my new do

Hair by Artur Chalyj, on Flickr Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 Generic License

Last week I knew it was getting close to time for a haircut and style. I had made an appointment with Oscar, my stylist, for six weeks from my last appointment, but I hadn’t written it on my calendar. I didn’t worry because I knew the salon would call to remind me.

My hair is getting thinner, just another consequence of getting older. Once I disguised the gray by having highlights added. But when I was assigned to Africa for two years, I knew I wouldn’t be able to keep that up, so I let my hair grow  and when the highlights were just at the ends, I had it cut short as it would be easier to maintain without access to reliable stylists in Africa.

So I don’t worry about the gray. But I do need a good cut.

On Friday the salon called. I didn’t hear my phone. I was in a class and my phone was in my purse where its ring was essentially silent. On Saturday, the day of my appointment, I noticed the voice mail message from the day before. The reminder. And now it was two hours after my appointment. I called to apologize and made an appointment on Tuesday afternoon.

All of that drama around this most recent appointment made my mind race, bringing to mind the previous stylists I met overseas.

First, there was Iran. There I found Alex, a Greek from Egypt, who managed the salon at the Hilton Hotel. One time when I needed a cut right now, I let my boyfriend cut my hair. When I finally made it back to the Hilton salon, Alex took one look at my hair and knew that I had put my hair in the hands of an amateur. He made me promise never to do that again. But then I left Iran.

Before leaving for my next destination, Romania, I went to my Mom’s stylist – I didn’t any longer have a regular stylist anywhere else in the world – and I explained that I would be away from the U.S. for a year so I needed a cut that could just grow out, without the need for regular trims.She did a great job. With only one trim – in Paris at Christmas – I got through the entire year with a style that just got a little longer each month.

In Germany, I had access to the military commissary with hairdressers and barbers. Fortunately the hairdressers weren’t limited to providing just military haircuts. I did learn an important lesson in the salon in Germany: never let someone touch your hair if there is an argument going on in the salon. It doesn’t matter if your stylist is involved initially. Eventually, they all get involved.

In Qatar, there seemed to be a three-appointment limit. After three appointments with any stylist, she left. Either the stylist lost her work permit or her husband lost his. The result was always the same – my stylist had to leave the country, just as I had figured out what she could do for my hair.

In Barbados, after a few false starts, I finally found Charles, the only stylist I have ever known who prefers no conversation while he works. I think the introvert in me appreciated the fact that I didn’t have to come up with small talk. I hadn’t yet learned how to behave like an extrovert who enjoys conversation. I don’t remember much more about Charles except the jingle of  the very large watch that slid up and down his wrist while he worked. And his stylishly long hair always seemed just at the point when he needed a trim. He also worked alone so there were no arguments in his salon.

I had previously relied on another stylist, but the day she came into her salon after discovering her refrigerator had stopped working, I saw her have an argument with the invisible store manager while she cut my hair. That was my last appointment with her.

Moldova was a challenge. I got most of my haircuts outside of the country – in England, France, and back in the U.S. My husband did find a barber who also agreed to cut my hair. She was enchanted by my husband’s orange jumpsuits and his willingness to let her give him a manicure that ended with clear polish. The contrast between the working man’s uniform and the polished nails gave my extroverted husband something to talk about.

By the time I got to Abu Dhabi, it was clear that I was more satisfied with male stylists. My first trip to a salon had been to a women-only salon. When my husband walked with me into the salon, hands flew into the air and voices raised as the receptionist came in front of her desk to shoo him out. So I asked around and learned about Georges, the Lebanese manager of the salon at the Beach Hotel.  Georges spent at least an hour with each new customer, asking questions to get a sense of personality as well as work requirements. And then he took over and transformed his clients. One of my friends had been wearing the same style – permed, highlighted, and long enough to tuck up in a chignon – for years. Frankly, she looked older than she was. But when Georges was finished, her hair was red, asymmetrically cut longer on one side than the other, and she looked spectacular. Georges didn’t make quite so much of a transformation in my style, but he knew my work required a more staid and less flamboyant style.

Yemen also had hotels, so I continued to rely on them for my sartorial requirements. I still needed the highlights since I had been keeping my hair longer, like most women in the middle east. I managed to get to England twice where I could take advantage of western stylists and products.

Africa, as I had expected, was a challenge. As I had decided to keep my hair very short, I wasn’t quite so particular about the cut. So long as I could take a shower in the morning and dry my hair with a towel or let the air dry it on my way to work, that was enough.

Now I keep my hair short. I have to wipe up the hairs that would otherwise clog the drain in my shower each day.  My hairline has receded a bit from my young adult days. But I have a lot more hair than most of my brothers. Life is good.

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