Salon Woes

December 30, 2023


There are two types of hair salons in Zambia. The first type is the really nice one, with the nice furniture, where the staff occasionally ask you if you would like a cup of tea or coffee. And occasionally over a weekend, you are offered a glass of Chardonnay. The hairdressers are beautifully dressed, wearing impeccable make-up and all their hair stations are clean and equipment is neatly arranged. Though one is assured all these comforts and doesn’t spend their time swotting flies away, the braids are usually ‘OK’ but not ‘wow’.

The other type is located within the market place, where one needs to lower their head as you navigate in-between rows and rows of  market stalls to avoid hitting into some of the makeshift stalls. A stationary shop here, followed by a stand selling freshly sourced local vegetables here and there. Then maybe, five salons in a row, with all the ladies shouting and beckoning passerby’s to occupy their work stations. I go past a tiny shop with hundreds of skin bleaching products until finally, I reach my desired salon.

Well, my particular one has an entire industry within a 2x2 shop area, but has the luxury of a tiny veranda at the front. My hairdresser greets me with a smile bigger than her body frame and points at the single seat I should take. That is her share of the salon. On the floor next to the chair, is her hair dryer whose wattage has been modified most certainly to burn your ears and the top of your neck. Behind me is a large industrial sewing machine that’s covered in random bits of fabric as well as a large black menacing looking pair of scissors. In all the years I have been coming here, I have only seen the tailor sewing once whilst the rest of the times, she’s normally sitting behind it, picking at some fabric that never seems to take any shape. Her mannequin is still dressed in the October  independence day national dress and yet, we are a week away from Xmas. On the veranda, there are three young men with a pile of second hand jeans from their bale of salaula. The first seems to be selecting sizes, the second is wiping and rubbing the selected ones with a damp sponge, as if ironing out the creases, and the last one, carefully and slowly, uses a razor blade to create fashionable tears along the front of the jeans. I am in awe of his skill to turn an ordinary looking pair of mummy jeans, into a trendy distressed waist high pair of jeans.

Gertrude has already prepared the hair extensions and she doesn’t waste any time and we are off with a bang. She calls the usual girl across the passage whose stall specialises in evening gowns. Another shop that I have never seen any purchase being made. But, I am ‘grateful’ for her lack of customers, as she is more than willing to help Gertrude finish off the ends of the braids so that I can leave in record time.

My stomach makes a hungry rumbling sound, reminding me that I haven’t had breakfast. So, I make the ill-informed decision to send one of the young entrepreneurs in the jeans industry, to purchase enough vitumbuwas  for all of us to share. These are deep fried fritters with more oil than flour. Each cholesterol filled bite tastes absolutely amazing but, leaves your fingers drenched in cooking oil. We share the lot much to Gertrude and her friends delight.

My cholesterol infusion quickly turns to shock, then anger, then fear of speaking out, until finally, I succumb to the last emotion and put in my Air pods. The sound of music somewhat calms me down.

You see, Gertrude and her friend decided to braid and eat these oily fritters at the same time. With each bite of the tumbuwa, she picked up a freshly made hair extension and attached it to my own hair. This was on repeat until all their fritters were finished and at which point, half my head was done.

I make a quick mental note to one day make an exploratory thesis on; Why most women are  afraid of their hairdressers.

I left the young men ripping through second hand jeans on the tiny veranda, with a head beautifully adorned with Darling Xpression braids. I couldn’t help but wonder if I would spend the festive season looking beautiful, but smelling of vitumbuwa. I thought of Gertrude, with her big smile, waving and shouting her “Goodbye. See you next time ba cee”, (short for sister) completely oblivious to the emotions she has subjected me to. I curse silently and vow never to return.

Xmas day celebrations and everyone cannot stop gushing at how beautiful my hair looks and I know there and then that the smell has gone and Gertude has won. Soon, my smile on that Xmas day is wider than the tiny Gertude’s frame, and I think to myself, see you soon indeed.