From civil war to curlers

IF you are a Sierra Leone local and have been missing Mella’s hairstyling since they closed down, the good news is they have relocated to Hamilton Hill.

Run by Pamela Sesay, Mella Hair Braiding is a haven for African expats who want an authentic hairdo or miss hair products they used back home.

Sesay ran her own braiding business in Africa, before moving to Hamilton Hill in 2007 as part of the Refugee and Humanitarian Program.

Her husband came to Australia three years earlier, which she said made the process easier.

• Pamela Sesay in her African hairstyling shop, which also sells African food and a limited range of clothing. Photo by Charlie Smith

Civil war

Sierra Leone’s civil war ended in 2002, but afterwards cities like Freetown, where Sesay lived, suffered from overpopulation and high unemployment.

“People were forced to leave their hometowns but there were very little jobs so making a living was the biggest challenge,” she says.

Sesay finds it “frustrating” when refugees are portrayed as lazy, and says her family came to Australia wanting to work hard.

“In Africa I just did hair, but here we offer African foods and some other products which can’t be found in supermarkets,” she says.

Mella’s best selling products include African staples like rice and maize, but the store also stocks a small selection of traditional clothing.

Sesay sources most of her products from Africa or the eastern states of Australia, including fufu (a thick paste made from pounding cassava and flour in a wooden mortar and pestle) which is served with soup.

“The food products help pay the rent,” Sesay laughs, but her real passion is hair styling.

“Growing up, whenever I was doing hair, I was happy,” she says.

“It’s more than just doing hair: you meet and learn different things from people from all over Africa and other parts of the world.”

According to Sesay, hairstyles are pretty similar across the vast continent of Africa, with most stores offers braiding, weaves, cornrows and extensions.

Whilst Sesay has noticed the African population in Hamilton Hill growing, she says people come from far and wide to her shop to get their hair done and buy African grub.

“It’s my profession—it’s what I love.”

by CHARLIE SMITH

Mella Hair Braiding & African Products
Shop 14, Hamilton Hill Plaza
51 Rockingham Road
0431 026 980

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