It is not women’s month yet (not in South Africa which is celebrated in August; neither in the rest of the world in March), but something happened recently which inspired me to write this a give a little love to basi ya congo (women of the congo)! Last week was a “hair week-end” (anyone with African hair will understand why it is not a day, but a week-end #blackgirlproblems, lol!)- my entire Sunday was spent at the hair salon somewhere in Mowbray (Cape Town, South Africa). Although not very proud of it, I must admit that a few years ago I use to avoid Congolese hair dressers/salons. It is a discussion for another day which will be discussed in a separate post (I promise!) but basically; my reasons were: (i)I wanted to be discreet about my life and thought the less they know about me the better; (i) I thought there was a tendency to provide sub-quality standard as soon as they knew I was a “mwana mboka” (Congolese), I also just could not stand a lot of the gossip that sometimes goes in hair salons, and it was a bit worse for me because I actually understood everything. So for the longest, I preferred going to a salon owned by a very nice Ghanaian woman (who played a mother figure) and/or a sharp Kenyan business woman.
I must also admit that ( as many of you may also feel when studying) that I just did not really see what I had in common with hairdressers. I often judged them (silently offcourse) for not being more ambitious-taking the easiest job available and not striving for more (hmmm….do you recognise yourself?! T’was the old me…so sad!). Fastforward a few years later, that changed as I refell in love with Congo, its culture, its people, its men, its women, its incredible and yummy food and off course its Ndule (music)….I realised that Congo was a family given to me, and I chose to be actively part of it….I now try to support African/Congolese businesses as much as I can (however small/big)….
Back to the hair salon on that Sunday; I remembered Ma’fo (probably Maman Apho, the shortened version of Alphonsine), and decided to go to the salon where she now works. I met Ma’fo a few years ago-she had just arrived to join her husband with her three children then. At the time, She could barely speak any English, and was not allowed to work unsupervised and talk to clients. It must have been my luck then because the owner knew I was Congolese, and therefore asked her to do my hair. I really liked the way she did hair and she was very nice. I stuck with her for a 1-2 years then decided to try an another salon, and we sort of lost touch until late last year. Time flew by and now in 2016 Ma’fo’s English has improved significantly; the previous owner had sold her salon and she decided to rent a chair in a salon and works for herself confident in her client base. After the proper greetings, she told me that her first born is in Matric this year and is top of his class (with 90% in Mathematics), has been invited to write an aptitude test at the University of Cape Town for a scholarship. When she told me the story, I realised how much strength, resilience and beauty there was in this woman and what the profession she chose represented….. However small, she woke up everyday to provide food on the table for the kids and pushing her kids to leave the dreams that she might never get to accomplish in her life.
Many of the Congolese hairdressers I knew have all opened their own salon a few years after arriving in the country, my perception is and was wrong: being a hairdresser was /is not lack of ambition, or laziness….it is strength, courage, humility to take up any job (however small as opposed to begging on the streets) and raise a family! This post is dedicated all Congolese women especially (but more generally African women) out there. As an aspiring mother and daughter, I salute all your efforts, sacrifices and ability to steer your families towards a better future…. Merci mingi, Nzambe apambola bino, basi kitoko!
Next time you see a Congolese hairdresser, remember to smile- she could be the mother of one of your classmate at varsity she could be your mother and her son may be your classmate at UCT ;-).
Anyways, that is the end for me…..I would love to hear from you, have you had similar thoughts/perceptions? Leave a comment below and get the debate going ;-)!