DOREEN NAWA, Lusaka
SINCE the age of six, Natasha Nguni, 20, has only known one hairstyle – a bald hair style.
Natasha was born a normal, healthy child, with a head full of hair. But at the age of six, her hair began to fall off, and within weeks, she was completely bald.
She has remained so since.
Initially, there were numerous visits to doctors. But they did not yield any positive results. Her distraught mother sought traditional African medicines. But nothing changed. Natasha has got neither eyebrows nor eye lashes.
Natasha was diagnosed with Alopecia, a rare condition, which is said to affect one person in one million people. It involves loss of skull and facial hair.
Its causes remain unclear but it is believed to be autoimmune, a condition where the immune system fails to recognise ‘its own’ and attacks hair follicles thereby stopping hair growth.
But Natasha is getting on just fine. She is the founder and chief executive officer of Legacy Photography, which she established two years ago.
But it has not always been fine.
“It has not been easy,” Natasha admits. “Because of how society looks at a woman and the hair, I suffered lots of humiliation, whenever I get out of the house onto the streets, all eyes will be on me.
“I was born like any normal and healthy child, with a full head of hair. After I turned six, I woke up one morning and my mum noticed that my hair was falling off in patches. In no time, I was completely bald. I began my journey with my mum visiting different doctors in search of answers.”
In a quest to find a solution to her condition, different prescriptions were given to her. Some suggested she was allergic to certain foods, so, she stopped eating fish, pork and game meat.
At the same time, she was put on various medications like injectable, oral and even ointments for the scalp. Her dad also took her to a Chinese doctor who performed some kind of procedure on Natasha’s scalp but without any success.
“As I was on taking these medicines, my mum also tried different kinds of home remedies [traditional African medicines] that could help with hair growth but to no avail,” she says.
“After visiting so many doctors, only one doctor identified my symptoms and diagnosed me with Alopecia. My mother, out of care, didn’t want me to know or think about my diagnosis.”
Her childhood changed drastically.
“My friends were so used to seeing me with cute little hair styles, and suddenly, I was wearing head socks,” she shares. “Like every inquisitive child, they wanted to know what I was hiding, and they began asking questions. I was bold enough to tell a few of my friends about my situation but there were always those school bullies.”
School life became uncomfortable for Natasha as she dealt with bullying. Sometimes, her fellow pupils would pull off her head sock.
“It was a difficult period for me I must confess, I even hated going to school. I remember, before I turned nine, my hair grew back just on the crown of my head and it was some relief to me and my family,” she says.
The relief was short-lived. It was the last time she was seeing hair on her head.
The humiliation was too much; she decided to change schools. But every time she changed school, her mother had to ask for special permission from the school authorities for her to wear a wig.
In grade seven, she was nicknamed “Baldilocks” but Natasha chose not to be bothered.
“But it always stuck in my head,” she says.
As she grew older and coming from a Christian family, her mum never gave up but prayed for her daughter to find a nexus in life and live happily.
“My family have always been so supportive to me, and that’s something I am really grateful for.
“Even on days when I would cry and complain about my illness, they always gave me comfort and made me feel special in my own little way,” Natasha says.
Sadly, when she was in grade 12, her mum died. It is a scenario that was difficult to deal with.
For Natasha, the passing on of her mother signaled an end to the search for the cure of her condition.
“Who is going to pray for me now? Who is going to massage my scalp? I kept on crying and asking myself such questions, but then, I realised that there is a time when one needs to take things in their own hands and hope for the best,” she says.
She accepted her situation in 2015.
But it was not a one-day decision, it was a process.
Natasha slowly gathered the courage to a point where she could post pictures of herself with the bald head on social media.
In 2015, the year she also established Legacy Photography. Natasha’s self-esteem has helped her to become one of the foremost female photographers in the country.
“I started photography in church with a church camera after a basic photography training,” she says. “Then, I didn’t own my own camera, [so] I decided to use my acquired family skill of baking to buy my own camera. I could bake, and save each time I sold the different confectionaries and finally I got my own camera.”
And now, she can get whatever image she desires.