Two days ago I noticed that my hair had mysteriously turned hippie on me. And not in a good way. It was long, scraggly, full of split-ends and so dry that if you’d rubbed a handful of it together you might have sparked a fire. In fact, my hair had become so dry and prone to matting that more than once in the past four months, I’d had to cut out a dread-lock.
While Bob Marley might have been impressed, I was embarrassed. I may have stopped wearing make-up and shaving my legs every day since coming to Central America, but I still make an effort to appear clean and presentable (which is no easy feat in a country filled with red dirt, unpaved roads and 90 percent humidity).
I blamed it on the dollar-store Guatemalan shampoo I’d been using, on the heat and the harsh shower water. The water tasted like chlorinated alka seltzer and was probably wreaking more damage on my hair than if I’d rinsed it in paint thinner. But whatever the cause, I needed a haircut. Desperately. Which was why I made the impulsive decision to pay an unlicensed Nicaraguan hair stylist US $2.50 for a cut that I could have done better myself.
“Yo necissto un…hair-cut?” I told the hair-stylist in hesitant Spanish. I need a haircut. I didn’t know the Spanish word for ‘hair’ or ‘cut’ so I grabbed a lock of my hair and mimed cutting with it with imaginary scissors. It was a Saturday and the day before the city of Granada’s annual independence day celebration. Every hair salon I’d ventured into was booked solid and this was the first one I’d visited that was completely empty. Instead of taking this as a sign, I was relieved to be finished wandering around in the 93 degree heat.
She then said something that sounded like ‘cort’ which resembled cut, so I nodded emphatically. “Si…Si.” She lead me to a chair and wrapped a plastic cape around me to protect my clothing from what would become a fountain of falling hair.
It was hot in the salon. There were no windows and no air-conditioner or fan. Only four, pink cement walls and florescent lighting. The plastic cape cut off access to what little fresh air the opened door brought in and sweat ran rivers down my arms and legs. I hoped that the cut would be a quick one.
“Solo un poco, por favor.” Just a little, please. I used my finger tips to demonstrate that I only wanted about an inch in length taken off. She nodded, looking confident and started to brush my hair. “Y..” I added. “Yo quiero layers.” I want layers.
“Como?” She met my reflection in the mirror and looked at me blankly.
“Layers…” I repeated, searching my brain for a way to explain. “Un momento.” I took out my journal and a pen out of my backpack and drew a picture of a face. “Este es largo,” I said pointing to the longer pieces of hair in my picture. “Y este es corto.” I pointed to the crown of the head and the wisps of hair that framed the face. I looked at her hopefully. “Entiende?” Do you understand?
She hesitated, stroking my head and examining my hair critically. “Si.” Her face was unreadable. I knew from reading the guidebook that Nicaraguans are similar to the Japanese in that if they don’t know the answer to something, they’ll lie and tell you whatever they think you want to hear. They do this to save face. It can be annoying when you’re trying get directions, find out when the next bus is departing or ascertain whether your hair-stylist understands that you want to leave the salon with most of your hair still on your head.
She started to cut, beginning with the back first. I picked up a magazine from the dusty pile underneath her station. It was a fashion magazine that featured Nicole Kidman on the cover. But judging from Nicole’s wild, curly mane and the appearance of a smiling Tom Cruise at her side, I figured the magazine to be from the early 90’s. As I searched through the entire stack, I saw that they were all nearly 20 years old, some of them even older. Was that the last time this salon had been in business? I wondered.
When I looked up again, the hair-stylist was working from the front. Holding my bangs in her in between her fingers she used the scissors to cut a straight, horizontal line across my hair. My hair that only moments before had fallen past my shoulders, now barely reached the tip of my nose.
“No, I said quickly. I’d gotten my hair cut enough times to know you created layers by cutting diagonally, not cutting straight across. I demonstrated, holding a piece of hair between my pointer and middle finger at an angle and pretending to cut in a smooth, downward motion.
She nodded and attempted to mimic me by grabbing a chunk of hair and roughly cutting a sharp, 60 degree angle. Oh my God, she’s gonna give me a mullet, I thought, horrified.
“Um,” how could I say this without hurting her feelings? “No es necessario. Yo quiero todo iguales.” I’d like everything the same. “Yo no quiero layers.” I don’t want layers.
If she was relieved, she didn’t show it. But now that the damage was done, she’d have to cut the back shorter so that it would match the front. She said as much in Spanish, demonstrating how short she’d have to cut the rest of my hair so that it would look even.
“Esta bien?” Is that okay?
“Si.” Whatever, at that point I was too hot and tired to even care. Having the hair off my neck might make the heat slightly more bearable.
When she was finished, I looked up from reading about Melrose Place to notice that my ‘just a little, please’ had resulted in a bob. I now had chin-length hair.
It wasn’t what I’d wanted, but I couldn’t deny that it looked a lot better than the hippie look I’d been sporting when I walked in. Maybe she knew what she was doing after all.
My New ‘Do
What do you think?