Monday, July 10, 2006

An American Hairdresser in Kabul

[From my friend in Kabul]

Sandy’s Salon has been in Kabul for a while but I only recently discovered it. Bored with the usual ritual at my usual barbers I asked a friend if she knew of a decent hairdressers expecting the answer no. Instead she gave me Sandy’s mobile number. My usual two-monthly hair cut is at a local barbers where officially UN employees are not allowed to go. I enter the door of the small ‘salon’ beside a roundabout and a middle aged man with patchy unkempt, died hair and red eyes greets me and a boy translates. I say. ‘Hair cut’ and he says, ‘Yes, $5’. I say, ‘No I always pay 100 Afghani ($2)’ and he insists on $5. I go to walk out of the shop and he nods in agreement and to the chair. Then I explain how I want my hair cut. ‘Not too much off the back and proportionately more off the top but not so much that it sticks up and I want it combed back.’ He waits patiently looking as if he is not listening and has no interest. He doesn’t. He then cuts it as he wishes. The same as he cuts all hair. After he attempts to give me a head massage which I resist for two reasons. The first is that it is likely to cost the additional $3 he wants and secondly because he will attempt to click my neck and I am not keen on potential paralysis. When he has finished we smile at each other and I say, ‘good’ and pay the 100 Afghani with 20 Afghani extra as a tip. He complains and wants more tip and I refuse, thank him and walk out. It is the same ritual every time.

The novelty of this ritual had worn off so I was looking for a change. The only sign of Sandy’s salon was, for some reason, a string of camels painted on the wall outside. I forgot to ask her why. I rang the bell and an armed guard after ascertaining I was a foreigner led me up a drive of an ordinary house and pointed at the door. A woman greeted me on entering and nodded when I asked if she was Sandy. She was not but led me into a room where six Afghan girls sat around on chairs bordering the room without head scarves on. I wondered if this was really a salon or a more discreet version of Kabul’s brothels. Sandy greeted me with a big smile. Late thirties with long dyed hair she was definitely an American hairdresser. She did not ask me if I had had a nice holiday recently but chatted about her trip to Northern Cyprus where she planned to send her son for education. An Afghan girl washed my hair and massaged my scalp. The water was cold due to the lack of electricity but the feminine touch and the novelty of being touched by an Afghan women distracted me. I was the only customer and Sandy continued chatting as she cut. I of course paid western prices but the cut and experience was worth it. A sort of strange normality in Kabul.


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