By Aliza Jebet:
For Nkatha, her initial investment in locs at a city centre salon cost her around KES 1,500/=. Nowadays, one would have to part with up to KES 3,000/= for the same, with consequent retouches to lock the ‘growth’ going for up to KES 1,500/=. This, for most people happens monthly.
Her regular hair regime involves a thorough cleanse using a shampoo containing a moisturizer, then conditioning and twisting her locs with wax. Treatment, an additional cost besides retouch is optional but advisable every two to three months, especially if you’ve coloured/dyed your hair, and would cost anything from KES 500/- to 1,000/=.
“Sometimes I go for a touch up depending on the condition of my scalp. If it’s flaked…they do a scalp clean.”
We have all heard the stories of discrimination cases in the corporate world where employees who want to keep both their jobs and locs wear wigs just to hide them. Nkatha confesses to hiding hers for a couple of months by braiding since they were really tiny.
“I dreaded my folks’ reaction.” She had hinted to them a few times before about her desire to grow locs and had always gotten the ‘Look’.
“The first time my friends saw them they said locs carried with them a ‘mkora’ (crook) wayward look that didn’t match my personality. My parents were a little disappointed.” To them locs were unprofessional, especially since she had enrolled in law school. “The question was whether I was planning on being an Activist or some kind of artist in future, and I have since ended up as both. Although that wasn’t my initial goal.”
Nkatha just wanted a less stressful hair regime, favouring the use of a natural hair product and less heat treatment to hair. To date the most she has had to do every morning is run her hands through her hair. “That’s pretty much it. My hair as a result grows at a very fast rate since there’s little manipulation and I now trim regularly to maintain a manageable length.”
Over the years, with the increase in demand and lessened stigma, Nairobi became a dangerous place to wear locs with reports of thugs cutting off people’s hair in matatus (privately owned minibuses for public transportation in Kenya) and salons, selling them to those not willing to grow them. They fetched a tidy sum with prices ranging from KES 20,000/= to 40,000/= depending on the length of the locs. This wave caused quite a stir leaving people afraid to show off their locs. Some people go to the lengths of hiring out their locs for a period of time or selling them out of their own free will.
It is true that locs take a lot of patience, especially in the early stages, with hair texture determining how fast they lock. If one has a perm they would have to shave off the chemical and work with the natural hair as a starting base like Nkatha did.
To her delight, she has never quite had an issue when seeking employment opportunities due to her look, since she ensures they are neatly relocked, cleaned regularly and avoids bright colour highlights. “Any time I have had to walk into the corporate world to seek employment, I hold them up in a pony tail. My locs have done me a favor of having a braided appearance.” She says with a smile.
Initially she was afraid of getting bored by the one hairstyle and the dread of having to shave it off if it ever got to that. “But there’s so much styling I can do with it. I’ve fully embraced my Afro hair by letting it be. It’s now manageable, painless and I make fewer trips to the salon. I finally achieved the length of hair I always desired.”
With Nkatha’s hair free to be, she is now settled and wouldn’t think of shedding her mane. Her testimony rings true to those with locked hair, and is an inspiration to those considering making the switch.
Article first published on the writer’s blog: Sanaa Tu