I just realized that I had a couple of posts that I never loaded onto my blog!! Here they are 🙂
We have been trying our best to take advantage of our remaining time here in Rwanda so my housemate and I went to go get our hair braided. We carved a full day of our time out because we knew it was going to take a while. We were not too concerned about getting out of the house super early so we headed out around 10:30 in the morning to go find a salon and headed towards the Nyamirambo market because we knew there was at least one down that way. Naturally when we walked past it slowly while looking in there were making shouts of “Karibu” (welcome in Swahili) and women waving us into the salon. We accepted their invitation and the women who were out on the porch braiding some other women’s hair quickly sprang to their feet and came to assist us.
Figuring out how much it was going to be and what type of hair we could use was a little challenging and we did a lot of confused nodding. Luckily one of the women spoke a bit of English and we figured it out after not too long or too much trouble. We settled on the price and they told us that we would each need three packages of hair. Thee packets of hair is quite a bit by the way, especially when each thing of hair is cut into thirds before it is braided into your head.
The women laid down a mat and two chair cushions on the ground in the back corner of the rather tiny salon and instructed us to sit. My housemate and I obeyed and sat down, waiting for the braiding to start. One of our friends had gotten her hair braided before and it took about seven hours with breaks so we expected around the same or maybe a little less time. We each had two women working on our heads and after the first couple of braids were completed we felt like it was going pretty quickly.
I should say that having your hair braided is what we imagine scalping feels like. They put your hair up with a rubber band and then use toothpicks to pull out the tiniest pieces of hair; I would guess each separated piece has less than 10 strands of hair in it. Then they take a chunk of the synthetic hair and wrap it ever so tightly around the base of the separated hairs. I am pretty sure they somehow get some skin in there too but I could not watch so I can never be sure. That is definitely what it felt like though. It also feels as if at any moment the small bit of your real hair that they are braiding into the synthetic hairs is going to rip out your head. This is especially bad around your temples, the nape of the neck and the edge of the forehead. We were essentially paying to be slowly tortured.
About three hours into getting our hair braided I was surprised that neither our scalps had started bleeding nor that either of us had cried yet. I was impressed that I had not even teared up. We still felt like the process was going by relatively quickly and that we should definitely finish in less than the expected seven hours.
Four or so hours in we took a break. It was not much of a break but we got to stand up and feel our legs for a couple of minutes. We got back to braiding quickly after the break began. Our other housemate graciously brought us snacks to eat around the fifth hour. This actually made the pain considerably less noticeable. I guess that when we were eating our minds were focused on the food instead of our hair being pulled out of our head so it didn’t hurt quite as badly. Or it might have been the banana beer. Who knows? Whatever it was that helped us get through the braiding was greatly appreciated though.
I am not sure when it was that we noticed we were going to be definitely spending longer than seven hours at the salon getting our hair braided. It might have been when the sun went down or maybe when two more women came over to help speed the process along. My housemate’s hair is a bit thicker and longer than mine so they had to go and purchase a fourth packet of the synthetic hair before they could finish her head. We were both sitting on the ground trying to encourage one another that they were almost done. The surface area of our head that was still covered by our unbraided hair seemed to disappear more slowly as it got smaller. Each of us would try to gauge how much hair the other had left. Our measurements were usually made as a comparison to different sized yarmulke. The range was from regular down to infant yarmulke and then finally the size of a quarter.
A couple of hours earlier our classmate who had gotten braids at the beginning of the semester called to check on us and see how things were going. During this phone call she also let us know that after they finished the actual braiding they were going to trim things up and then, oh yeah, pour boiling hot water over our heads. Needless to say, as excited as I was for them to finish braiding, I was not looking forward to this final step in finishing our hair.
The women finished braiding my hair and began checking each individual braid to trim any flyaways. Then I was finally told to stand up. Any doubts I had about if I was going towards the boiling hot water were erased as I heard the women saying “amaze shyushyu” or “hot water.” Another woman told me with a smile on her face, “it is hot water, you will cry.” I was super excited for what was waiting for me.
They took me to the porch of the salon and sat me in a chair. I leaned my head back over a wash basin bucket and had to make a conscious effort to remain upright due to the weight of my hair. I did not actually know what they were doing until I watched them doing the same thing to my housemate a little bit later but they poured boiling water carefully over the braids and let the water fall into the bucket, submerging the braids. While it was happening, I could only tell that there was a lot of hot water because of the steam cloud coming up around my face and that they were doing a very good job because they had not burned my scalp yet. I was really impressed that I had not felt any hot water against my skin and figured they must have been doing an awesome job. The hot water treatment was not bad at all and the only part that hurt was when they took a cloth dripping with hot water and pressed it (rather hard) along the top of my braids. I think this hurt mostly because my head was so tender in that area more so than because it was hot. After setting my braids with the hot water I was able to go sit inside and watch them finish my housemate’s hair.
Altogether we were at the salon from about 10:45 am until almost 9 pm. It took eight hours to do my hair and nine to do my housemates. The braids were extremely tight and rather painful for the first couple of days. I experienced some trouble when I tried to find a comfortable position for sleeping the first night. They have loosened up quite a bit by now and do not hurt hardly at all. My next challenge with them is to figure out how often/how to wash my head. It has been almost a week since we got them done so I will have to come up with answers to this pretty soon if I want my friends to still hang out with me.
I am pleased with the braids and am glad that we got them. I would say it is most likely a once in a lifetime experience considering how much it hurt and that it was a full day’s worth of work. I have also been told that it cost upwards of 200 dollars to get hair braided like this in America and am pretty sure I would get much more weird looks there as well. Overall it was a good experience and now I have 457 beautiful braids in my head and more hair than I could ever know what to do with.