Hair There and Everywhere


Like I thought it would be, I overpaid for my haircut again.

Life is not easy for a wandering damsel with fast-growing hair. The locks grow so unglamorously long before you finish saying “hair salon.” Worse, not every salon would even want to cut your hair—even if you offer them a million kisses.

Once in South Sudan, I spent an hour with a poor Dinka driver looking for a salon willing to snip my locks. Most of them shooed me off in disgust: “What’s wrong with you? You have very nice hair and you want to cut it off? You are mad!” (Now if you call waist-length frizzy hair growing blond at the tips because of split ends “nice,” then so be it, but I don’t have Rapunzel illusions.) One woman at an empty parlor actually glared creepily at me and quietly said, “I won’t commit a crime. See if one of those barbers next door will.” I got an ‘80s shaggy cut from one of the Kenyan barbers after I bribed him I’d give his brother a new set of crutches if he gives in to my whim.

In Thailand I found my perfect hairdresser. But it came with risks.


Digital perming: The entire ordeal I was praying the angels would deliver me in the event of a short circuit.
My guy readers, if you think it’s a walk in the park to have decent coif, think again. Respect, brothers, respect.
 In Uganda this time, the first salon I stepped in welcomed me with open arms. It was suspiciously empty. I chose it because it claimed to be the “expert in cutting Indian hair for both men and women.”
The woman who intially attended to me had a coconut-husky do—not a very good sign. After a few minutes, a burly Indian guy came in and motioned for me to sit on one of three rickety parlor chairs. Good god, I’ve put my future
in the hands of a man with a bloated tummy, messy hair, an earring on his right lobe, and to top it all, jittery hands.
 “I hope he’s gay, I really hope he’s gay,” I found myself mumbling.
Without a word, he went right into business by grabbing a wide comb with a missing tooth. So far in my experience, salon people used fine-toothed ones for my hair.  Giving him the benefit of the doubt, I asked him if he could do my hair in layers.
 He shrugged and said, “Sorry, I don’t understand terms for women’s haircuts,” as he started snipping bits and pieces of my precious, precious locks.
“Okay, like different lengths. Shorter in front and gradually getting longer at the back.” God knows I tried so hard to keep my composure.
“Ah, like a U!”
“Yes, exactly like a U.” I sighed in relief.
I knew things were going in the wrong direction when he tied the cape way too tight for my liking around my neck, and before I could protest, the carnage began. With the skill of a toddler and the confidence of Justin Bieber, he snipped and cut and slashed. I could have sworn I saw a mischievous grin from the corner of my eye. As my limp comrades fell to the floor one by one, I dropped my head to mourn for my ex-body parts, but he straightened me up with a quick tug of the ribbon, choking me even more. He raked my hair with the conviction of a murderer wanting to cover up his tracks. Suddenly he stopped. Just like that. In a record 7 minutes, my new do was presented to me with a cracked mirror held at my back.
“U-shaped, just like you imagine.” He grinned. “That would be 20,000 shillings (around 8 USD). I give you discount.”
It was an obvious rip-off (the image of a witch on a bad-hair day in the mirror said it all), but I was too broken to say anything. I handed him the bills, and never looked back.
Did the gods finally punish me for wrecking havoc on my sister Pinky’s crowning glory that sent her running to the hair professionals for rescue and her ending up being mistaken for a lesbian, not once, not twice, but many times?
The victim of my deadly hands. Okay, so hair cutting is not really one of my talents.
As I exited the salon like a child robbed of her dreams of becoming a beauty queen, a scene played in my head of him laughing and telling his friends: “Today, I found a very stupid woman. She came and wanted a haircut, so I got scissors and cut, cut, cut. Easy money.” (Better read with a strong Indian accent).
But I am not one for giving in to defeat, I swooped into the salon next door—aptly called Expressions—and begged the receptionist to save my hair, my dignity, and restore my belief in the goodness of humanity.
“What do you want us to do?” She sounded as perplexed as I was.
“A hot oil treatment. A blow dryer. A flat iron.  A shave. Anything. Just let this tangled mess disappear. I can’t be seen like this. I will lose my job.” Desperation kicked in, as you can see.
The lady who took over looked like a real salon professional, with the works—a Revlon apron on, a funky hairstyle, and fancy earrings. Under her hot-pink-tipped fingers, my scalp underwent thorough scrubbing I could hear every follicle scream in defiance. She shampooed it so many times I’ve lost count.
“The shampoo doesn’t take the dirt off your hair,” she said shaking her head, as if reading my mind.
“I actually wash my hair every day, or when I’m not too cold, twice a day.”
All heads turned to me with strange looks ranging from amusement to shock to disgust.
“Woah, that’s bad, very bad for your hair,” the lady said as she continued to vigorously rub whatever was left of my crowning glory. My head was so squeaky clean you could eat sushi off it.  Before I could revel in the purity of my resurrected scalp, she scooped hefty amounts of really heavy cream from a jar and slathered it onto my hair before shoving me under one of those steamers and leaving me for a good hour without nothing to do and nothing to read and no one to talk to.
I have so much respect for African women, who spend hours and excruciating hours (read: relaxers that burn the scalp, painful braiding process) in the salon. And they all come out looking glamorous and classy with their spanking new hairstyles. I often told my friends how cool it must be to have African hair. You get to change your hairstyle every other week—or every week if you have the patience, time, and money to spare.
This is what I’m talking about
(Clockwise: Becky, writer; Peris, actress; Nella, student; Deborah, social worker).
Anyway, with my hair oozing with moisture, my lady started blow-drying with the highest settings possible, the entire salon was steeped in the smoke that came from my head. I could only close my eyes in resignation. The moment I opened them, she was smudging what she called castor oil (which actually looked more like grease) on sections of my hair before passing over the hair iron. I recited a quiet requiem to my hair. Girls never learn.I left the salon with a partly burnt left ear and hair as flat as a butler’s back.
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