Monday, February 20, 2012

"Get Your Hair Did" - Malawi Style!

For women of the world such as myself, doing hair is always a serious affair. It involves the stresses of deciding:
  • Do I wear my hair naturally, permed straight, or get extensions?
  • Do I keep it in neutral tones of black and brown, or do I add a splash of color?
  • Do I use curly, straight, or wavy extensions?  
  • How much am I willing to pay, and where can I go that they provide good service?
  • Can someone just make me look good!?!

After six months in Malawi, and an equal number of hair salon visits, I was still struggling to find the "perfect" hair stylist. I'd tried washing and straightening my natural hair at a salon, which was disastrous. I tried getting a straight and sleek perm at an "exclusive" salon; it lasted for less than 24 hours. I'd even tried having my hair braided on multiple occasions; the braids were too big, or too tight, or too sloppy, or too expensive. And so, I took a leap of faith, and for the second time, plunged into Lilongwe's "Flea Market."

Late Saturday afternoon, after an interesting Black History Month screening of "Freedom Riders," I headed to the open-air market for Operation: "Get My Hair Did." I greeted my veggie vendor, crossed a 100-plus meter rickety wooden bridge, and weaved my way past the "kaunjika" (second-hand market) to the little shops in what is referred to as "Flea Market." I used my few words of Chichewa to ask where I could by "mesh" (extensions), looked at a few shops, and finally found the perfect color and style that I was able to negotiate down to 1400 kwacha (US$8.50). I asked the vendor if she knew who could do good "Senegalese twists" - she went and brought a friend - and after less than 2 minutes of negotiating, she gave me the price I wanted: $18, a 90% discount from my last hair appointment in Boston! 

The hairdresser was named Naomi, and she and her colleague Stella took turns skillfully twisting my hair while also attending to other customers. All was well until the sun went down, the rain started falling, and it was too late to catch a minibus home. Stella kindly offered to have her "cousin" take me home for the equivalent of a few dollars, and as the rain poured harder and harder, I gladly accepted. Unfortunately, by the time we left, the walkways of the market had become a muddy raging river and the stairs had become waterfalls; I held Stella's hand as she attempted to guide me - and my (no-longer) suede leather shoes - through the knee-deep mess!

The next day, I returned to the market to finish my hair, only to find that the 3 rickety wooden bridges no longer existed; they'd completely been demolished by the rain (which made me feel much safer about crossing it the day before). I spent half an hour walking around until I could find another way to cross, eventually weaving my way through the "Flea Market" to locate Naomi and Stella's shop once again. 

The remains of a collapsed bridge. Don't think I'll take that route
next time!
After a few hours, and some nitpicking on my part, my new head of hair was complete! I looked good, I felt good, and found my new hair dressers (who I give my best recommendation to thus far) here in Malawi. Operation: "Get My Hair Did" = success!

This is me today, a happy camper!

A little bit of my Malawi hair journey...

Half natural, half relaxed...
Looked okay for the pic but just couldn't get it to stay down!
(You should have seen the next picture...)


Thought I'd try it as a bob...didn't last in the rainy weather. 

My first hair expedition to the "Flea Market." Also a success!

Have a fun hair story to share? Leave a comment (or send a picture!).  


  1. Replies
    1. Thanks Lama! Getting my hair done is always a process, but I think this time was successful!

  2. Love your story...thanks for sharing. I will actually be in Malawi in a few weeks and am looking to get my hair done there!

    1. Did you get it done? Was there anyone there that did a good job?

    2. Was it hard to find someone there. I leave in one week and I'm trying to decide if I should do it there or here?

    3. Hi there! When I was there, it took me some time to navigate and find a hairdresser who could do the style I wanted at a price I thought wasn't overly inflated for a foreigner. If you'll be there for a while, or if you're less flexible than I was about price and style, you might do something with your hair before you leave to buy you some extra time in your search! Good luck!