I’ve had my fair share of terrible experiences at hair braiding salons. The truth is I find them mostly scary, unprofessional, and sometimes just downright depressing. There’s nothing relaxing, or remotely welcoming about them like other salons. I’m not asking for luxury here, just a little bit of decency. I’m not asking to be greeted with a smile by a receptionist, someone to take my coat, and or to ask me if I would like a glass of water as they lead me to sit in a plush leather chair while I wait my turn. What I am asking for is for someone to say hello when I walk in, not eat or talk on the phone as they’re yanking my hair for a braid. Don’t you think hair braiding would be a lot more appealing if they were run like a decent salon?
Once, I walked in a hair braiding “salon” in Harlem, and I quickly ran out. I walked past the hair braiding sign and the door that held a lot of pictures of women wearing braids taped together into this dark room where this woman was lying on a piece of cardboard barefoot on the ground. She quickly got up, dusted her dress, and shooed away a roach as I came in. Is this not America? There was no one else inside, but there was hair everywhere. There was no way I was going to sit in her chair to get my hair braided. Seriously? Seeing a roach within the first 15 seconds of entering the place? I don’t care if she was only charging me $10. Let’s not talk about the ladies who solicit their hair braiding services on 125th street. Beyond creepy! At first, I had no idea what they wanted from me. I seriously thought they were trying to recruit me for a prostitution ring. “Pretty miss? Pretty miss?” I would turn around, “Excuse me?” Then, they would ask, “Hair braiding?”
Another bad experience I had was after I sat down and explained with great detail that I didn’t want my hair braided tight, the hair braider just rolled her eyes and told me I didn’t know what I really wanted. I made a point to say that I didn’t care if my hair didn’t last for longer than three weeks. That’s how long I planned on leaving the style anyway, but the lady refused to listen. I sat next to a little girl was getting her edges pulled so tight that she was nearly in tears. Her scalp was as red as a tomato, and the hair just kept getting pulled. I should’ve ran right then, but I sat down because all I really wanted those Bantu knots done. I told myself that it was not going to hurt as much because we were getting completely different styles, and if I told them exactly what I wanted, we wouldn’t get into problems. Big mistake! How do you tell a paying customer that they don’t know what they want. The lady kept saying, you’re just tender headed, it’s fine. Um, no it’s not fine. I want you to ease on the pulling please. I walked out with my head feeling twice its size, but I received many compliments from my bantu knots. I never went back.
Now where does this take us? Oh right, it takes us right to Oumou, a hair braiding salon located on 116th street between Lenox and 5th Avenues. I’ve gone to her three times before this one: once for bantu knots, and twice for box braids. Sometimes, she’s packed, and I have no other options but venture somewhere else. And a couple of times, I tried to find something cheaper in the neighborhood, which there are plenty of! I just think it’s worth it to pay the extra 30-40 bucks to go to someone who listens. While there are no plush white towels waiting for me, or lavish leather chairs, but someone greets you when you walk in. Point! It’s not messy or dark. Point! Although people eat in the salon, it’s spacious enough that they have a table for that in the back, so the person servicing you is not eating a piece of chicken or fish and talking on the phone while trying to braid your hair. Double points! Did I mention if you tell them not to braid too tight, they actually listen to you? Cha-ching! Oh, and she takes your coat to hang when you walk in too.
Since this was my fourth time going to Oumou and I wanted to make my experience even better than the previous two times so here is what I did…
- I made sure to spray my hair with water first, and split my hair into big sections.
- I detangled each section with a giant glob of leave-in moisturizer leaving my hair soft to the touch.
- I sealed with the hair an oil, and twisted each section right away.That way, when they untwisted my hair, it still maintained the soft texture. I figured out is that when I go to the braiding salon in my full out afro even after I detangle my hair, it’s still hard for them to part the hair. My hair, like most 4c textures, tangles quite easily! Hair braiders also don’t understand the phrase, “do not use a small tooth comb to detangle my hair. “
So this time, not only did I have my hair well moisturized and twisted in huge chunks, I brought my wide tooth comb! Genius, right? The hair braider worked with the sections in my head leaving the hair that she wasn’t using twisted so that it stayed soft. I’m seriously doing that every time I go get braids. It makes everything so much easier, then someone raking a small comb through your tightly curled hair that love that hold on to each other and break easily.