Yellow, to me, is laughter, light, and energy. It reminds me of sunny beaches in Kenya…of sunrises and sunsets in Johannesburg…of sunflowers and daffodils at Oxford’s Covered Market…and of Massachusetts’ lemon tarts and Thai curry…
Our first feature post!
It is my hope to drive this blog to become a user- generated information platform, where your stories and experiences can be shared and authored by you, yes YOU! We can talk about hair all day but it is the people and the minds inside the heads that carry the hair that truly matter.
This beautiful mind comes in the form of a sunshiny lady, Tabitha Tongoi. Tabitha is a Kenyan natural currently studying in the United States. She recently decided to share her hair journey with the world through her blog where she shares her passion for natural hair care and identity through self- portraiture. After deciding to return to wearing her hair natural three and a half years ago, she grew out her hair through protective styling and debunked the misconception that black hair can’t thrive in its natural state.
When Tabitha reached out to us, we were beyond excited to have her shine some yellow rays this way. In our conversations, I realized that we happened to go to the same primary school. I have the memory of an elephant and her name just rang so familiar! In the way that life sometimes happens, we hadn’t seen or heard from each other in almost two decades, but here we are, four continents and almost twenty years later, discussing natural hair through the internet! To this day, I am absolutely amazed by the connections, that are made from the natural hair community.
Here’s a Q & A if you’d like to know just a little more about Tabitha:
Tell us about your early childhood, where did you grow up?
I was born in Nairobi, and then my parents moved to Eldoret till I was five. We moved back to Nairobi in the 90’s, and that’s where I grew up and went to school. At age 17, I left Kenya for further studies and have been in and out in the 8 years since then.
Where are you based now?
That’s a hard question! In this one year alone, I have moved between England, USA and Australia. I should be in the US for a few more months, but I can feel the wind in my sails – it’ll soon be time to set off again!
Do you care to share the story behind your move to the United States/ Diaspora?
Yes, definitely! I first went abroad when I was 17. I was one of the first students at African Leadership Academy in South Africa. I completed a two-year A-Level program. I then took a gap year and volunteered with a tech group in Kibera. Shortly after, I took off to the USA where I have since been studying Comparative Politics with a focus on Africa. I also just completed a year of study in the UK. I am still looking to pursue further studies, but Kenya is where I will be when it all comes to an end within the next year or so!
What was your experience with black hair growing up in Nairobi?
Broadly summed up in one experience: My three friends and I were sitting at a restaurant. A renowned politician (I’ll save his face) walks up to us and tries to chat with us. He takes one glance at me and says, “mbona hujachana nywele?” (why haven’t you combed your hair?) And then turns to my friend who’s donned a weave and says, “sasa huyu ndiyo mrembo” (now this one is the beautiful one). This incident happened two years ago but with the growth of Kenyan natural hair forums, coily hair is fast become the norm. I’m excited about the dynamic natural hair scene in Nairobi!
How has your experience been, as a black African young woman, living abroad?
Enriching! Living abroad has taught me to confront my inner self. It has been an opportunity to grow into my sense of wholesome womanhood, which for me is all about self-love, personal affirmation and consciously being the best version of you in whatever you do.
At what point did you realize that your hair connected you to your identity as a black African woman?
It only takes a day of hanging out with white women and you quickly realize that your hair doesn’t flow the way theirs does. Black natural hair is a physical marker of difference in the West. At first, being an African abroad was really difficult. I stood out already because of my earthy skin tone and my “exotic” accent! Having then to deal with hair that is different compounds the whole experience. It is difficult to feel beautiful, because all the advertisements are tailored towards caucasian beauty standards. I’ve slowly but surely come to see that my coily hair and my dark caramel skin are beautiful. To me, natural hair has come to represent an affirmation of myself, as well as a critical awareness of the way in which society has excluded black beauty standards from mainstream media.
Did it take some time for you to get acclimated to feeling attractive and confident in your new look?
Summed up in one experience: Right after my big chop, a guy I’d been crushing on for a while came up to me and said, “I looovee your hair!” You can only imagine the joy, butterflies and cold sweats I endured before I managed to blurt a quick “thank you!” Black men are changing with the times too. Natural hair is fast becoming a way to identify a woman who is grounded, confident, self-aware and self-assured. Now those aren’t bad traits to be associated with, are they?
How did you learn to take care of and understand your natural hair?
Trial and error …and YouTube. Over the past few years, I have spent a lot of time reading blogs and watching vlogs. Naturals all over the world inspired me to grow my hair by shared their tips and tricks. That’s why I decided to blog as well. If I can help one other woman learn how to love her tresses, I’ll be fulfilled!
Who are your favourite bloggers/ vloggers?
That’s a hard one! I have a list of over 300 bloggers that I follow! My favourite beauty vloggers are Shirley B Eniang and BeautybyJJ. My favorite hair bloggers are Healthy Hair and Body and K is for Kinks.
What is your hair regimen like?
Simple. I’m all about keeping it simple with natural hair care. If you’ve been around for a while, you know that the natural hair community is a very creative one! In my first year of hair care I wanted to try this pompadour and that type of braid and this new updo! But now that I have settled into things, I am learning that my hair likes to be left alone. I wash my hair once a week as follows: pre-poo overnight with coconut oil, co-wash with a shampoo/conditioner from Shea Moisture, deep condition with Spiral Solutions Deeply Decadent, rinse with Apple Cider Vinegar, rinse with cool water, air dry and seal with Olive Oil. My hair is in two-strand twists for three weeks in a month. I henna and clarify once a month too. Finito.
Has your regimen changed much from your early natural days/years?
Yesss! I will say that is has settled much more. There was a time when I was applying henna every week! Now if you’ve used henna before, you know that that is a lot of work! Also, there was a time when I had a list of 10-12 oils that I used on my hair – not only was that expensive, it was impractical. Oils don’t grow our hair, good hair practices do. Let’s just say I’ve learn’t to keep it simple.
According to your blog, you chose to wear wigs as a protective style. Do you have any other style options that you can recommend for ladies that prefer not to wear wigs over their protective style?
I wear wigs because I am chasing length! Wigs are a great way to ensure that you let your hair do its thing! Luckily, the natural hair community is a community of creative and innovative women and men! The list of hairstyles is endless, but my next favourite after wigs would be faux locs, crotchet braids and two-strand twists.
How can we, as black women, and women in general learn to remain confident and positive with our natural hair and looks?
It is a journey, I’ll admit. But I think it starts by simply unlearning the myths of what “real beauty” is. As a black woman, I struggled with the reality that women with Caucasian features are portrayed as authentic beauties. One way I began to overturn this myth is by following lots of visual forums that show black women embracing their natural looks. Instagram is a great resource for this! I think the same principle applied to all aspects of womanhood, be it struggles with complexion or even weight. I think it helps to look oneself in the mirror, unlearn each constraining myth and affirm oneself, flaws and all.
As a new hair blogger, did you feel that publicly talking about something that may be deemed trivial, such as hair, would interfere with your role as a student of Politics?
Absolutely not! Hair amongst African/ Black women is an emotive and sensitive topic. It can easily consume us in fact! So I’d say hair is a pretty big deal – not only as a multi-billion dollar industry, but also as a physical marker of black/African identity. That said, I keep my posts as light hearted and as informative as possible. I delve into political issues in my self-portraiture pieces in which I ask critical questions about the world around us.
Did you need to gather some confidence to share a part of your life on the internet?
Oh yes I did! I am naturally an introvert! I am also quite private, but I realized that life is not a rehearsal. I’ve got to bless people when I still have the breath to do so. So I’m sharing my life so that someone out there can be encouraged to continue living theirs as best as they can.
I’m loving AJANI Handmade’s values and working philosophy! Finally a natural hair brand by Kenyan women that promotes wholesome womanhood! Keep up the excellent work!
To read more on Tabitha, her journey and her interests, visit CRAVINGYELLOW.COM
All pictures courtesy of Tabitha & www.cravingyellow.com