Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Not as cool as a beehive

I tend to get my hair cut about twice a year. I’ll be merrily going along my way, my hair a glorious halo of split ends and uncontrollable frizz, when one day, the stars align, the mood strikes, and the conditioner runs out, and I know—really, truly, in the fiber of my being—that I need a haircut.

And when such an insight strikes, delay is impossible. Did Einstein roll over in bed and say, E= something squared, but I’ll work it out in the morning? Did Julia Child say, I’ll cook up those leeks tomorrow, let’s get take-out?

No more can I look at the stringy ponytail in the mirror and say, I should make an appointment to get my hair cut next week.

Thus, in December, when my regular stylist in DC (by which I mean she’d cut my hair twice before) was unavailable when I called at 10 am looking for an appointment that day, there was no choice but to take whoever was available.

To my great advantage, it must be said, as it turned out to be one of my best haircuts ever. Not because of how my hair looked at the end (my hair always looks the same, except sometimes it’s shorter). But because somehow, despite having almost no hair of his own, this man truly understood mine.

I arrived in his chair, in my typical way, with a vision. A vision of smooth, silky hair, flipping about my face in a stylish, elegant fashion. I sat in front of his mirror pane, tugging at strands, marking off lengths, and describing the celebrity I would resemble, as he stood behind me, watching my reflection in the mirror and listening seriously.

“Except,” I finished, in a nod to modesty, “my hair is kind of curly” (modest, but still maintaining my positive spin) “so I’m not sure it will really work.”

The stylist “uh huh”ed and said, with complete sincerity, “Of course it won’t work. That would look terrible.”

My hopes shattered, I laughed lamely and tried to recover. “Right. But, I just have this dream, that one day, I’ll get a haircut, and it will magically transform my hair into something fabulous.”

He laughed with me, and said, “but in the end, all I can do is cut the hair. When I’m done, it’ll still be the same hair. Just shorter.”

He was right, of course. And so when he described what he could do with my hair, I calmly agreed, and walked out with my hair looking exactly the same, only shorter.


For a while, in Senegal, I had pretty good hair. That was when I first got here, and rain was a long way away, and I slept with a blanket at night. These days, even though I’ve still only seen rain twice, it’s hot and humid, and the frizz factor is high.

After months of gigantic hair and ponytails, the Moment struck last week. I needed a haircut, and I needed it that day.

There are salons de coiffeur on every corner in Dakar, and if I wanted braids or a weave, I’d have a sea of choices. Of course, when I wanted braids, I just bought the fake hair and Marie-Suzanne got to work in the living room.

A haircut is more of a specialty item, although many of the salons also offer coupes. The question becomes, however, do they cut white people hair.

There exist salons in Dakar that cater to white people. Or so I’ve heard. Rose and Michelle have both gotten haircuts in Dakar and each recommended their stylist—Rose more highly than Michelle. But I didn’t really know where to find them. Directions in Dakar tend to be along the lines of, “it’s in Neighborhood X, sort of across from landmark Y, down the third little street on your right.” All the streets have names, but no one knows them, and if they do, they know the name from 5 years ago before somebody or other decided to put up pretty new street signs with brand new names.

So on a sunny Saturday with Michelle in Toubab Diallo and Rose off with a friend, I figured I’d just try my luck at the place around the corner, whose sign advertised “coiffeur mixte” which I’d heard was a euphemism for “we cut white people hair.” Plus, I’d seen the shop featured on “Elles sont Toutes Belles” (Ambush Makeover: Senegal Edition). Admittedly, the girl in the episode was Senegalese and got braids, but overall, I had a good feeling.

I collected Yolande, a Senegalese friend of Marie-Suzanne’s (and mine) for moral support, and headed over there. Where we were promptly informed that the appropriate coiffeuse was on vacation and we’d have to go elsewhere. They suggested another place down the street, and we toddled off.

This place did not advertise their expertise in white people hair, euphemistically or otherwise, but Yolande assured me that they’d promised her they knew what they were doing. Except then they handed me three “look books” to choose a model for the hair that I wanted, and it was full of black people with braids and weaves, and the occasional chemically straightened hair.

I flipped through the books, my dread growing with each fabulous up-do and creative braiding. I even grabbed a French Elle and scanned the high fashion shots to see if I could find something approximating my would-be-glamorous look, but after a few minutes, I fled.

Yolande made my apologies and I started to question the sanity of this project. I had a pretty good idea where to find Michelle’s stylist, and if I hopped in a taxi right then, I’d probably be there in 10 minutes.

Two things stopped me. First, the cost. Not only would I potentially have to pay for TWO taxis (at least $2 round trip) but Michelle’s white person salon charged white people prices—somewhere in the neighborhood of $30 for a haircut. The salon I had just fled would have charged me $10. (Yes, I know. I suck. But remember, I’m skating the edge of unemployed here, and while I still take my fair share of taxis and all, I was tempted by saving money).

The second was… Well…. Say it with me: “I was already committed.” For better or for worse, once I’ve started something, even when I begin to see disaster looming, even when the skywriter finishes spelling out “D-I-S-A-S-T-E-R” and the plane flies by with the banner behind it reading, “This wasn’t a good idea, Naomi, seriously” and the little birdie on my shoulder chirps “nobody will be mad if you change your mind”… Well…. I’m already committed. That’s just all there is to say.

So when the second salon Yolande led me to didn’t offer haircuts, but the third did (for only $6!), I ignored the tremor in my gut, and sat right down.

What’s the worst that could happen? I thought to myself. It will make for a funny story.

And anyway, my hair always looks the same after every haircut. Just shorter.

And when the stylist didn’t seem to realize that wetting my hair with a spray bottle wasn’t quite the same as washing it, and when I had to ask specially for conditioner, I still didn’t flinch.

And when she did a passable job of cutting it straight across the back (very, very carefully) and a not completely terrible job of cutting some angles in the front in my bangs, I didn’t collect my chips, and walk away from the table.

I said, “I’d also like you to do some layers in the back.”

Now, perhaps if at this moment she’d said, “I don’t have any idea what you’re talking about” I might have had the courage to walk away. But in Senegal, in all cases, people give you the answer they know you want to hear, regardless of the truth. “I’ll be there in ten minutes” even though they’re an hour away and don’t have transportation. “The bread is oven-fresh” even though it’s the same bread that was two days old yesterday.

And, in this case, “Layers in the back? Of course! That will look really good!”

And so she began to cut. A second layer. Not “layered”. Not “angled.” Just two lengths of hair going around my head.

She began in the back, and I had an inkling of what was happening. But it wasn’t until she got to the side that I could see what she was doing, and my fears were confirmed. With the pit in my stomach now rock hard with regret, I stopped her and tried to explain what I wanted and what she was doing wrong.

But she had no idea what I was talking about. And faced with the hard facts of my hair and her scissors, she had no choice but to admit it. At this point, everyone in the salon had circled round, and they were all trying to interpret my weird white girl, broken French, descriptions. Even translated into Wolof, I could tell that none of them had gotten it. And besides, it was too late. She’d already cut half of my hair that way.

So I just said, “don’t worry about it. It’s fine. It’s great. Just finish.”

She looked slightly offended and kind of worried, but she kept cutting. Three-quarters of the way through, on the other side, I finally saw her cutting a gradual layer. When she’d finished the bit, she grinned at me sheepishly, and said, “that was what you meant, wasn’t it?”

I laughed. “Yeah, that’s what I meant. But it’s not a big deal. Anyway, the other side is already cut.”

“No, I can fix it. The other side is a bit longer. I can even it all out.”

With no other options, really, I agreed. And when she was finished, she was so pleased with the result that I couldn’t bear to disappoint her. “It looks great!” I said, wondering if it was still long enough to pull into a ponytail, and if I should just buy some fake hair on the way home so I could braid my hair until it grew out.

I got home and examined it in the mirror critically. Then I called my friend and my sister on SKYPE and we laughed at the disaster and at how typically ME this particular disaster was.

But a week on, I have to admit, that I’ve gotten over the hate. It’s short, which is nice in the heat. And it’s kinda cute, in a curly, short hair kind of way. When I fluff it up and wear earrings, I even kind of like it.

And anyway, it looks like my hair always looks. Just shorter.


Blogger Stephanie said...


1:57 PM  
Blogger Social Suicide said...


I'm new on blogspot.com and I was wondering if you could help me with the layout information. I'd greatly appreciate it. Thanks.


dior not war.

2:15 PM  
Blogger Anna said...

Post a picture! Or send me one!

4:18 PM  
Blogger jeanne said...

No way to you get to post this without a picture. NO WAY!

5:30 PM  
Anonymous Dolores said...

Like everyone else, I demand a picture!

10:14 AM  
Blogger Scooter said...

I've always thought that black people's hair and Jewish people's hair had a lot in common, just not as kinky. Regarding white hair, unless you were to go to Andy Warhol's barber (OK, they were actually wigs), you'd never find someone who knows about white hair. In the end, your attitude is right, a haircut grows out. Next time, just go to the local hair cutter and ask them to cut it. Don't say anything, don't comment, just throw caution to the wind. You may walk out heartbroken, you may love it, but you'll have a story, and isn't that what living is really about?

12:58 PM  
Blogger a.maria said...

ok, i'm not going to lie, i haven't read the last 3 posts. (yet) because i'm a horrible person. (and lets be honest, i just need to start using bloglines!)

but.. i just wanted to say, i had THE FRIGGIN WEIRDEST DREAM EVER last night and YOU AND YOUR BLOG AND YOUR ADVENTURES IN (wherever you are) WERE IN IT!!!!!!!!!

how bizarre, right?! i just wanted to put that out there. but it reminded me to come check in on you, so now i have some reading to do! :)

3:08 PM  
Blogger a.maria said...

ooooookay. i just got to this part..

I said, “I’d also like you to do some layers in the back.”

and i can't stop laughing. i need to collect myself and keep reading, but right now, i can't get over it.

it's just too much!

10:39 AM  
Blogger a.maria said...


oh man. i think we might have the same kind of curly, alwyas looks the same hair. i'm feeling your pain.

laughing at it,yes, but feeling it, none the less!

10:42 AM  
Blogger squidvicious said...

hey naomi, this is cyd, dan's friend from croton. just started readin your blog and it's great. i'm a gonna post a link to it on my blog tomorrow.

congrats on doing something completely insane and bothering to tell us about it! (that could be anything from the whole move to africa to this specific haircut really.)

keep on rockin.

1:57 PM  
Blogger LeahC said...

i'm there with you on the, "i have to cut my hair right now." It makes me crazy! Which i don't understand becaue the day before everything was fine. Glad you are liking your new do. also glad to have found your blog.

11:12 PM  
Anonymous Monica C. said...

I'm new to your blog, but just wanted to say that I really enjoyed this post. And as an African-American, your comments about "white girl hair" vs. braids or weaves had me cracking up. I had similar experiences trying to get my hair "done" while living abroad in Nice, France many moons ago.

1:52 PM  

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