Hair braiding adventure in Harlem: Oumou Hair design

 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.

Before the braids with Oumou.

Oumou, such a sweet lady.

My hair twisted with leave-in and shea butter before the braids.

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Not tight at all! That same night I went to whip my hair back and forth with my friends. Did I just say that? Yes. O_O

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8 Comments on Hair braiding adventure in Harlem: Oumou Hair design

  1. Janelle
    February 5, 2013 at 9:52 am (1 year ago)

    Good point, prep the hair before you go so that they dont have to over manage it. No one is going to care for your hair as well as you are. It takes time and patience. I’ve experience all the horrors that you have experienced in the African braiding salons. I’m glad you found your cup of tea. You hair looks great by the way!

    Reply
  2. Josie
    January 24, 2013 at 3:37 pm (2 years ago)

    Ugh getting hair braided in NYC is such a struggle. Thank you for this recommendation and the tips!

    Reply
  3. Kay
    January 19, 2013 at 7:19 am (2 years ago)

    Wow, I can identify so much with those awful experiences-I really like the tip you gave about parting your hair in sections and keeping the hair soft before you step in the door. I’ve never considered it, perhaps I need to incorporate a pre-salon hair routine into my regime.

    Love your blog as always

    Kay

    Reply
  4. Larissa
    January 17, 2013 at 7:51 pm (2 years ago)

    She did a good job! You look great withe these box braids. Et jaime aussi le overall look! Larissa

    Reply
  5. Jhan
    January 17, 2013 at 9:07 am (2 years ago)

    I’ve never had my hair braided before, but I’ve heard nothing but awful things about other people’s experiences. I liked that you learned from your past experiences and found something that works for you. (I honestly can’t imagine having a fine-toothed comb raked through tightly coiled, easily tangled hair!!)

    Reply
    • findingpaola
      January 17, 2013 at 7:24 pm (2 years ago)

      It’s the worst, and they don’t even care. They just keep raking through your hair like leaves. I just really like this style. I’m not a big fan of smaller braids, never have been. But I think if my afro was shoulder length, I’d probably wearing in large double strand twists all the time. There’s so much that can be done with twists provided your hair is long enough!

      Reply
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