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Unwelcome at Esani

Two days ago I took my girls to the Esani Institute to get their hair washed, blow dried and ironed. My girls are Black…most of the students who work/study at Esani are not. But what do I care? From what I understand, they have all been taught to treat “hair as hair” and if I could get my kids hooked up for a total of $23.00, what else was this mom on a budget to do? We booked our appointment for 3:30 and showed up at 3:15. Yes, even we Africans are capable of punctuality.

We trooped into the industrial feeling salon/school decked out with concrete floors, flat screen TVs and mirrored surfaces. It was only our second time there, and the girls were are lot more comfortable this time around – or so I thought.

Let me help you understand my girls hair. Nadjah has loosely coiled, shoulder length hair. It’s pretty simple to deal with. Aya on the other hand has hair straight out of the Congo. Its curled so tight you could lose change in there. I have actually washed it and unearthed wood chips that were not visible at first glance. Aya is also extremely tender headed, unlike her sister, who just enjoys the drama of screeching when she is presented with the mere existence of a comb.  I tried to explain all this to the good folks of the Esani Institute, but they just hurried the girls along to the back wash. Ok!

Everything was pretty routine until the girls were seated in a salon chair and were preparing to get the tangles taken out of their hair. The first time we went, a slight man with blue hair and chains on his jeans took one look at Nadjah’s hair, announced that he was going to get a booster seat and did not return for another 20 minutes. He looked terrified. This time around, a brunette with warm brown eyes looked a little more confident. Everything was going to be okay! I played happily with the baby in the waiting area for 6 minutes before I heard the screaming.

“Awwww awww awwww!!!” It was Nadjah. The girl had put detanlger in her hair and was trying to comb her hair with a wide tooth comb. Standard practice. I told her Nadjah was going to cry and to work through it…she was going to have to be tough and ignore the tears. She smiled nervously and said “okay!”. No sooner were these words out of my mouth when Aya began howling on the other side of the salon. Coincidentally, they had turned up the music to drown out the sounds of their screams.

“Eeeehhh ehhhh eeehhhh!!!!”

Anyone who has ever combed a Black girl’s hair knows that sound. All of our girls cry when they get their hair done. They do this until they turn 8 or until some sweaty black woman pops them with a comb to make them stop. There was no sweaty Black woman at Esani…but there was an ashy one who magically appeared out of nowhere. As I prepared to traverse to the other side of the salon to check on her sister (this place is HUGE, 2000 sq feet at least) I firmly informed Nadjah that it was ok to cry, but “it was not ok to scream”, Ms Ashy-Black-Lady informs me that if my girls continue to cry, they will not finish their hair and they would not be allowed to re-book in the future.

That unsympathetic whore.

The next day was picture day, so I knew we had to get this press and curl done at all costs.

“You hear that Na? They won’t finish your hair if you won’t sit still. You don’t want to go home like this do you?”

She looked in the mirror and saw half blown, half kinky hair. There is nothing my oldest child hates more in the world than looking tacky. She promised to try not to cry and bravely clutched one of the mannequins they had given her as a distraction. I walked back to the other side of the salon lugging all 27 lbs of my baby on my hip to try to help Aya get through. Ms Black and Ashy followed me over. By this time, Aya had 4 women trying to figure out how to comb her hair without causing her pain. “Pain” for Aya meant touching her follicles or scalp period. I told them to just let her go. We didn’t need to finish the hair. Ashy pipes up and says “Are you sure?”

“Yes, I’m sure.” I was confused. Wasn’t this the same chick who had just said she wasn’t going to allow my kids’ hair to get done?

“We can still straighten it,” she insisted. “We can braid it and set her under the dryer and then flat iron it. We don’t have to go through the exercise of blow drying it.”

I felt hopeful for the first time and readily agreed.

I watched from the other side of the room as Aya’s blond stylist sat by her under the dryer and they chatted about the pictures in a magazine. When she was done, Black-and-Ashy put her ashy hands in my baby’s hair to demonstrate how to iron it. I heard Aya yelp. Ashy frantically and angrily beckoned me over and harshly informed me that she was not going to finish her hair, because she kept moving and she wasn’t going to burn her. The blond student looked defeated and Aya looked miserable.

“Ok,” I said simply. I told Aya to gather her things (the cookies, M&Ms and other consolation gifts the students had given her), we were going home. She looked a mess.

I would end here raining insults on the unprofessional and compassion-less ashy lady, had it not been for the saving work of a Hispanic girl named Jackie who was finishing up Na’s hair. She vowed not to let me take my baby home looking the way she did, and labored over Ya-ya’s locks for the next 3 hours, tears, twitches and all. I tipped her and thanked her profusely. I am grateful to Jackie, and since she informed me that yesterday was her last day at the salon, I won’t be taking the girls back. Ms. Black-and-Ashy made it abundantly clear that she did not want “crying babies” in her shop, and I don’t want to give my money to any institution where we’re not welcome, even if it is only $23.00.