After financial problems forced Muhammad Haq Nawaz out of high school in his native Pakistan, he did what most people in his situation usually do: moving from his parent’s village home in search of what to do in town.
In town, he was lucky to be welcomed by a one Koki Sajjad, who would later become his teacher and mentor in hair styling and beauty treatments. Muhammad gladly took up unpaid apprenticeship at the master’s small beauty parlor. His choice of career was quite understandable, considering that he hails from a family of barbers.
“I come from a family of barbers, and all of them were self-taught. My father had been a barber, just like his own father had been.”
Two years later, he enrolled at YMC, a big beautician college in Lahore, Pakistan, where he studied for two years. At the end of his last year, a hair styling competition was organized by the college, at which he emerged overall winner and was awarded a gold medal.
This medal, together with a splattering of others, and a few certificates hang prominently from the walls of the Scissor’s Salon where he has worked for the last one and a half years.
He also participated in several other competitions outside the college, scooping a few more gold and silver medals.
The young beautician eventually left the college to start his own (Beauty in Art College), where he doubled as lecturer and director.
After four years of running the college and grooming several young beauticians, he handed it over to his mentor, Koki Sajjad, who still runs the school to this day.
Coming to Rwanda
He came to Rwanda mid last year, to take up the mantle of head beautician at The Manor Hotel, in Nyarutarama, a City of Kigali suburb.
“My boss (owner of The Manor Hotel) was at a hotel in Pakistan and then he asked if they knew of any good beauticians as he needed one for his hotel,” explains Muhammad.
He was lucky to have a friend that worked at the hotel, and who immediately tipped him off about the offer.
One month later, after securing his visa, Muhammad was on the plane on his maiden trip to Africa, and Rwanda in particular.
Last month, Muhammad was joined by his wife, Rahma, which must have come as a double victory for him, seeing as she would also double as his assistant at work.
At the Scissor’s Salon, the couple take their clients through all the beauty and hair treatments you could ever think of: haircuts, shampoo, blow-drying, buzz cuts, treatments, party and bridal make-up, hair tints, and color gloss.
This is besides other treatments like manicure and pedicure, waxing, and eyelash/brow treatments.
But the first treatment to catch my attention was a procedure called threading, where small strands of hair are pulled out of the skin using a sewing thread.
Threading is particularly common with ladies who want to get rid of stubborn strands of hair that usually stick out around the lips and chin of some women, giving them a rather manly appearance.
Threading works perfectly for any situation where one wants their hair shaved without them having to grow back.
Hailing from Pakistan, the couple has established a niche clientèle that comprises Asians, Americans, Europeans, and Turkish–basically anybody with silken hair as opposed to African hair which is tough and curly.
The locals that I saw at the salon were either rich Rwandans who simply wanted a decent hair cut in a decent surrounding, but the majority were people with silken hair–Asians, Europeans and Americans.
So how different is African hair from that from Asia and America and Europe, from a barber’s perspective?
“Asian hair is silky and flowing, while African hair is curly and tough,” he said.
He further reveals that Asian folk usually like the clean-cut look–basically a smart polished face, and clean-shaven chin.
Apparently, there are a number of reasons why the average local barber might not be up to the task of handling silky Asian and European hair. The first is the fact that with its smooth texture, silky hair becomes extremely difficult to cut using the modern shaving machine, which is the standard tool in salons that deal with tough and curly African hair.
Instead, any Asian you will ask will tell you they prefer a pair of scissors to a shaving machine.
To keep their clean-shaven faces, Muhammad contends that most Asians will go for facial treatment and massage at least once every month.
I ask him what in his view makes a good barber, and without hesitation he retorts: “A good barber must know how to use scissors because anybody can use an electric shaving machine.”
He further contends that beauty and hair trends keep evolving constantly, and that the best barber is therefore one who constantly updates his/her skills and knowledge of emerging trends.
“Some hair styles come and last for just weeks, months, while others can stay for years, so it’s important to be in the know when a new trend emerges.”
Her journey into the world of beauty treatments kicked off from a small salon in her native Pakistan. After completing her high school, she enrolled at the Beauty and Art College in Lahore, Pakistan, the same place that her future husband and fellow beautician learnt his skills. I ask how the couple met and Muhammad offers to explain:
“Traditionally in Pakistani culture, marriages are arranged by the two concerned families. When I saw her, I immediately liked her; something that I think was a mutual feeling. I told my parents about her, and in turn we went to the girl’s family to ask for her hand in marriage.”
That was the year 2000, in Lahore, Pakistan. Today, the two are husband and wife, and what’s more, also workmates at the salon job.
He describes their workplace experience as “good so far”, explaining further that: “I’m not just her husband, but teacher as well, which makes the work more enjoyable. Sometimes when we have to jointly talk to clients, it’s like the whole thing would have been rehearsed, because we know each other well.”
He adds rather cheekily: “But like any other place, the woman always has the final word, and back home in Pakistan, we actually have a saying: happy wife, happy life.”
Generally, the couple spends between 15-20 minutes on the average beauty or hair treatment and, according to Rahma, “you can always tell if a customer is satisfied by the kind of tip they will leave behind.”