Monday, June 21, 2010

A Kenyan Haircut: A seemingly ordinary experience gone askew

Disclaimer: This entry contains some sexual content and is therefore rated PG-13

This past weekend, I decided that I was in drastic need of a haircut. For those of you who know me well, I am not a huge proponent of hair brushing. In the states, I would brush my hair a few times a week and the Peace Corps factor lessoned the frequency to about once a week. This somewhat hippy habit got out of control last week when my weekly hair brushing broke my only brush into pieces (literally). My hair was too long and too tangled to do anything with so I concluded that I would have to take the risk of letting a Kenyan cut my hair.

As you may have deduced from my blogs, Kenyans do things differently. Everything from clothing style to current music trends seems to be behind American standards. For instance, on the street a man tried to sell me Westlife, Backstreet Boys, and Dolly Parton CDs as the “most popular” music now. You can therefore understand my hesitation with letting a Kenyan cut my hair. Furthermore, the regularity of weaves and shaved heads added to my doubts of anyone having knowledge of cutting my type of hair. I also have a somewhat irrational attachment to my hair. After some horrific haircuts (my childhood nickname was Mogli due to my jungle book hair style) and dye jobs (my hair once closely resembled Tony the tiger) I believe that I am justified in my worries. I also have had my hair cut by the same woman for the past 6 years and have refused to trust anyone else with my precious hair. I also had this scene from Little Women replaying in my head where Jo cuts off all her hair and one of her sisters cries, “Your one beauty!” Despite these silly fears, I decided that after the hairbrush breaking incident, it was time to cut my hair to at least a manageable length.

On Saturday afternoon I entered a salon in Kisumu that claimed to specialize in Asian/Caucasian hair (How many Asians are even in Kenya?? I thought I was the only one..). The salon proceeded to tell me that the person who normally cuts wazungu hair was out. Then, a man sitting in the waiting room offered to cut my hair, claiming that he could do a good job (this should have been my first warning sign). This is where the story gets a bit strange. He started to comb out my hair and, seeing the state of my tangled hair, called for backup. A team of three men armed with fine tooth combs spent a good 20 minutes combing out the half-dreads that had formed in my hair. After a quite enjoyable hair wash, he began cutting my hair by holding up chunks of hair and hacking off pieces with what resembled gardening shears. And while I have no idea what is taught in Kenyan beauty school, I’m going to argue that step one should be “Do not hack off pieces of hair with gardening shears.”

At this point, I closed my eyes. I had come to acceptance that parting with my untameable hair was necessary. But what came next was not part of the plan. I’m 88% certain that the man cutting my hair was somehow aroused by this haircutting business and had a large erection that he kept pushing up against my shoulder. I was quite uncomfortable at the time and kept hoping that it was just a curling iron or rollers or something else penis shaped.

So, after a tortuous time watching my hair falling to the ground in uneven pieces through half open eyes, he finally finished. If things could get stranger, they did. He then walked out of the salon and called a random passerby to help blowdry my hair. In between singeing my hair, the other random man kept petting my head as he helped hold the blowdryer. After, the haircutter looked proudly down at his work and asked if I liked it. To my amusement, I had to point out the fact that the left side of hair was a good 3 inches longer than the right. “Oh!” he exclaimed and continued to hack some more. Once the sides were relatively even (or even enough for me not to care) he proceeded to put so much pomade and hair product in my hair that I could have doubled for John Travolta’s hair double in Grease…that much slickness. (A fellow PCV told me he could see his reflection in my hair). I let him style away to his hearts content then went straight to my hotel and washed my hair 3 times to get out all the product.

After this haircutting fiasco, I realized that, here in Kenya, something as mundane as a haircut can be quite an adventure. I’m going to avoid haircuts for as long as possible from now on. If I come back looking like Cousin It, you’ll now know why:)


  1. Kenya has thousands of Asians especially from India, many were recruited by the British to build the railroads and majority stayed behind. They run businesses all across the country especially in big towns such as Nairobi, Mombasa and Kisumu. As for your horrific hair experience i apologise but dont be so condescending towards Kenyans, we may not have the best beauty schools but they do exist and they teach their students well. You need to remember you are in Nyanza not Nairobi which is not as hip..its like going to middle of Mississippi and whining about there musical taste, hair style, food etc. You are making it a huge fiasco but you just didn't know which salon to go to, next time get your hair styled in Nairobi. Ask your expatriate friends at the Embassy to direct you to salons that cater to your hair type.

  2. omg that sounds horrifying!