A haircut is not just a haircut, especially in Kigali. There are many ways of losing your hair. You can scrape of all of it with a razor blade, like in one of the funeral rituals where I come from, giving the head a smooth, shiny finish.
You could do with a pair of scissors leaving irregular patches of hair or no hair, all over the head. Or better you could just go for the modern shaving machine.
In Kigali City the normal haircut is at best, a cosmetic fuss. Not that I regret any of it. Let us just say, that it is not every day that you get a free head massage a dose of baby powder over your face plus Vaseline not forgetting God-knows-what kind of treatment. What is referred to as ‘mafreshee’.
In fact I now look forward to a trip to the barber shop. Let me take you through an ordinary haircut in one of the Isaro (shouldn’t they be called barbershops?) littered all over Kigali. As you walk in, young industrious barbers will struggle to catch your attention. I
f you are tied to one particular barber shop chances are that you know your favourite barber. Mine is called Gulam. He swings the chair towards you, beckons you to a sit, takes his sweet time to pamper you before he gets down to snip away at your hair.
After all the camaraderie amidst the adjusting of the blades, straightening the hairline, and all that the end ritual for the real cut is signaled with dousing the head with methylated spirit to keep away the bumps, which suspiciously smells like locally distilled spirit.
Then comes the most interesting part. He directs you into a room in the back, usually manned by a good-natured lady. Woe to you if you thought that shampoo was for women. She rubs shampoo into your head and carefully uses her fingers, and splashes of warm water, to work through your skull.
Then she uses a hand towel to clean your head and face. She then proceeds to massage your head, with baby oil or jelly, for minutes, within which time you could easily have gone to sleep.
At first, you will be embarrassed at a stranger kneading your head with her fingers, which induces the relaxation, but these ladies are very respectful and professional, and with time you get used to it.
The act ends with another thing we thought was made exclusively for women to fuss over. She picks a sponge to apply powder to various spots of your face and goes ahead to sponge and rub the powder in circles, all over your self-conscious face. Imagine, powder on a man’s face.
Finally she does another baby jelly finish on the face, straightens your eyelashes with a fingertip brush, and after it all, you stare at yourself in the mirror and realize that having endured the humiliation to your masculine ego, it does look actually worth the effort.
All this, at five hundred francs, for a hair cut, a hair wash, a head massage and a mini-facial, not bad at all. The lady is constantly amused at my unspoken protests whenever she picks the powder, the baby jelly, the hair shampoo.
‘Even men need to look good’, she confides. True, but please don’t tell my mates that you ever applied powder on my face.