Natural Hair Care in Oaxaca
Most black women face this dilemma while traveling for long periods of time, whether they're rocking a fro, braids, or a sew in: what the f*%# am I gonna do with my hair when I get there? When haircare feels like a part-time job, this question can be detrimental. Do I dedicate 15 lbs of my 50 lb luggage limit to my go-to products? Do I risk it and just hope that i find my products (or similar) when I reach my destination?
I'm a lazy natural, meaning that I do the bare minimum to prevent my hair from breaking off or matting up. Travelling somewhere with a large or active black or African population means that you probably won't have an issue finding products or hairdressers that are familiar with your hair. But what about heading somewhere where the black population is close to 0?
This is the situation I found myself in in Oaxaca. I'd packed enough Cantu to last me about a month, but the panic set in when my supply began to dwindle. Luckily for me, the city isn't completely void of hope when it comes to natural hair care.
A necessary evil: Wal-Mart
*Sigh* I know. I know that Wal-Mart is a terrible, awful corporation that underpays their employees, discriminates against the elderly, and doesn't provide sufficient healthcare. I promise if I'd discovered a better option, I would provide it. For now, I (or more accurately, my curls) are dancing with the devil.
Similarly to the US, Wal-Mart Mexico sells a plethora of hair products for different hair types. You can find your standard brands like Suave, Pantene and Aussie (hey, 3-Minute Miracle!) but tucked into the upper left corner at the very end of the aisle lies the holy grail: Shea Moisture.
As you can see, they don't carry the full selection of product lines. But when I saw the familiar peach label of the Coconut & Hibiscus Curl Enhancing Smoothie, I shed a tear.
If Shea Moisture's not really your thing, they also carry Maui Moisture, which is a bathroom staple for me back in the states. Their Heal & Hydrate line does wonders for my hair.
Long live the Kitchen-tician
Growing up, we all knew a kitchen-tician. Maybe it was an aunt, a neighbor, a cousin, or your mom's coworker's sister's niece. For me, it was my best friend's mom, who permed my hair in her kitchen sink every few months for free.99. Ah, the good ol' days.
As we get older and salon prices skyrocket, the kitchen-tician seems more and more like a myth. Now, your boss's nephew's daughter charges $400 to braid your hair on her living room sofa. Nice.
Friends, I'm here to tell you that the kitchen-tician still exists here in Oaxaca. Her name is Mayra.
After searching Google high and low for the standard keywords (black hair care, african hair care, natural hair care, braids in oaxaca, etc.) and coming up empty, the barber shop around the corner started to look more and more appealing. It wasn't until a friend from Instagram, who'd also traveled through Mexico recently, recommended that I search for "trenzas africanas " that I realized: Oh, you're in Mexico, dumb ass. Use Spanish.
I came across Mayra on SegundaMano, which functions as a sort of Craigslist in Mexico. Her description was to the point: (translated)
I make African tresses. Work at home. Prices vary depending on the type of braids and use of extensions.
Simple enough, and seemed promising. I sent Mayra an eager message on WhatsApp, explaining to her that I was black with black hair, going as far as to send her photos of my hair to make sure that nothing was lost in translation. She assured me that everything was fine, quoted me $950 MEX (about $50 USD), and we set a date for the upcoming weekend. I did a happy dance and prayed for the best.
When Sunday arrived, my partner and I made our way to her house in Volcanes, about 8 minutes from our apartment in San Felipe del Agua, opting to take a cab so that we weren't late for my 2:30 appointment. Although her house was very close to ours, our driver got lost. At the same time two things happened: my phone died and Sol ran out of data. A feeling of dread overcame me and I started to wonder if the almighty was sending me signs. Fortunately, after pulling over and asking a local for directions, we reached our destination safely. At 2:29.
Mayra answered the door a bit apprehensively, which was only fair since we'd just banged on her gate like imbeciles, ignoring the doorbell that was, quite literally, in front of our faces. In true kitchen-tician fashion, Mayra asked if she could finish her meal before getting to work, while her tia grilled us with miscellaneous questions about where we were from and whether or not we were fluent in Spanish. I didn't understand much of what she was saying (Sol carried on the bulk of the conversation) but smirked to myself, instantly feeling more at home.
The first thing Mayra said to me when I took down my hair was, "Wow, nunca he hecho trenzas africanas en una africana antes," which translates to "Wow, I've never done African braids on an African before." It was hilarious. I could tell that she was a bit overwhelmed and skeptical about parting my hair, so I blindly parted it for her with my hands (this worked out perfectly, as I'm not a huge fan of clean parts). The kitchen was hot and humid, bringing forth memories of New Orleans summers, once again making me feel more at home. I passed the time skimming From Excuses to Excursions by the amazing Gloria Antanamo (GloGraphics). Sol sat across the table, running off of 2 hours of sleep and trying not to nod off.
After 2.5 hours of sitting in the chair, I started getting antsy. I got the familiar feeling of I wish I was anywhere but here and I'd cut off my left pinkie toe to get out of this damn chair that the hairdresser inevitably brings. Mayra's semi-consistent sighs confirmed that she felt similarly. A half an hour later, she pulled out a candle and started burning the ends of my trenzas, signaling that our time here was just about through.
My braids came out perfectly. The handmade, rugged parts gave me a really natural look that I adore. We thanked Mayra, snapped a few photos, and just like that, we were back on the streets of Volcanes, heading home. (We got lost. Again. But that's a story for another day.)
This is not really my niche — I told ya'll, I'm lazy — but if it's yours, there are some products that you can find to make your own hair products here in Oaxaca. I know that shea butter is the base for a lot of products, and unfortunately, I haven't been able to find that here (the tub that I brought from home is still going strong). I have, however, found a store that sells all the natural oils that your heart desires. Pacalli is a local herb and supplement shop that carries a variety of essential oils, bath and body products, and natural foodstuffs (like the most delicious honey I've ever had in life). I use their jojoba oil daily and it's wonderful.They have 3 locations in Oaxaca City, but my favorite is located in San Felipe del Agua, neighbored by by a cute little yoga studio and a vegan juice shop. However, if you also need to visit said evil corporation mentioned above (Wal-Mart), you can kill two birds with one stone and visit their Macro Plaza location instead.
Wanna take DIY one step further and do your own braids or twists? More power to you! Mayra gave me the scoop on where to buy hair in the city. Check out Distribuidora Arely in el Centro. I haven't made my way to the shop yet, so I can't vouch for the place in its entirety, but I can vouch for the quality of hair used for my braids: A-1.
And that's all for now folks! Got any more natural hair care tips for the Oaxaca area? Let me know below!