The Observer (Kampala)

6 December 2012

Uganda: Just Writing - My Bad Hair Day

I didn't expect anything bad to happen when I went to plait my hair on Saturday November 24. I've plaited my hair without incident, since I was 19. I go into the salon, plop myself in a chair and lose myself in a book while a hairdresser pulls my head this way and the other pulls that way.

When they are done, I dust myself of stray hairs and I'm off to my bed, for a comfortable night's sleep. A number of friends complain of pain during the hair-plaiting and un-plaiting process. They say the first nights, after hair-plaiting are uncomfortable. Me? I hardly feel pain.

"I've a hard scalp," I tell friends. "Even when I'm having my hair retouched (a painful process which sometimes results in scalp burns), the hair dresser is more anxious than I am. He asks, frightened, whether I'm feeling any pain and I say I am not, I've told friends before.

Saturday was different. A lady plaited my hair into cornrows in preparation for a weave-on. I waited about half an hour for another lady that was supposed to weave on my weave. She was plaiting someone else's hair and just when she was about to start, I got a severe headache.

I winced and started turning in my chair. I got off my chair and pressed my head onto the chair, hoping to press the pain away. The lady noticed my discomfort and asked about it. I told her I had a headache. I let on that I had drunk the night before so I was perhaps experiencing a hangover. I've plaited my hair after a drunken night before and I had never experienced such a headache. The lady rubbished my hangover explanation.

"This girl made the cornrows too tight," she said. She suggested that we remove them and we loosen them. When the tight ones were removed, the pain immediately subsided.

Fresh ones were done and after my weave had been placed, the excruciating pain returned. I tried to sit it out but the pain got worse. I asked that the weave be removed.

Two well-meaning ladies, one of whom had plaited my hair, instructed that I toughen up like a woman. One got me diclorofenac. I swallowed it but the pain wasn't letting up. I asked, again, that the weave be removed. The women told me, again, to be strong.

I cried - that always gets people to listen. They sprang into action and removed the weave. And I went home to a pain-free night's sleep. Dr Vincent Karuhanga says pain experienced from hair-plaiting is as a result of stretching the hair.

It is largely harmless and painkillers can alleviate it. However, tension on hair may result in traction alopecia (balding). So, don't ignore that pain caused by hair plaiting. Ask your hairdresser not to overstretch the hair to prevent baldness.

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