and a half year old’s African hair.
Not a week had gone by after meeting my girls, that I realized I was going to have to learn to cornrow… And fast. Luckily, I shared a guest house with a lovely young mom from Ghana, who had worked for West African royalty as aesthetician. Saved! Merry plopped Spice down on the steps, and proceeded to explain to me the basics of braiding. Ten minutes later, Spice was crying and wanted to escape Aunty’s rough combing. But that ten minutes of instruction was crucial to my ability to care for my daughters’ hair.
Not a day or two later, I did my first cornrowing. I started with one daughters, and the next day, did the second.
I totally laugh looking back at these photos, because it really was quite horrible. My parts were messy, the hair wasn’t pulled straight… But you know, the girls thought it was awesome. “Konjo Sharuba!” They would cry, when seeing themselves I the mirror. Beautiful braids!
I also thought it was awesome! And the Ethiopians and other Africans I was living with congratulated me on my enthusiastic braiding. So I paraded those kids all over Addis, and after a week when their hair was falling out (really, they were the worst cornrows ever,) I started again.
I found that little micro styles were my friend. It got me used to working with their hair, and I actually got some cute results.
Then, on holiday a month or so later in a cabin in the Ethiopian forest, I tried cornrowing again… With beads! With no distraction except the roving baboons, the girls has shorter attention spans, and I found it very stressful. We took many breaks, until I finally had their hair “done.” I think it last another week, lol.
We all start somewhere with hair… I started in Ethiopia. Thanks to a gracious hair mentor, support from the locals, and my blind enthusiastic pride, I learned to care for my daughters’ hair. If you are just beginning and are overwhelmed, take heart; if I can be an entirely adequate cornrower with that start, you can too!
I think it is all parents’ responsibility to care for their children’s hair. For transracial families with non-Black parents and children of African heritage, this is doubly important. Caring for your child’s hair and skin means cultural fluency for your children, and acceptance of your parenting by members of their birth culture. It’s not easy… But it’s important.
You may not have a Ghanaian aesthetician at your disposal, but if you can read this blog, you have access to Youtube. Hair blogs such as Chocolate Hair Vanilla Care and adoption haircare Facebook groups are also wonderful resources. And don’t forget to connect with your local African, Caribbean, and Black communities for support!
Most importantly, give yourself time and an occasional pat on the back as you fall into the hair groove. Cornrows, as Rome, are not always built in a day. Try try try, and make hair time as pleasant for yourself and your kids as possible. Congratulate yourself when something turns out, and when it doesn’t… Go swimming. Then no one will notice.