Tuesday, May 19, 2009

ShamPOO, or, How Nigeria (Partially) Killed my Hair

Hi. I'm back from Nigeria! I managed to escape without contracting jiggers, chiggers, river blindness, malaria, the plague, tetanus, rabies, blood worms, bone worms, teeth worms, Parkinson's, Tourettes, asthma, food poisoning, water poisoning, sickle cell anemia, Legionaire's disease, swine flu, bird flu, monkey flu, cold sweats, hot sweats, or fingernail sensitivity.

I did, however, come out with a head full of sticky hair, which I have been trying, rather unsuccessfully, for the last week, to rinse clean. I guess it could be worse, considering.

I ended up with said sticky hair through a long and complicated process, only part of which was my fault. Here's what happened: the first day I got to Lagos, I desperately needed a shower after almost 24 hours of travel, so I decided to wash my hair. I was in the shower at the hotel, lathering up my hair with the little bottle of shampoo I had bought in the Frankfurt airport, when the semi-robust water flow suddenly turned into a tiny trickle. Uh oh, I thought. Panicky, I tried to wash each strand of hair individually with the couple of measly drops sneaking out of the shower head, but that didn't get me very far. I had a meeting downstairs in a few minutes, so I decided to just sack it in and try to rinse everything out tomorrow.

It seemed like a good idea at the time.

The next day, I woke up with a head of still-wet, sticky hair, plastered to my skull in odd formations. I tried to rinse my block of hair before we had to leave in the morning but it stayed the way it was, so I just pulled it into a bumpy bun and hoped none of my colleagues would touch my head during the day (usually a safe bet).

I guess I would have just continued the trip with semi-sticky and unmanageable hair, and things would have been okay -- good, not great -- but I made the situation drastically worse on Thursday by accidentally "washing" my hair with conditioner. I know. The deadly combination of my already gross, dried-shampoo-y hair and a tablespoon of thick conditioner can be analogized to an oil spill in Lake Erie. And I'm talking about the really foul part of Lake Erie -- the part that caught on fire.

After that, I suffered through the last few days of our Nigeria trip in a state of constant hair paranoia, positive that everyone was looking at my hair and wondering why it looked as if someone had raked their fingers through it, or why flies and other debris were getting stuck in it.

Things were getting truly desperate after the first leg of my trip back to Boston. I had a seven hour layover in the Frankfurt airport, and I decided that it was necessary to cough up 6 Euros to use the shower facilities in the airport. I never pictured myself as being the type of person who would shower in an airport, but desperate times call for desperate measures. I stood in there for 20 minutes or so, clawing at my mass of hair, trying to get the shampoo from almost a week ago out of it, to no avail. Horrible.

I've been back in Cambridge now for three days and my hair is still not totally back to normal. I've tried a lot of stuff since I've been back, including rinsing my hair with apple cider vinegar (I smelled like an overpriced salad the rest of the day). Finally, I went to Aveda and bought some cleansing shampoo, which helped, I think. Probably a few more days and my hair will be restored to its normal luster (lustre?) but it's a process. A long, excruciating, gross process, which I felt like sharing with you all.

The lesson that I've derived from all of this is that one should always use the buckets provided in Nigerian showers. They apparently do serve the very necessary purpose of catching those drops of water leaking from the shower head so that you can actually wash yourself (and your hair). I should never have scoffed at that bucket.

Hey, at least I didn't get guinea worm.


  1. Reminds me of the time I was going to South Africa for a month and I decided to keep my hair braided because I knew we'd have minimal access to showers -- I actually only took five in 27 days -- it was gross.
    By the time I took my hair out it was so ratty, I seriously thought each individual braid would just detach itself from my head.
    It wasn't that bad.
    And I didn't get AIDS, so that was good.
    Tasteless joke? Sorry.

  2. Hi Sabrina. Seeing as I made reference to both chiggers and jiggers in my original post, I don't find your comment tasteless at all. I'm also glad your hair didn't fall out!

  3. Yikes, hope you're able to get it back to some semblance of its former self! :)