West (Afro)can Hair Care for Volunteers

If you are anything like me, aka a Black girl who loves her hair, you’re probably wondering what on earth you’re going to do to keep those luscious locks strong during your Peace Corps service.

Personally I searched the blog-o-sphere looking for post on Black hair care for quite some time, and was able to find a few good posts on the subject, and there are many Black female volunteers that are still adding to that wealth of knowledge. Though we all have our own routines and ideas about how to go about our hair care it can be a bit of a struggle to get your footing once you are settled in village. Taking care of your hair can be tough in the village environment but I think I’m safe to say that after more than year of service I have a routine that works well for me in my environment. Hopefully this routine will help you (Mr/Ms/Gender non-conforming Natural Volunteer) form your own routine.

The basics: I came into the Peace Corps with relaxed hair, and began transitioning without really planning to. I also came without any relaxer in my suitcases, so I guess the transition was inevitable. I live in the south west of Burkina Faso near the border of the Ivory Coast. The weather here swings from humid, to dry, to hot  over the course of year meaning I am in a constant battle to keep my hair hydrated. I do not have running water or easy access to hair care products that work for my transitioning, and now nearly 100% natural, hair.

Step 1: I typically wash my hair once every two weeks depending on the conditions, and what I’ve been up to that week. If it’s been a particularly windy and dusty week, or if I’ve done some traveling, I will wash my hair sooner rather than later. The night before a wash day I saturate my hair in coconut oil or argon oil before wrapping it in my trusty silk scarf.

Step 2: The next morning I take my ivation rechargeable portable, and my shampoo to my shower area outside along with a full bucket of water. I’m able to lather, rinse, and repeat 2-3 times with a single bucket of water. My preferred shampoo at the moment is Cantu cleansing cream shampoo with shea butter. After washing, I soak up some of the excess water with a pagne (soft cotton material that can be found all over Burkina and is great as a towel) and while my hair is still a bit damp I apply healthy amounts of Cantu leave-in conditioner to my hair in sections. This is also the time when I start the finger and wide-tooth comb detangling process, as the conditioner makes my hair more agreeable to letting the knots go.

Side note: I started using leave-in conditioner after about six months of using a conditioner that has to be washed out. Wash out conditioner  just required far too much water to get out thoroughly. This lack of deep conditioning means I have to pay extra attention to keeping my hair moisturized in other ways.

Step 3: While the conditioner dries I pass the time reading, washing clothes, catching up on things for school, or doing other random things around the house. It usually takes a couple of hours for my hair to be completely dry. After I’m all dry I grease my scalp with whatever I happen to have, right now that’s Palmer’s  hair food formula, and follow up by moisturize my hair with ORS moisturizing hair lotion.

Step 4: Before bed that day I seal my entire head with locally made shea butter I purchase at my village market- pretty sure its the best stuff on earth. I coat my hair in sections then twist each fat section into a twist before applying more shea butter to the ends. I then, once again, tie up my hair in my silk scarf. Due to the harshness of the sun, and my hair’s own (in)ability to retain moisture, I repeat this step 1-2 more times between washes to keep my hair from becoming dry and brittle.

Step 5: Once I’m all shea buttered up I once again wrap my hair in my silk scarf and turn in for the night. The following morning, I untwists the twists and style my hair using headbands, claw-clips, or by getting it braided in village.

Side notes: I have had all of the products I use sent to me from the United States. Despite this being a predominately Black country the conditions and acceptance of natural hair are the best. Shelves are typically stacked with shampoos and conditioners that contain drying parabens and straightening agents, along with the usual bottles of perm. In addition to keeping my hair well moisturized I take a daily vitamin, an iron supplement (provided by Peace Corps PCMOs), and a Vitamin E supplement. Last but not least, I drink the recommended three liters of water a day; which is necessary for the health of your skin, hair, and everything in between.

The hair care section at the store
At the end of the (hot) day your hair health is on you. Though it can be an uphill battle through the heat, and the dust, and the dirt, it’s possible to find a routine that will keep your hair healthy in your new environment. 


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