Expat Hair

Get any group of expats together and it wont be long before you notice there’s a process of information gathering and sharing taking place. Where do you find? How do you get? Who does the…?

I belong to several groups of professional information sharers. The big picture is the International Groups.

“Has anyone ever lived in Pekanbaru? We’ve just found out we’re moving there.”

“I’m going to need a gynecologist in Luanda. Any suggestions?”

I have never seen a question go unanswered. Someone always knows someone who is willing to offer their email address or phone number. It’s travel karma. We’ve all been lost, we’ve all been clueless, we all know how it feels.

Locally, the questions get smaller. Does anyone know where to find Golden Syrup? Has anyone seen where you can buy binoculars? Quick! Lulu has tinned tomatoes (I’m still a little scarred by the great tinned tomato famine of 2009).

The toughest question, arrives often. It’s always highly controversial.

Does anyone know a good hairdresser?

G prides himself on his cheap haircuts. He uses it as a competitive taunt amongst friends. In Jakarta he stopped on the side of the road under the shade of a tent, and was happily snipped and sheared for about a dollar. He naturally gave a very generous tip, but he was so proud of his one buck cuts that everyone knew about it. In Malaysia he hunted high and low for the same experience. In Libya he made friends with an Iraqi barber, and here in Qatar he takes traveller’s three and four to listen to stories told by older Turkish men. For G it’s all about the experience.

Not me. I just want a decent bloody haircut. I’ve had enough bad haircuts that I’ve become a little scissor shy.

I walked out of a hairdressers in Tunisia with the back of my hair looking like a series of uneven steps. Little chunks jutted out from all angles like tufts of grass. It was my first lesson in don’t practice your French while having a haircut. I meant cut a little bit off, she thought lets leave a little bit there…and there….and there.

I have stories of ears that were accidentally clipped. Bangs that were burned and hair that was coloured orange. And then there is the true heartbreak. The discovery of a great hairdresser who two months later breaks the news that she is leaving.

What I’ve noticed over the years is the blow out effect. This means that after not being able to find a hairdresser, women tend to go for the wash and blow option to disguise the lack of a decent style. Sometimes the procedure is highly effective, it’s amazing what a set a rollers and a bit of a quaff can hide – but sometimes it all goes horribly wrong. See exhibit A:

The flick. My hair literally bounced at the sides of my head as I walked. It was like it was having its own little dance party. Jump around, jump up jump up and get down. Except it didn’t get down, it just stayed like wings that were guiding my face, looking for a safe landing.

Every now and then I go to visit a little hole in the wall salon that’s in a back street near my house. Appointments cannot be made so it’s a luck of the draw experience. I’m usually the only other expat in the room apart from the women who work there who are all from the Philippines. This is where I go to get what my friend calls “Expat Hair”.

The woman at reception does not speak English, nor Arabic, which means everyone in the room becomes a mime artist.

“Wash and blow-dry?” I’ll ask while making hand gestures of an invisible hair-dryer moving around my head.

She will answer me by screaming towards a back room. “YULI!” And that’s when Yuli will arrive to wash my hair.

“Two wash? my friend Yuli will ask. This means she’ll shampoo it twice, for some reason a lot of the other women don’t like their hair washed twice. I don’t get it, but I’ve realized its a big enough deal that everyone gets asked the same question.

“Under or over?” she’ll ask me as I sit down. The picture above is my lesson in why you don’t say over.

“You want volume”

“Just small volume not big volume” I say, this seems to make sense to me.

“Spray?” she will ask when she’d done.

Always the same. In the time that I’m there I will converse through eyebrows. I will frown when the really rude woman walks in and demands to be seen ahead of the waiting line of women. Yuli will glance at my reflection in the mirror and shake her head in a silent can you believe how rude she is response. I will shrug and raise my eyebrows in a what can you do motion. We’ll both smile. It happens every time I’m there. I will ask about her children in the Philippines, and she will tell me a story of the week, and we’ll joke about our husbands. She’ll ask if I’ve heard a rumour about a new store opening, an arrest, or a visiting celebrity. She’ll always have a suggestion on where to find whatever it is that I’m currently looking for.

Always the same. Every time. Her expat world looks a little different than mine, but operates with similar necessities.

Information sharers and gatherers.

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