Photo Credit: Courtesy: Helen
The Black Expat: Afro Haircare In Dubai And Adjusting To Motherhood Abroad
Meet Helen Debrah-Ampofo, A Brit from Ghana who is leading the way for Afro Haircare in Dubai. What happens when you move to Dubai and need to find products, a stylist and perfect haircare in the desert? Helen knows (and shares) it all for Black travelers hoping to find resources on Afro haircare in Dubai.
Adjusting to motherhood, settling into a career and building community is a hard balance to strike, especially when far from home. Somewhere between founding Afro Hair UAE and giving birth, Helen embodied that balance that all expats dream of. In this Travel Noire interview, discover what challenges and surprises accompanied her move to the popular Black expat spot, Dubai.
Tell us about yourself
My name is Helen Debrah-Ampofo. I was born and raised in London to Ghanaian parents and am currently based in Dubai, UAE.
How did you start traveling and exploring the world?
In the UK, travel is quite common and is even built into the school curriculum. I’m also originally from Ghana and my mum made the conscious effort to take me back home regularly. So, I’ve always been travelling. I organized my first travel holiday for 17 of my friends back in 2008 and have been intentionally traveling ever since. I love soaking up different cultures.
Why did you choose to leave the UK and make Dubai your expat home?
Being born in the UK has afforded me with great opportunities, many of which are better outside of the country. As a teacher, I am able to have a better quality of life in the UAE than I would have as a teacher in the UK. The fact that I have year-round sunshine and a tax-free salary also helps!
What were the main challenges you noticed while making the move?
When I moved to the UAE back in 2016, although I taught English in the UK, I wasn’t able to get a job as an English teacher in Abu Dhabi due to my qualifications. I was only there because of my husband’s job; this was a challenge financially and was also a blow to my confidence as part of my identity was in my career. It wasn’t until 4 years into my expat journey that I managed to land a full- time job in education.
How has motherhood adjusted your expat experience?
Becoming a mother has completely changed everything about my life. Not just physically, but mentally and emotionally. Everything I now do is for my son and so I have to think twice about the decisions I make.
Practically, I can’t just up and leave anymore. I can’t just go to brunch last minute but have to plan childcare well in advance. And I have to make sure that wherever I’m going has baby changing facilities otherwise I’m asking for trouble.
Talk to us about your haircare business AfroHairUAE which caters to the Black expat community in Dubai
AfroHairUAE came about when I moved to Abu Dhabi in 2016 with a bald head. I thought I’d be able to get it done relatively easily but quickly found out that I wasn’t allowed in the men’s barber shops. So no trims for me. I had to learn how to grow my natural Afro hair in the desert; I didn’t know where to go and knew no one who could point me in the right direction. As soon as I located a salon or store selling our hair products, I’d put everything online for anyone else who was having difficulty finding services that catered to Afro hair. Turns out there were a lot of people struggling with this. I collated all the information I could into an online directory on Facebook and Instagram to help the community of Afro Sheikhas across the Emirates. We now have a growing community of women and some men who share recommendations and reviews. We also do regular events such as brunches and coffee meet-ups to get to know each other better and be family far away from home.
What are the top 3 things Black expats can look forward to when moving to Dubai?
- Meeting Black expats from different parts of the world
- Great travel opportunities
- Blasting Black music on Yachts!