I was at a place in Lagos last week. They had on sale, loads of their branded hair products and all of them had boldly written on them, “Eucalyptus” or “Castor Oil” or “Aloe Vera” e.t.c. You know, all those buzzwords that people that are pursuing a natural lifestyle feel drawn to. I randomly took one of the products off the shelf and turned the packaging around to read the ingredients. That is my knee jerk reaction when I come across a new product. I can’t remember it all right now but the product with the Castor Oil written boldly in front of it had ingredients listed something like this:
Her husband prefers long hair, so since they have been together, she has been keeping her hair long-ish to keep her man happy. A few years ago, she felt restless and wanted to cut her hair. This was her normal practice when she was single. She actually prefers to wear her hair short and free of extensions. Let’s just say that she met with a lot of resistance so she kept the peace by keeping her hair on her head and the extensions in.
Recently, the restlessness reared its head again and she pulled out all the tricks in the book (pleading, threatening, pouting e.t.c) before she finally wrangled very reluctant permission from her husband to get a hair cut. She says she finally feels liberated.
Now, this is a story which a lot of us (especially Africans), have heard time and time again and perhaps have come to view as normal.
The female cannot make major changes to her hairstyle at will. It must always be done with the consent of her husband/boyfriend. Sure, you can part your hair to the left or to the right at will but if you want to
Go from natural to relaxed
Stop wearing weaves/extensions altogether or even start wearing weaves/extensions
Loc your hair
Then you definitely need a nod from the man in your life. In fact, some women need to be sure that their partner is on board with every step they take to change their appearance (e.g. deciding to have make-up free days or to begin wearing make-up).
However, the reverse is not the case. I have never heard of a man asking for permission from his wife to change his hairstyle. They may talk about it, but there is no question that consent is needed. One may, of course, argue that men rarely can’t do much with their hair so there is no need to gain consent. Even if this was the case, I personally do not believe that men would actually seek consent. The liberal ones may discuss it, but it ends there. The choice is basically theirs what they want to do.
Do you find this normal? Do you find this to be right?
Being female, I am acutely aware of what the world expects me to look like: Long shiny hair, clear complexion, perfectly made up face and perfect attires on a body that will draw cat calls from construction workers.
I admit that I bought into some of that while growing up but consistently found that I couldn’t reach the ideal that had been set for me. The older I grew, the more I came to accept that not only could I not reach it, I really didn’t care to – I have instead reached a comfortable place that I am pleased with and which describes who I am, currently. That can change without apologies to anyone. Like most people, I am still evolving.
While I am not trying to suggest that females the world over should let themselves go and not look tidy and well put together, I am stating that we should know our limits. One should also not embark on anything that is dangerous to ones’ self because someone has stated that it is the way to go. A good example would be my Igbo brothers who typically like their girls ‘Fair and Fine’ This has led to a spate of skin bleaching with dangerous topical applications to achieve that Fair complexioned look. Years later, a lot of those females have had to deal with severe hyper pigmentation, if they are lucky, or aliments brought about by mercury poisoning if they are not.
I have been lucky enough to come across a video (see above) that describes how I feel about the way women are objectified and made to go through hoops in order to become an ideal. It is stated in the video that: “Failure is inevitable because the ideal is based on absolute flawlessness.” It goes on to comment on a picture of the ideal woman and states “It cannot be achieved. No-one looks like this, including her”. Does that sound familiar?
I think Tracee is beautiful. However, even she will not meet the criteria for some people.
At NITC2, one of the speakers that we had was the very beautiful Ifeoma Williams who is an image stylist. Someone asked me what an image stylist was doing talking at a natural hair meet up – we all found out really soon. As it turned out, her presentation and the talk she gave not only lifted the spirits of those present, they left the meet up thinking that it was possible for them – despite their choice of having the much-misunderstood-in-Nigeria Natural hair, despite that pouch on their lower belly, despite the cellulite on their thighs – to be happy with their lot. They also learned ways to accentuate their best features (everyone has one).
The other day on twitter, someone was giving out tips on how to get a man and stated “Make an effort. Try to look nice. Work out. Guys like babes. Get that Don King hair done, stop forming “Oh Naturale” To me, he demonstrated clearly that he liked certain look – which is fine – but to want to impose that on girls the world over?
Something else that struck me when I went to look at this person’s twitter account was the fact that his voice is louder than mine. I have approximately 350 followers on twitter while he has over 26,000 so he is able to reach more people with his ‘advice’. That tweet also got 137 re-tweets (perhaps not all positive) from females and males which means that even more people are walking around thinking that having natural hair is not an ideal. That is how the media works. How conditioning begins and takes root.
What I would like to see is folks, not just making an effort with their appearance just for the sake of pleasing others, but taking a healthy world view to beauty and what it entails. Respecting the fact that that view differs for each individual and that it can also be altered depending on what phase that person is on in their development would also make things easier. For example, prior to having natural hair, I wore my relaxed hair bone straight. That for me was the interpretation of beauty. Now displaying my textured natural hair is. I am still the same person. I have just developed/evolved. I am shying away from using the word ‘matured” as I am not certain it has much to do with maturity.
Fix what you can – by all means go the gym not just to get into those size 4 jeans but also to get fit and healthier. Wear make-up if it lifts your spirit or don’t wear it if you cannot bear to have it on your face for extended periods of time. Respect that people have off-days and periods where they do go “Oh Naturale” (yes, I have seen the pictures of Tyra Banks out jogging and I think the world has gone mad for highlighting that picture because she did not go jogging all made up, wearing a body con dress and high heels – what, she’s not allowed to puff and sweat?).
Always remember, if you cannot love yourself, how can you teach your child(ren) to do so? How do you influence your community positively in that regard? The cycle then goes on and on and on.
P.S: Please when leaving a comment, don’t slag off the author of the tweet I quoted. I truly believe that if he knew better, he would do better.
It is something I have been thinking about a lot and now I am finally going to say something.
Every time we (Screwy Haired Girl, Sherese Ijewere and I) organize a meet up, my fellow organizers and I get questions about whether it is an event strictly for natural haired sisters or not. I guess that is expected but, I have come to realize that some of the people that are asking are doing so not casually, but from a real fear of being kicked out if they show up. Shocking right? Think I am exaggerating?
Read what Ladi of Fulani hair wrote on her blog about the advice she got regarding attending (Naturals In the City 3) NITC3.
The organizers are also welcoming happily relaxed girls like me which was a serious concern. My friend told me to lie that I’m transitioning in case someone is vexing, lmao.
Sounds strange? Let me tell you one stranger. Someone once questioned our use of relaxed hair presenters at NITC. According to her, we had no business allowing non-natural haired presenters even gather with, much less address natural haired ladies. Yes, we were just as shocked as you must now be and of course, we threw those vituperations into a bin labeled “insignificant crap”. For the record, everyone is invited to the meet ups – it is not an esoteric gathering.
This army is not invisible. It is made up of people like you and I. Let us reign in our thoughts and stop before we criticize another person’s decisions. We need to be more tolerant of others. That doesn’t mean that you need to agree with them, you just need to respect the fact that everyone (not just you) is entitled to choosing what path they want to go down.
I will not absolve myself of blame in this. I once questioned the rationale behind being relaxed and at the height of the team-natural/team-relaxed arguments, left one comment on a blog which I now very much regret.
No-one person can make hair rules that everyone has to live by. If we begin to go in that direction, there will be no limit to what the rules will be. One such one could be that if you have natural hair and use natural products on your hair but eat processed food then you really can’t be natural. I have quite an imagination, lol!
Seriously though, some things are more important. World Peace, Famine/Drought, Poverty, Corrupt governments….shall I go on?
“You have to understand. If these people have too much knowledge they can rob us and ruin our family”.
For the last three years I have been doing research on domestic workers in Lagos. When I say domestic workers, I am referring to the boys and girls, men and women working as housegirls, houseboys, drivers, nannies, cooks, ‘maiguards’ and even the gardeners and washermen, in most homes in Lagos.
The ‘house-help’, ‘domestic’ or ‘servant’ has become synonymous with most elite families in Nigeria. These workers work behind closed doors in private homes carrying out domestic chores including cleaning of rooms and furniture, washing of clothes and plates, preparation of food, running errands and escorting their employers’ children to and from school’.
Domestic work is a highly discussed aspect of daily life in Nigeria, yet there is an increased protectiveness about disclosing information surrounding the details of the employment. So when I tell people that I am researching on domestic work, I am met with very different responses.On one hand, I have met people who welcome the fact that I am doing it and willingly talk to me about the ‘house-help phenomenon’, the pros and cons of male vs. female house-helps, young vs. old, and the recruitment process. These people usually see my research as a way forward to highlighting as one lady called it, ‘the gross abuse that is occurring in many homes in Lagos today’. Natural Nigerian was one of them, and when she asked me if I would write a post on my research on her blog, I jumped at the chance.
Unfortunately, these people that see my research as a way forward in Nigeria are very few and far between. Majority feel I am wasting my time speaking to the ‘house-helps’. I cannot count the number of times I have been told that domestic workers themselves were the problem and if I had to do the research I should be speaking to employers so I could hear the stories of the ‘nanny who gave her Madam’s children AIDS’, the ‘housegirl who bewitched her Oga and kicked the Madam out of the house’, and ‘the wicked nanny who kidnapped her Madam’s baby’.Why then am I doing this? Because domestic work in Nigeria is part of people’s taken-for-granted reality.
In fact, it was part of mine when I was growing up, as I lived with, saw and heard of domestic workers working for my family, relatives, and friends. But the situation of many domestic workers in Nigerian homes seemed strange to me. Domestic workers are seen as ‘informal’ help and so domestic work is not seen as ‘real’ work, and therefore they are usually treated as badly. It was this strangeness that raised the topic of domestic work and made problematic what had previously been taken for granted.
Being a Domestic Worker
I have met all kinds of men and women from different parts of Nigeria who have different stories to tell. And while writing this I struggled to decide what to include because there is so much to say on the issue of domestic work in Nigeria. I could have written about the reasons why people move into domestic work (poverty and lack of decent employment avenues are a couple of reasons), the modes of recruitment (middle-men play and important role), or on the ‘Calabar house-help phenomenon’ (domestic work is increasingly becoming synonymous with people from the Calabar region).
I could have also written about the fact that there is a relative preference for younger domestic workers due to them being considered more submissive and easier to direct around as compared to older domestic workers. Or the fact that majority of the domestic workers I met started between the ages of 9 and 14, with some starting as young as 5.
While I could have written on anything, the most common feature shared by domestic workers is their uncertain working conditions as a result of domestic work being considered a low status job, by both domestic workers and society. This means that despite the enormous amount of work that domestic workers perform for the families that employ them, they are treated as inferior members of the household.
Along with the receipt of little or no pay, domestic workers (especially live-in domestic workers) have no clear division between work and private time as working days may run from 5.00 a.m. until 1:00 a.m. and they are rarely allowed time off. Some domestic workers can ask for time off, while others only get time off to attend church services on Sundays. In addition to that, they have heavy workloads, limited rest and leisure time, inadequate accommodation and food (live-in workers), job insecurity, and exposure to violence and abuse. Added to this is the fact that live-in domestic workers’ rarely have their own private space, and are often confined to particular parts of the house, such as the kitchen, and sometimes they eat separately and often only after their employers have eaten.
Because of the unregulated nature of their work, they have little option to change their situation. Furthermore, they rarely have access to social support networks. This means that regardless of their pay and conditions, these workers are committed to work for their employers because they have “few marketable skills, little or no education, and no alternative employment opportunities” (PLA, 2007). To add to their harsh living and working conditions, domestic workers also have to face the issues of restricted movements, little or no social interaction, being seen as a sexual threat but at the same time sexually available, and are victims of sexual abuse. This aspect of domestic work, which I see as the ‘sexuality issue’ is possibly one of the most extreme aspect of being a domestic worker.
I still think that there are many things I could say about domestic work in Lagos – like the fact the current labour law of Nigeria doesn’t define domestic work (I define domestic workers as persons who are recruited from outside the employing household and paid by wage, or ‘in kind’, to perform labour in and around the household) or the fact that I am yet to find accurate data on the number of persons employed as domestic workers in private households in Nigeria (experience suggests that there is at least one domestic worker in each house and a large house could have as many as six). This article has only touched the surface of a very complex form of employment (yes, I regard domestic work as a form of employment) in Nigeria.
There is still so much that needs to be said, and a lot more that needs to be done.I would like to end by thanking the men and women who have taken the time to speak to me and let me know about their lives as well as Natural Nigerian for giving me the opportunity to write about something I am so passionate about. I see my research as one small step in raising awareness on domestic work in Nigeria, which I hope will go towards improving their living and working conditions. As for this post, I hope it will give people some insight into why I am focusing on domestic workers and why they need to be seen less as ‘informal’ help and more as ‘real’ workers.
Zahrah Nesbitt-Ahmed is a PhD Candidate at the London School of Economics currently in Lagos doing her fieldwork on domestic workers in Nigeria. To find out more, share your views or even get involved she can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org.
The other day, I was out at a work barbecue with some colleagues and to free our hands for the spicy task at hand, we decided to place our mobile phones on a table. By the time three mobile phones had landed on that table, I did some quick maths and was a bit shocked to note that the total cost of the phones was about N330,000 ( about $2080). I remarked on the amount of money on the table and then placed my own N3,500 ( approx $21) phone on the pile. That elicited some laughter. For the sake of full disclosure, I have two mobile phones and the one I placed on the table was the cheaper of the two – the other one cost N37,500 (approx. 227).
After the barbecue, I conducted a quick survey and found that approximately every 2 in 3 of my colleagues had that expensive N110, 000 phone. To be absolutely truthful, I would probably have bought it too as my phone had recently gone bad, but a cash squeeze meant that I had hastily settled for a cheaper phone.
After hearing how much we spend on phones, one would be excused for thinking that we would then keep such a phone for at least 2-3years but the truth is that we tend to get rid of our toys pretty quickly in Nigeria. One of my colleagues has not one, but three android phones and replaces them routinely whenever a new model of any of his phones is released. This is regardless of whether the phone he is getting rid of is bad or not. Due to this schedule, he regularly replaces phones when he has used them for less than a year. How much would you like to bet that girls and boys in University who have never held a job have this habit? Consumerism?
This is by no means limited to phones only. I was in Victoria Island the other day when a brand new 2012 Infiniti SUV (pictured above) passed by me in traffic, quickly followed by several other equally new, equally or even more expensive cars. On another occasion, there were about 3 of these particular Infinitis tailing each other in Lagos traffic. The new Range Rover and whatever Mercedes Benz was introduced to the market in September 2011 is already on the Lagos roads. If you think that is impressive, then head over to Abuja the seat of corruption power and let your jaw drop several times over. Again, if these were driven over a long period of time then the cost to the owner over that period of time would make sense but for some folks those cars are replaced after 2 years maximum.
Before anyone starts to ask what the big deal is, after all folks in America drive big cars and have iPhones, remember that we pay cash in Nigeria while those abroad usually pay their bills over a period of time. They also tend to respect their things more. Plus, they tend to keep their things a lot longer. (Strange to use America as an example given that it is thought to be a consumerist nation).
Another thing I take issue with is the cost of housing. I am simply not convinced that one gets actual value for money when renting the exorbitantly priced properties available in most parts of Lagos. Apartments in Ikoyi and Victoria Island are so expensive that they no longer charge in Naira. It is expected and acceptable to be told the rent in dollars. I mean, if a Landlord is asking you to pay $70,000 to rent a luxury 3 bedroom apartment it sounds less scandalous than its Naira conversion of N11, 550,000. While that apartment is usually a lot better than the average apartment in Yaba or Egbeda, I doubt that its value is actually $70,000 especially if you live in a Neighborhood that floods periodically or has great amounts of traffic. However, how can I blame the Landlords when they are forced to buy the land at exorbitant cost?
My theory is that it is our class aspirations and exaggerated class consciousness that have led us to down this path. An item that costs N5000 is sold for N10000 because if it is sold for cheaper a lot of us would think that it is “not authentic”. Also, if it is sold for N5,000 that means that every Thomson, Dickson and Harrison will be able to afford it and Lord forbid that we wear the same clothes as anyone else.
I am not going to go into the Brazilian/Indian hair fad…too easy.
It would be refreshing to wake up to a world where people actually only buy what they need (and I do concede that needs differ) and took care of what they have.
Have you made your resolutions for the year? If you haven’t, here’s a cheat sheet you may want to use. I don’t mean to go all preachy on y’all, just sharing what has worked (and is still working) for me. Feel free to click on the texts in blue – they are linked to other posts which will provide context.
Applying relaxer to a small section of your hair or dying it just so that your weave looks nice.
Allowing your hair braider pre-dispose you to traction alopecia (by overweighting your hair with add-ons or braiding too tight) because you want your braids to be popping!
If you have natural hair, Moisture! Moisture!! Moisture!!! I can’t say that enough.
If your hair is relaxed, consider spacing out your touch-ups. The benefits speak for themselves.
Drink enough water per day. It helps with everything. Your bodily functions, your skin, your hair…everything. Here’s a guide that will help you know via your urine when you are dehydrated. Yep, I said the U word!
Eat your greens and fruits. Introduce a splash of color into your diet (carrots, tomatoes, green leaves). The brown of baked goods and most processed foods isn’t a splash of color.
Try the green smoothie at least once. It is not expensive and the benefits are amazing.
Try to lay less emphasis on topical applications of creams and products. Instead, nourish your skin from the inside. Products should support your effort. They shouldn’t be your only effort.
Learn to read ingredient labels. It makes you a more discerning customer and eventually saves you money.
Remember that there are no magic potions. No silver bullets. You won’t be disappointed if you bear this in mind.
See Nigeria. I went on a road trip last year with a few friends….I would definitely do it again.
My fellow Nigerians, I make a conscious effort not to talk about Nigeria’s problems and politics on this blog (you know there is no stopping us when we start). I will say this though…pray for Nigeria. Y’all know she needs it.
Now this is the most important of all….if you do nothing else, I highly recommend you do this: “Love your neighbor as yourself”
I get a few questions around what products to use to achieve long lustrous hair and beautiful skin. I have been careful about promoting products on my blog because I believe that no one product works for everyone and all should go out there and find out what works for them.
I am also a strong believer in technique. Learning how to handle your hair and skin well is the best way to see results. I read a book some time ago and there was a story in it that I would like to share with you. It will help to buttress my point. Unfortunately I cannot remember the name of the book now – I would have shared that too.
Here’s what I remember of the story:
In a certain town, there was a communal plot where people could keep a garden. Of all the gardens there, there was one particular one that was lush and green. The woman who kept this plot got a lot of questions about what products she applied to get her garden blossoming so beautifully. She happily shared this information and would also go ahead to offer insight into the techniques that she used to tend for her plants. However, her fellow gardeners were not interested in that aspect of the story and would turn away from her while she was mid-tale in technique know-how to run to the shop and get their miracle products. They would apply the same products as she used on their gardens and sit back to wait for their gardens to become as lush and green as hers. Guess what? Their gardens never did blossom as beautifully as hers. They were too focused on waiting for the products to do their magic to realize that what made her products work were the techniques and love she applied.
Moral of the story: Learn to know how to handle your hair and skin. You can make products work for you and where they just can’t, you will find out quickly and be able to move to those that can.
“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”
I am not big on watching reality shows, but I caught the tail end of an X-factor audition the other day on television and had to go looking for it on Youtube. So far, I have watched about 50 other auditions.
The one that started it all was Stacy Francis’s audition. Watch her here.
Beyond the fact that she sings well, I was really moved by her story. Like tissues–tears-and-a-dripping-nose moved. To summarize, she is a 42 year old woman who had been told by a former boyfriend that she was not good enough, that she was too old to pursue singing – something she knew in her heart she was good at.
To quote her: “I started believing him….and I just lost faith in myself.”
She said this at the beginning of the audition but looking at her (she is quite attractive), and listening to her sing (L.A Reid said her singing stirred his spirit and raised the hairs on his arm), you might be excused for wondering why she would fall for such a scam.
Her story is not a unique one – but it is certainly one that we can learn from. When you hear words like: “Believe in yourself”. “You are enough”. “Yes, you can!” don’t look over your shoulder and think that someone else is being addressed. It applies to you too. There might be someone in your life – a colleague, a friend, a sibling, parent, relative, spouse, boyfriend, girlfriend who tells you you are not enough. It is up to you to remove that negativity from your life. If you can’t remove it, turn down the volume really low so you can’t hear it.
On the flip side, if you are the sort of person that needs to bring people down to feel good about yourself, you need help. And I say this with love. Life is too short to go around making people miserable when you can spend that same time spreading light and love. If you are spreading anything other than this then you must live with the fact that you life is soaked in the negativity you are giving out in generous supply.
I am a big believer that ordinary people can achieve great things. So if you find that you need a push, I hope this post does it for you. Turn off the negativity and leap forward into your life.
On a totally unrelated topic (but important all the same), that L.A Reid is soooooo fine *swoon*. I think I just finally understood the term eye candy. And I like the fact that he is kind to the contestants too. Any criticism is fully justified and doesn’t appear to be laced with malice.
I work in a Multicultural environment with people from many different countries. All the continents are well represented. For some of these people, they are new to Nigeria and as such have a lot of questions about our ways. I find that it is always important to answer as clearly and correctly as I possibly can because I realize that my answer will be repeated to other people outside of the country and this will help them paint a picture of Nigeria.
Of course some of these questions/comments that I get range from the serious to the seriously ridiculous but I still take my time to answer. After all, I am Nigeria’s ambassador…sort of.
A good example of the seriously ridiculous would be when a colleague told me that he had been told that the reason why Nigerian men smelled so bad was that it was appealing to the opposite sex (Pick your jaw off the ground). According to this theory, the stronger a man’s body odor, the more attractive he is to the opposite sex. In fact, I was told that I must be used to inhaling the body odor of others because it sort of appealed to me. I asked him who told him that story and he mentioned another Oyinbo like himself. Just goes to show you how important it is that we tell our own stories.
I do the best I can to address all questions/comments but I am not sure I can always do them justice as the answers are sometimes more complex than what a few words can convey. As such, I have decided to throw out the last question I got and have you weigh-in.
To give you a little back-ground, my colleague noticed that a lot of Nigerians do not mingle with Junior staff. That is to say, whilst he was on first name basis with cleaners, drivers and other junior staff, he came to the realization that many Nigerians that were on a lower pay grade than him never socialized with these junior/support staff.
So the question is: Why is there a big gulf between blue collar and white collar Nigerians?