Saturday, July 30, 2011

Beyond Beauty

Every haircut on this trip has been an interesting experience—the glass of wine in the fancy salon in Lima, the two-hour social visit in Mendoza, and the after-hours, back-of-the-shop $3 hack job in Madagascar. You can’t hide a bad haircut, and I’ve been nervous each time. Except in Lima, where I got good advice, I was just taking my chances with whatever salon I happened upon.

But the cut I got the other day here in Gaborone may be the most memorable. I was running around the Main Mall doing errands, and just downstairs from the cellphone place I saw the Beyond Beauty salon. It looked prosperous, it looked full. I went in.

As soon as I came through the door, everyone looked at me—the women getting their hair braided in the row of chairs down the side, the stylists standing behind them, the guy with the broom wearing a thick scarf and a tall cap covered in Rasta-colored maps of Africa. The manicurist near the door glanced at me and then looked down.

I smiled at her. “How much is a haircut, please?”

“Just a minute,” she said. Then she called to someone I couldn’t see. “Joseph. Somebody wants you.” She went off and came back with a tall, thin, dark-skinned man in a purple-flowered shirt. From the way he and the rest were grinning, I thought he might be the designated white-people hair stylist.

He told me a cut cost 60 pulas and sat me down in a chair. There were no scissors on the counter and only Dark and Lovely hair products, lots of them, most of them purple. But by then it seemed rude to ask if he’d ever cut a white person’s hair before. Everything’s different—the texture, the techniques. But I was here now and I had to assume he knew what he was doing.

“Just like it is but a little shorter, please,” I said. I’ve kept my hair short the whole trip, but it had grown a fair bit since Madagascar and I was thinking of growing it out to chin length or so. I just wanted it tidied up a bit.

“Above your eyebrows in front?” he asked.

“Yes, but not too short.” I said. “And feathery, not straight across.” This is so much easier in a place where I can speak English, I thought.

Then he picked up the razor. Hair began falling on the black bib he’d wrapped me in—lots of hair. Lots and lots of hair.

I looked at his face in the mirror. He was looking intently at my head as he swooped at it with the razor and he looked worried. He glanced at my face and I knew he saw that I was worried too.

Other people in the salon were also following our progress. A man with many long braids who was lounging in a nearby chair kept looking over and grinning. A woman waiting to get her own hair done looked into the mirror in front of me and then looked away.

I took another look myself. My bangs were now gone almost up to the hairline on one side of my forehead, but not the other. The little point of hair in front of my right ear had all but vanished. Should I say something? What could I say?

I tried to think about how lovely many African women look with super-short haircuts. I tried to distract myself by watching another stylist finish braiding a woman’s hair in concentric rings and then start sewing a hairpiece to the bottom-most ring.

Joseph tried to distract me too. He asked what my sister and I thought of Botswana, then told me George Bush had visited the Mokolodi nature reserve near Gaborone.

“Michelle Obama too, I hear,” I said. “Wasn’t she just here? What do you think of her?”

“I like her,” he said emphatically. “I like both of them. They’re a good couple. They have good hearts.” He paused and touched his own heart with his fist, still holding the razor. “Not Bush. I don’t like war.”

“Me either.” I decided to just let him do his job and see what happened. “Where are you from yourself? Are you from Gaborone?”

“No, I’m from Angola,” he said. "Where we speak Portuguese." So I told him I’m about to go to Mozambique and he helped me practice some Portuguese—good morning, good afternoon, please. Meanwhile, my hair was approaching buzz-cut length, but at least he was getting everything evened up. It was obvious he wanted it to come out well as much as I did.

Though by the time he was done, I didn’t really care that much any more. It’s just hair, after all. It will grow. I looked at my shorn reflection, not a Sinead O’Connor look exactly, but close.

“Can I see the back?” Joseph went off and rummaged around, then came back with a great big wall mirror, which he held up behind me.

“It’s shorter than I expected,” I said. “But you’ve done a good job.”

He smiled. “Come over here and I’ll wash it.”

Now? I thought. But I love getting my hair washed and the hot water felt good on my scalp. Afterward, Joseph rubbed and rubbed my head with a towel, then led me back to the chair. He put some pale-purple styling goop in what was left of my hair and combed and combed, despite the fact there was hardly anything there to comb. At last he was satisfied.

“It makes me happy to do a haircut like this,” he said. “It’s very pretty.”

He seemed so genuinely pleased that I began to think maybe it was all right after all. I gave him a five pula tip and thanked him and said goodbye in Portuguese.

“Obrigada,” I said. “Tchau.”

“You know ‘tchau’!” he said. We hadn’t covered it in our little practice session. He high-fived me, grinning widely. “Tchau! Obrigado! Tell your sister to come!”

I still can’t decide what I think of the haircut. But it doesn’t matter. This was, as advertised, beyond beauty. It was fun.



Carolyn E. said...

love this post! Can't wait for your next one. And don't forget to post a photo and let us see the cut.

Kathleen Kearns said...

Thanks, Carolyn! I added a photo. More adventures to come, I'm sure.

Emily S. said...

What a wonderful post Kathleen! And you look great with short hair :)