So I grew up in Lagos state, Nigeria.
If you had a similar upbringing to mine, you may have gotten your hair done in the market, in a roadside stall, or in a place that was just not the comfort of your home. As we moved through different homes, and life got better, so did the 'hair salons'.
When my family lived in Surulere, a Lagos residential area, Mama Simi was our hookup. She was the one woman my mum trusted to braid mine and my sisters’ hair. So early on Saturday mornings, my mum would load us into the car and drop us off at Aguda market and then she would attend to her shopping.
Mama’s Simi’s stall was no salon, it had no air conditioning, no fans or windows or professional grade salon chairs. It was a tiny room with one standing fan. The only other source of refreshing air came from the two large iron-gate-like doors that opened up to the rest of the market. Her store held space for the braiding extensions she sold and two wooden benches to sit on, and if there was no room on the bench you would sit on a mat on the linoleum floor.
Now, I’m what you would call an ajebuta. In Nigerian slang, we have the ajepakos (those from the hood who know they are tough) and the ajebutas (those who are too soft and who won't last a day in the hood). I always thought I could be an ajepako, but life told me:
I’m an ajebuta and you know what, I am learning to embrace it. I am a tender flower, and ain’t nothing wrong with that but having to leave the comfort of my home and being in a space with no AC is not my forte.
Mama Simi was very strict about order and cleanliness in her store. I do not blame her, it is a market, and there are critters everywhere. We would always do our best to eat our biscuits without dropping a thing, but alas crumbs would still fall to the floor. And then the shouting would follow, “I’ve told you not to drop crumbs on my floor!” One of those days when she shouted at my little sister, my aunt came to her defence, “she’s a child, how do you expect her not to drop anything?” (Shoutout to my aunt).
I mentioned there was one standing fan in Mama Simi’s store but it hardly came on, because the power was almost always out. Consistent power in Nigeria is a fantasy. It goes and it comes, and when it does come, everyone knows because you will hear the shouts of “Up NEPA.” During those hours when NEPA (Nigeria’s electricity provider) denied us electricity, we would sit in her stall or right in front of the doors where there was more air and enjoy the cool breeze or melt in the hot sun. We did not have phones then so we just sat there waiting for our turn, or we played with the other children.
When it came to what hairstyle we did, my mum always insisted on having us make Didi “inner weaving,” and till today I cannot tell you why. Maybe it lasted longer, I do not know. I did not like it much, because no one else in my school had Didi, everyone had regular braids. But no, Ataisi had to be different so this is what my hair looked like most of the time:
I either did all back (cornrows) or two step (two layers of cornrows) as we called it. The funny thing is hairstyles I dreaded so much like Fulani braids, Didi, have become staples in the Black community. Black women with all their creativity have found a way to modernize these styles and make them trendy.
When Mama Simi finished my hair, I either waited for my sister’s to be completed or we all waited for my mum or our driver to return. During that wait, I would use whatever money I had to buy treats like Fan Choco or Fan Yogo (frozen ice cream treats) whenever street peddlers came by. Or Tampico Juice! Ahh memories. Sometimes I would buy Gala, every Nigerian knows Gala is the best street snack ever. It is a sausage roll but it just tastes so different and the 'meat' in it always looked suspicious. Gala is like contraband in my household because my mum does not trust how it's made. So if I bought it, I would walk away from the stall to eat it so my sisters would not find out. Then I would wipe my mouth and come back to the stall like nothing happened (LOL, sorry Mum).
At the end of the day, when our hair was done, we would all thank Mama Simi with our shiny foreheads and strained faces from sitting for so long. We were now all ready for school on Monday, and the whole process would repeat itself in two weeks.
My experiences in Aguda market may not have been ones I looked forward to all the time, but they are definitely ones I will never forget. Reflecting now, I think I may have actually enjoyed them a bit. They definitely made my Saturdays more interesting.
If you would like to get a feel of Aguda Market, you can watch a tour of the market here.