Extended Hair Family
What’s a Black girl to do when her twists fall apart in a foreign land on a hotter-than-hot day? Travel journalist Michelle Burford scours the salons of Athens for a bit of help with her wilting hairdo.
MICHELLE BURFORD, CONTRIBUTING WRITER
LET’S GO GREECE TRAVEL GUIDEBOOK | 2007 EDITION
Before I left for Greece, my African-American beautician back in Manhattan promised me that my braids would last for “at least eight weeks.” But since nearly everything falls apart when it’s a record 106 degrees in Athens, my ‘do suddenly became a don’t in a mere 12.7 days. Which is precisely why I set out on a quest one morning: I had to find at least one Black person in Greece who could re-braid my hair.
As a longtime world traveler, I’d been in exactly such hair dilemmas before: A few summers ago when I skedaddled over to Korea, I spent weeks trying to find the soul in Seoul.
Though Greece is—surprise, surprise—98 percent Greek, I nonetheless spotted one Black person during my first week in the country. But since she didn’t speak English, and since her braids looked even more TLC-deprived than mine, I decided not to ask her for salon advice. Then one morning one of my braids completely unraveled while I was in the shower, and I got desperate. I threw on my clothes, I marched out onto the main avenue, and I waited. And waited. And waited.
After 28 minutes, I actually saw another African. Faster than you can say Monistariki, I accosted her. I then cut straight to the point: “Where are all the Black people in Greece?” In perfect English (halle-LOO-jah), the Senegalese woman explained that there were several Black hair-braiding salons in a neighborhood she pronounced as “Cerspelli.” I begged her to write it down on the back of a paper napkin I had in my purse; she even sent me off with an extra hookup: She offered me the phone number of a beautician she called “Lilly.”
I scrambled up the stairs to my apartment and googled the area of town the woman had mentioned. Zippo luck. Even after trying several alternate spellings over the next half-hour, I found absolutely nothing. Finally, I stumbled across a website that mentioned a place called “Kypseli,” a central Athens neighborhood in which immigrant groups such as Poles, Albanians, and (bingo!) Africans have settled over the last several decades. Moments later, I had “Bridgette” on my cell phone line. Within 48 hours, I was sashaying along the lively streets of Kypseli, marveling at the vibrant colors, animated conversations, and savory smells of ethnic cuisine in this enclave that reminded me of my own Harlem neighborhood.
As a longtime world traveler, I’d been in exactly such hair dilemmas before. A few summers ago when I skedaddled over to Korea, I spent weeks trying to find the soul in Seoul. Back then, a gracious Nigerian woman rescued me from the frizzies. As it goes in Seoul, so it goes in Kypseli: The highly-recommended Lilly actually outdid my regular Manhattan hair braider by a long shot. In less than two hours and for a piddly 17 euros, she created 25 perfect rows of braids, which allowed some fresh (even if hot!) air to descend onto my scalp. For my remaining three weeks in the city, a whole new world of Black people—Kypseli braiders, mothers, sisters, friends—became part of my extended hair family.
Publisher: Let’s Go Publications; 9th edition; released on November 27, 2007
Need a travel essay on a tight deadline? E-mail Michelle@MichelleBurford.com