Two weekends ago I abducted The Fabulous Akuba Sheen(!) and Caroline and drove off to the Natural Hair Expo on Camp Creek Rd. I’ve heard about the pomp and pageantry that takes place at this even year after year, but work or child care has always prevented me from attending. This year, I was not going to let either hinder my attempts to be a part of what my husband calls “a Negro festival”.
The air was thick with the sound of chattering Black folk. By the time we arrived the day was waning to a close, and vendors were either complacently waiting for the doors to finally shutter or wildly attempting to draw the last of the straggling shoppers to their tables to coax dollars from their pockets. I was more than willing to comply.
The first table we stopped by was selling shea butter by the case. An ebony skinned woman with shoulder length extensions looked dolefully on as people walked right by her. Caroline and I, both lovers of shea, stopped immediately.
“How much is one?” I asked the lady.
“Ei. You’re from Liberia,” I said in interruption. Her eyes lit up.
“Yes! How did you know?”
“Because of the way you said “one”.”
After the exchange that I am always happy to immerse myself in, I informed her that Akuba Sheen(!) and I were from Ghana and Caroline was from Kenya. She knocked $2 off my price and we trotted off into the tunnels of the Natural Hair cavern. (I would later return to her table and extort 3 more jars of shea butter from her. She commanded that I remember her website, racosmetics.com in return. I said I would. “How will you do this?” she asked. “Because RA Cosmetics is written on your brrrreast,” I replied looking at her perky bosom. Liberian women are just cool like that.)
I spent in insane amount of money at one vendor, sold by the auburn colored twists that one of the sellers was sporting. She smiled easily and was the essence of natural beauty. Their products were not cheap, but she somehow managed to get me to buy a trip package and extract $45 from my pocket.
“You betta sell it girl!” I hollered at her above the din.
One of the more interesting tables was way in the back, hidden from view and utterly obscure. A 6 foot puffy woman with braids, threaded hair and a perm (very reminiscent of a market maame) was selling alata samina – black soap. Each soap was scented in the most unusual way…one more than the others.
“Mmmm….what is this soap scented with?” asked Akuba Sheen(!).
Caroline bent over the massive wooden bowl to get a whiff.
“Oh my God. Malaka, smell this!”
Both of their eyes were dancing. I’d seen that look before. A dog once gripped my leg and began to hump it looked at me with the same wild look.
“Pheromones,” said the maame.
I have 4 kids. I don’t need more pheromones in my house; but Akuba and Caroline pooled their resources and purchased a block of the horny soap to split between them.
The final table we stopped at had 2 little girls who had just gotten their hair done. Unlike the other stalls doing child demos, there were no shrill shrieks or faces stained with tears. I was intruiged.
“What is your product all about?” I asked a stately woman with glasses and curly twists.
She told me the spray was Isis and that it was great for children’s hair. A spritely 20 something man with a fro-hawk and a white T joined in the conversation.
“I just did these two girls hair a few minutes ago,” he interjected. “The product is good for their hair because you don’t have to comb it.”
Bull, I thought. How can you not comb a kid’s hair?
As usual, my face betrayed my thoughts.
“You’re not supposed to comb children’s hair,” the woman said in confirmation.
Aya, as we all know, has tightly coiled hair. Ever since her woeful wailing resulted in our being booted from the Esani Institute salon a year ago, I have sought out a product that would help us work with her hair at home. My mind was racing and my heart was hopeful. Could this really be the super product? I looked at the pair skeptically.
“Are you guys just trying to sell me a product?”
“No, no!” they cried in unison. “It really works!”
After 2 hours in the hair labyrinth, I knew I didn’t have much money left. A quick glance in my wallet revealed that I only had $2 left. I was sunk. Akuba Sheen(1) lent me $3 more. Bashful, I asked them if they would sell me the tester bottle for my last fiver. They said they would have to ask the owner. Oh that’s just great, I thought.
As if summoned by our collective thoughts, an athletic woman with enormous hair, bold jewelry and a bottle of water materialized and breezed up to the table. I pleaded my case told her briefly of the horror that awaited me at home…Could she possibly offer me the sword that would help me slay the nappy dragon? She looked at me unsmilingly and wordlessly diluted the desired bottled elixir with her drinking water and took my five bucks. Again, my face read confusion.
“You’re supposed to dilute the spray with 50% water,” the bespectacled lady translated.
“Oh…well do you guys have a shop here? What do I do if I need more?”
“We are located in Texas,” said Isis.
“Oh…well do you ship to South Africa? I’ll be moving there in a few weeks.”
This made Isis smile.
She began to talk about natural hair and healthy lifestyle education.
“Hey, if your product works, I’ll consider opening a satellite store!” I said half joking.
“Okay!” she said with a smile.
As the 3 of us prepared to leave the table, the bespectacled lady tapped my arm.
“This is for you!”
Isis had thrown in the tester for the lemon grass scalp cure as well. I was a little overcome. This is the type of kindness I have hitherto only been accustomed to seeing in Ghana (and I assume other parts of Africa) – where people, otherwise unacquainted with you, offer you something extra ‘just because’. We call it tusu, or ‘dash’.
“What does that stuff do?” Marshall asked. “Does it numb her scalp or something?”
“I dunno…but I know I need a case of it before we leave!”
Isis, you and your products are appropriately named. You are both godly and miraculous.