If you’re a typical natural who’s just been accepted to Peace Corps, one of the first things you probably thought was, “Lord, what am I gonna do with this hair?” Will my favorite products be available? Will I wear my hair out or protective style? Who will do my maintenance trims? Just thinking about it can be stressful especially when you know you’re going to serve in a country where you can’t easily get braids installed (Shout out to the Sub-Saharan Africa volunteers). Having natural hair can be such a struggle bus in the Peace Corps but after more than a year of service, I’ve found the most perfect and practical solution to dealing with my hair while still maintaining its health.
First, let me give you a run down of my particular situation at site. I have running water 99.9% of the time so I’m able to wash my hair once a week. All of my products have been either sent to me or I’ve brought them back in bulk from the States. The only thing I buy in country is conditioner at the Sally Beauty supply in Lima (When I’m there I make sure to buy enough to last me a long time). My site is super hot and the sun is brutal so I wanted a solution that would protect my hair from drying out. And most importantly, I’m lazy – I don’t have the motivation to style it and I wanted the easiest option but didn’t exactly want to look raggedy either.
While I was vacationing in the States, I came up with the perfect solution and because I wish I would have thought about it way earlier, I’m going to share my routine in hopes that it’ll rescue some prospective volunteer in their natural hair care worries. So here we go:
One: Wash Day is usually a Sunday and I am very good about making sure I wash once a week unless I’m traveling. When I wash my hair, I do it in two sections because I find that I use less shampoo that way. And when you can’t just run to the beauty supply store, it’s really important that you’re conscious about how much product you’re using. After I wash, I dry my hair with a t-shirt (actually, it’s the ugly brown Peace Corps one they give all new volunteers at staging).
Two: While my hair is still damp, I take sections and I apply my conditioner. I usually apply conditioner to about eight different sections. Each section, I twist after the conditioner has been applied. Out of all the products, conditioner is the product that goes the fastest and so again, I am super conscious about how much I’m using because the last thing I want to do is take an emergency trip on the 24 hour bus just for some conditioner. After all the conditioned sections are twisted, I put a plastic bag over my head and wrap it in a do-rag.
Three: While my hair is conditioning under my plastic bag and do-rag, I’ll do something like clean, do laundry, eat breakfast, etc. This time, I did a bentonite clay mask, ate pomegranate seeds, and watched an episode of Lock Up Raw on Netflix.
Four: Depending on my mood, the conditioner might be in my hair anywhere from 30 minutes to 4 hours. I have noticed lately that the longer I leave it in, the itchier my scalp is when I rinse it out. And scratching a tender, wet scalp is a recipe for scabs – yuck. So I’ve been trying to limit it to 30 minutes to an hour. However long it is, I just make sure that I never wash my hair without deep conditioning. Deep conditioning regularly is so important to a natural hair care regimen and really helps you to maintain moisture through the week.
Five: Now it’s time to moisturize. I use the LOC (liquid, oil, cream) method. I use water for the liquid (it’s the most important moisturizer!) Usually my hair is still pretty damp so I don’t need to spray water on it. Next, I use coconut oil and finally I use a Cantu moisturizing cream. And because I’m extra vigilant, I seal my ends with a heavy shea butter. Additionally, I use Wild Growth Hair Oil to moisturize my scalp. All of this is done in sections, of course. After each section is moisturized, I twist the hair in a large fat twist. At the end of moisturizing, I’ll have anywhere between 10 to 14 twists on my entire head. This takes about 45 minutes to an hour and because my hair retains moisture pretty well, I only have to do this once a week.
Six: After I’m all moisturized and twisted up, I’ll take the twists and bobby pin them at the top of my head and put my trusty do-rag over it. And, voilà! That’s it folks! I keep my hair tucked away everyday until the next wash day. Before coming back to Peru, I bought a nice head scarf to wear outside – it’s black and white so it matches with pretty much all the clothes that I wear. So when I do need to work or run errands, I just slap on my sunglasses and head wrap over my do-rag and I’m presentable! I don’t have to think about styling… EVER. More importantly, my hair is always up and away with very little manipulation for minimum breakage and maximum length retention.
Extras: Every six weeks, I do an Aphogee protein treatment (also brought over from the States). This helps reduce shedding, breakage, and builds the strength of your hair strands. And because I know that hair health also comes from the inside I drink about 2 liters of water a day. Well, really I drink that much because it’s a million degrees outside but drinking sufficient amounts of water helps when you’re trying to have healthy hair. Lastly, I make sure to take a daily multi-vitamin. I know Peruvian customs won’t let you send over vitamins via care package and after having a care package sent back to the States because of vitamins, I learned that I can ask Peace Corps medical for them and they’ll send them to me for free. So ask your PCMO if they are able to provide you with multi-vitamins before going through a care package nightmare.
I know that everyone’s hair and realities at site can vary immensely, so don’t take this post a cure all for Peace Corps natural hair woes but I hope that this can serve as a guide and solve some anxieties for any natural who has found themselves in this peculiar situation that we call Peace Corps service.