Monday, November 19, 2012

Ethiopia: The Barber Shop: Part 2

When my hair began to overtake my ears again, I ventured out for another trim.  My first barber had done well enough, but I decided to try a new shop in hopes of finding a barber with a touch more personality.

There were plenty of barber shops to choose from, but I opted for one that I had passed several times in my neighborhood.

Featuring three chairs, this shop was bigger than the first one I had tried.

I walked in, and the young barber ushered me to the center chair and draped a smock over me.  Then he wadded up a few clumps of cotton and shoved them in my ears.  I assume this was to keep the hair clippings out of my ears, although it seemed a bit unnecessary.

"How do you normally comb your hair?" he asked me.

I've been asked this before, and I always think it's a stupid question.  Is the implication that my hair looks completely unstyled?

"This is how my hair normally looks," I answered.  "I just need it shortened a bit."

The barber nodded and started preparing his equipment.  Unlike the first barber who sterilized his equipment over an open flame, this guy had a sterilizing machine.  After a few moments, he was ready to begin.

"What number do you normally use?" he asked me, referring to the guard on the clippers.

I couldn't recall, so he selected a 2 and went to work.

I had arrived to the shop quite late in the evening, so I was a bit surprised that it was still open.

"What are your hours?" I asked him.

"This shaver cost 7,000 birr," he answered.

"Sorry," I responded, "but I was asking when your shop is open."

"You want to know about the other shaver?" he replied.

"No," I answered.  "What time do you go home at night?" I rephrased again.

"Oh, I close at 7:00," he told me.

I think the real answer was that he closes the shop whenever he feels like it, because I hadn't arrived until 7:30 and the shop was clearly still open.

After the confusion over his hours of operation, a real conversation began to take shape.

"What's your name?" he asked me.

"Chris," I told him.

"Crist?" he repeated back to me.  The word he was saying rhymed with "wrist".

"Not Crist," I answered.  "Chris."

"Crist?" he said again.

"Close enough," I replied.  "What's your name?"

"Richardson," he announced.

When I told him that I hadn't heard that name in Ethiopia before, he sheepishly tried to explain.

"Well, my mother was Ethiopian and my father was Italian," he told me.

This explanation didn't make much sense to me since Richardson didn't sound any more Italian than it did Ethiopian, but I didn't pursue it any further.

"Have you been to Italy?" I asked him.

"No," he answered, "my father is dead."

Again, this answer gave rise to more questions, but as before, I decided not to follow-up.

The conversation dried up for a few minutes while Richardson struggled with the haircut.

After a few minutes, he broke the silence again.

"How long were you living in Ethiopia?" he asked me.

I gave him my standard response: "I have a two-year contract, and I've been here about two months so far."

Richardson thought this was most excellent.  We discussed how nice Addis Ababa was, which local foods and drinks I preferred, and how my family was doing.  Then he asked me about religion.

No matter how I pronounced it, he couldn't understand the word "Catholic", so we left it with me being a generic Christian.

Richardson, on the other hand, was Lutheran.  With the strong Norwegian influence on the Lutheran Church, I wondered if this might explain his name.

Not only was Richardson a member of his congregation, he was also the organist.  When I told him that I used to play piano (and still do, albeit poorly), he became very excited.

"It's my dream to play a piano," he told me, and he was blushing as if he had revealed something scandalous.

Richardson was saving to buy a new keyboard, but they are apparently very expensive in Ethiopia.  We talked a bit about the price of keyboards in the U.S., although I didn't really have any figures at the ready.  Nonetheless, Richardson was sure he could get a much better deal in the States, and I'm inclined to agree.

As he worked on my hair, Richardson kept leaning on me which was a bit annoying.  I guess he wasn't comfortable standing behind me and using the mirrors.

"I know you will come back again," he proudly announced, "because I'm giving you the best haircut ever!"

His enthusiasm was admirable, but I had my doubts that this would be the best cut ever.

Richardson continued cutting, and then we had a déjà vu moment.

"So how long have you been in Ethiopia?" he asked me.

Slightly perplexed, I gave the same answer as I had before.  "I have a two-year contract, and I've been here about two months so far."

I'm not sure how we came to have this loop in the conversation.  Perhaps Richardson's English comprehension was worse than I realized.  Perhaps he was forgetful or nervous.  Or perhaps it was simply a glitch in the Matrix.

Thankfully, he finished cutting shortly thereafter, so we avoided repeating our entire conversation a second time.

"Lean your head back," Richardson instructed me.

I complied, and he began vigorously massaging my scalp and shaking out the loose scraps of hair.  He was so aggressive, it felt like my neck was about to snap.

After this final bit of torture, he brushed me off once more, removed the smock, and extracted the cotton from my ears.

"Would you like a wash?" he asked me.

I skipped the wash and paid.  The damage was 20 birr (about $1.11) plus tip.

As I walked home, I thought about my two barbershop experiences thus far.

Of the two barbers, Richardson had more personality, and while the conversation wasn't the greatest, he had made a good effort.  On the downside, though, he took a long time; he had no concept of personal space; and he tried to break my neck.

And what about the cut itself?  Well, when I got home and had a good look in the mirror, I thought about what my father would say.  I can't be sure, but I think his assessment would have something to do with me losing a fight with a lawnmower.  (He has a way with words.)

Richardson had basically cut my hair so that it looked respectable exactly as it sat.  Once I disturbed it a bit, though, it became clear just how uneven it was.  There were rouge tufts of hair jutting out all over the place.  I like to occasionally spike my hair when it's short, but with this cut, that wasn't going to be an option.

This wasn't a huge problem, though, because in a month it would be time for another cut.  And having seen what was behind doors number one and number two, I think I'll be trying the barber behind door number three when the time comes.


Anonymous said...

Hi Chris,
At least your next hair cut is in about a month. It is great that you didn't have to pay the heinously expensive prices that we have to pay in Norway just for a haircut. In more than six years I have lived in Oslo, I still haven't found my dream hair dresser :(

Anonymous said...

It's interesting to hear that finding a hairdresser with both skills and an engaging personality are important to you men too! Thanks for your card! Leanne

Anonymous said...

Nice story Chris!!


Grecia Bate's Collected Thoughs said...

Have you tried the flobee? I figure if you are going to get a bad haircut, you may as well do it yourself. Cheers-Grecia