After moving to Italy in 2009, I really struggled with my hair until I decided I’ve had enough with relaxers and decided to embrace my natural hair. This is the story of how I fell in love with my kinks.
Growing up I do not remember a time when there was ever a lack of finding someone to do my hair. There was always someone available, could be a family member, a friend or a hair salon.
As a child, my dad hated anything being put in our hair besides braids.
Me and my sister would beg mum to “relax” (using straightening chemicals) our hair so we can have “beautiful” hair like all our schoolmates and friends.
After High School, I had to move to Windhoek to attend University and I was living with my aunt who was totally against relaxers.
I never understood why, and I really thought it was unfair for us to have this rule of not relaxing our hair.
I would of course always find a way to relax my hair whenever she was not around and she would not notice since I would have it hidden away in braids by the time she got home.
My move to Italy – March 2009
In the beginning of 2009 (April to be specific) I moved to Italy for love, I met my husband in Namibia in the year 2006.
I didn’t really think much about how my life was going to change or specifically how my hair was going to be affected.
I was so used to having someone do my hair anytime, any day and at very cheap prices and out of my own ignorance thought it would be the same here.
I had relaxed hair at the time and before driving to the airport the day I left Windhoek, I went to get a blowout.
Arrival in Italy
I arrived on that early April morning and it was freezing (for me it was freezing coming from a warm Windhoek where I was used to wearing sandals the whole year round) and humid.
I tried to survive the first week without worrying much about how my hair was handling the weather.
The 2nd week I noticed how frizzy and dry my hair looked. I started looking for African hairdressers in Milan and surrounding areas, which was very difficult as I spoke like a word or two of Italian.
Somehow, I managed to find an address of one in Milan and decided to immediately pay them a visit.
I walked in and the people inside were so rude, they basically looked at me from head to toe without saying a word and after I explained what I needed the lady looked at me again and said “Simple cornrows to the back are 200 Euro”.
I had to ask her to repeat and I was shocked.
In my whole life even when I tried Brazilian hair extensions did I ever have to spend more than N$1000 (approximately 100 euro) on my hair.
Imagine me spending this much for a simple cornrow style. I excused myself, walked out and never went back again.
I really could not believe it.
First big chop
That day, I got home and I decided to cut it off.
I will give it time to get used to the change of weather and of course give me time to hopefully find a more reasonably prized hairdresser.
Now there I was with my hair that seriously needed help and I knew no hairdresser and I spoke no Italian.
A friend took me to her hairdresser to get the haircut. I could tell how much we put him in a difficult position not knowing how to cut my hair.
He did not want to be rude and turn me away by saying he can’t handle my hair.
Afterall, imagine a small town in the north of Italy (Brianza to be specific).
When I got home that day, I had to go to the bathroom with a pair of scissors to try and even out the cut as the hairdresser tried to cut my hair in layers. If you know afro hair, you will know that it is impossible to cut afro hair (4b/c to be specific) into layers especially when it’s very short.
I survived a couple of weeks and in the meantime started to look for someone else to do my hair.
After about 4 months of no luck I decided to learn to do it myself.
I started to do my own braids until a friend of mine (knowing how much I was struggling) asked one of her University classmates if she would be willing to do my hair.
50 Euro for Rasta braids (singles) was much more reasonable than the initial 200 Euro I was asked.
For some time I had found someone to rely on but due to various commitments from both myself and her. It became impossible to always find the time to do hair and it also became financially unsustainable to spend around 100 Euro per month to do hair (excluding hair products).
Wedding in Italy and maternity – 2011
I got married in June 2011. I did not want to get married in braids, so I relaxed my hair. As every other time, the relaxer burned my scalp badly.
As always, the relaxers really dried my hair but somehow I managed to have it look proper for the wedding.
I was also expecting my first son at the time so I immediately put in braids for the birth and in July my son was born.
I kept those braids in for about 3 months, and my hair grew really long.
I did not know how to properly take care of my hair and when I took the braids out, I had a lot of shedding and I did what I was used to: relaxed my hair again. Experiencing breakage was the norm for me.
I stuck to protective styling to make life easier and it was much easier to deal with the winter as well.
After the winter I would wash my hair and put my hair in rollers for curls and I used the Dark n Lovely Styling Mousse, the curls came out really nicely but what I did not realize was that this Mousse was drying out my hair.
After a few weeks, I started to notice big chunks of hair every time I took out the rollers. At the time I blamed it on the rollers and not on the product.
I remember one day I was styling my hair and I felt at the back and I had a spot at the back of my head that was balding. I was horrified because in a few weeks’ time we were to leave for Namibia for our traditional wedding.
Wedding in Namibia – August 2012
Getting to Namibia, I had two choices for the wedding, either relax or put in extensions or braids.
My husband really hates extensions or any sort of fake hair so I opted for relaxing my hair and hope for some miracle for my hair to look presentable.
I managed to look presentable but with a disastrous back.
Once the wedding was over, I made up my mind; I will cut a new hairstyle for the little holiday while still in Namibia and chop it all off before going back to Italy.
The hair was so dry, I relaxed twice within a period of a week.
I relaxed my hair on Friday before the wedding which was on Saturday, by Monday when I went to the hairdresser to get the haircut, he could not believe that my hair was recently relaxed and he convinced me to relax again.
As a result my hair was over-processed and really dry. As a result they started breaking really badly. Even my hairline was disappearing.
A week before I had to come back to Italy I decided to cut off my hair (Big Chop).
I told myself I would grow my hair till they were long enough for making dreadlocks.
My eldest cousin (from my mum’s side of the family) had started trend of dreadlocks in the family and I loved how they were growing and she did not have to struggle so much with extensions, relaxers like we all did.
With many family members having dreadlocks and they never seemed to have problems with their hair, I fell in love with the idea of having dreadlocks and I wanted them badly.
Styling after the Big Chop
I put in Rasta braids for the trip back to Italy and I started looking for possible people to make my dreadlocks.
This again proved to be much harder than I had anticipated and the more time passed and the longer the hair grew the more I fell in love with my afro.
After making appointments and being disappointed too many times, I finally decided that I think it was meant for me to be with my afro as they are and not loc them.
I was still not sure how to take care of my natural hair and I stuck to what I knew: braids.
However as my hair grew I started to notice that my hairline was basically gone and I appeared to have a forehead 3 times bigger than it actually was.
Embracing my Beautiful Kinks
One day out of curiosity I decided to look for natural hairstyles online and on YouTube.
I was amazed to learn that there was a whole lot of information online on how to style and take care of our hair and so my journey on taking better care of my afro started.
I learned about Shea Butter, which I had never heard of before and now my hair can’t live without, about coconut oil, the resources I had in my kitchen that worked wonders on my hair.
I got rid of all my products I had that had any trace of mineral oil.
Ever since then, it has been a fun, time consuming journey of discovering that my hair too can grow long and healthy without relaxers.
Caring for My Kinks
My biggest challenge at the moment is finding right products.
I cannot just walk into any store and hope to get products that are fit for my hair.
Supermarkets and beauty shops here do not cater for ethnic hair. I however, have discovered many places for finding natural oils and I normally find these in organic food shops that I use to mix about concoctions that work wonders for my hair.
Juggling motherhood, and other commitments such as studies and work does not always allow me to spend a lot of time on my hair so finding products that are ready make life easier.
I recently found two online shops that sell afro hair products in Italy.
My scalp is happier and my husband is happier with me not having to use “plastics” as he calls extensions and braids, although he still cannot understand why my washday routine has to take an entire day :)!