The first day I met Reem Garfi, we spent hours walking around La Marsa, a neighborhood in Tunis, the capital city of Tunisia known for its large expat population.
We ate melting gelato, talked about American politics, and sat on a crumbling sidewalk that jutted out into the Mediterranean Sea. Soon, the conversation turned more personal. I asked Reem about her experience living in Tunisia, and she told me a large part of her childhood involved navigating the racism and colorism that come with being a mixed Tunisian. She told me she learned more about her hair and her heritage in salons owned and worked in by migrant women from Côte d'Ivoire and Sudan. Later that week, she took me to Cocovico, a salon in El Aouina, Tunis, where Marie Jal works.
Back home in Côte d’Ivoire, Marie Jal’s expertise at her salon had been braiding hair. But the salon burned down, and she had to move to Tunisia for medical treatment. Now, as she navigates life as a migrant in Tunisia, she continues braiding hair at Salon Cocovico. Her sister visits her daily, providing for her a sense of community.
Visiting Salon Cocovico brought back important memories for Garfi. She spoke and joked with the women in French and asked about their families in Côte d’Ivoire. Through Garfi’s translation, Jal and her sister told me they would learn English by the next time I visited Tunisia—and I said I would practice my French.
The photos below show Reem Garfi on the streets of Tunis and Marie Jal working at Salon Cocovico as she braids and relaxes hair, helping some Black Tunisians feel closer to their culture.