When you ask a simple question at CairoScene, you wind up exploring Mohandeseen in search of Alexia Cosmetic Clinic with a photographer on your tail - or, maybe that's just because Monica Gerges is prone to misadventures.
There are a lot of things I miss about Canada – Costco, my family, a few friends, and my eyebrow lady. Do you know how hard it is to find a good eyebrow lady? I also miss Eleen, my aesthetician-turned-therapist, because there's nothing quite like having a heart-to-heart conversation with someone as they lay hot wax on your leg with sheer precision. In my attempts to find an alternative to rid me of this void in my life and - lamo2akhza - this hair on my legs, I opted to try something new. In the spirit of many misadventures and experiences in this new stage of my life, I asked around for alternatives to the follicular tug-of-war, suggesting the idea of laser treatment. "Are you insane?" "That's not safe." "This isn't Canada, you know!" Begad? Msh wakhda bali; I thought Canada had just acquired a few new pyramids and the occasional dust storm. So what if this isn't Canada? What's the difference between getting laser hair removal done in Canada, Egypt, or Burkina Faso? True to my misadventurous nature and healthy disregard for conventionality, I accepted the challenge to break away from Egypt's endless culture of fear and prove people wrong.
Seeing as how CairoScene knows just about everybody who's anybody in this country, I casually asked for a few laser clinic recommendations. However, as I've learned, you always get a little more than you bargained for with the CairoScene team… "That's brilliant! This'll be hilarious - you should write about your experience! Najeeb [our photographer], coordinate with Monica to go to her appointments!" Not only did I get a few recommendations, I also got voluntold into chronicling my little adventure (as if I wasn't going to do that anyway), and got a male photographer on my tail as I searched for this 'Alexia Cosmetic Clinic' they spoke of, situated above Saydaleyet Youssef somewhere in Mohandeseen, which I'd never been to before. I still haven't decided if I find this invasive or just plain amusing.
I called up Dr. Suzan Shalaby – Consultant of Dermatology, Cosmetology, and Laser at Alexia Cosmetic Clinic – and set up a consultation appointment that I showed up to after getting only slightly lost around Mohandeseen. As my eyes gazed across the gorgeous, white, modern-looking office, I saw Najeeb and his camera sitting on the couch, waiting for me - yeah, this was definitely going to be awkward. After shooing Najeeb out of the room - because he really needn't know the details of my follicular struggle - I proceeded to bombard Dr. Shalaby with far too many questions: how does this work? How many sessions do I get? How much time is there between the sessions? Does it hurt? How much does it hurt? Is this going to burn me? Can I get cancer from this? Will my hair be gone forever? Can I have yo' numba'? Thankfully, she has a sense of humour and a lot of patience. The following half hour consisted of Dr. Shalaby drawing diagrams of little hairs and explaining that, no, I'm not going to get cancer and she's not going to burn me, but it's also not going to rid me of my hair forever. Apparently it's called 'laser hair reduction' not 'laser hair removal'; for someone who's a self-proclaimed wordsmith, this is a huge difference. The rate of re-growth is case-specific, depending on how stubborn your hairs are, and it would take me four to eight sessions with about three to six weeks in between – the commitment-phobe in me cried a little. I also have stupidly sensitive skin, so I didn't know if I was going to break out in some nasty rash as a result of the laser treatment - Dr. Shalaby assured me otherwise, and even did a test patch for me so I could see how my skin responds to the laser. On my way out, she reminded me that I needed to come to the following appointment clean-shaven so the laser isn't wasted burning hairs above the surface. On the day of my first appointment, I thought I'd be brilliant and wear a dress to make things easier and less awkward, because stripping in front of a stranger is definitely a little awkward, and there's already enough awkward to go around. My appointment was right after work, though, so I had to wear the dress the entire day, but the weather was gorgeous and I was excited to asayef badry. It wasn't until I walked out the door that I realised that this dress had a bit of a peephole on the left that went up to my knee, particularly as I power-walked to catch a cab. Seeing as how I work inside the GrEEK Campus and that Najeeb would be with me for the appointment, I figured my sleeveless peepholey dress would be fine. Except, I ended up having to take an Uber to the unfamiliar area of Mohandeseen, where I picked up my beloved helium balloon and set out on foot in search of Alexia Cosmetic Clinic, or Saydaleyet Youssef, or anything I could recognise. My walk, which lasted all of 10 minutes or so, was a zaffa that followed my dress, balloon, and I wherever we went - a zaffa minus the zaghareet and zamameer, which is a shitty zaffa. Some expressed love for the dress, and others for the legs peeking out from behind the dress; one particular guy engaged me in conversation, asking if I'd ever heard of his lovely neighbourhood of Bola2, and another asked if he could have my helium balloon as a belated Valentine's Day gift. I struggled not to laugh.
Climbing onto the bed in the clinic, far too amused by the wall full of circles and mirrors, I was told that I'd missed a few spots on my leg and handed a razor and asked to fix it. Adding insult to injury, I couldn't identify the spots that I'd missed because the hairs were so thin, so Amira - Dr. Shalaby's lovely assistant - helped me out. In case you were wondering, having someone you just met shave for you is an extremely strange feeling; but, like I said, there's enough awkward to go around. The amusing awkwardness didn’t end there. First, I was given purple glasses to protect my eyes, and my inner 12-year-old was beyond amused at how they made everything look. Next, Dr. Shalaby drew on my skin using a white pencil crayon, dividing it into basboosa-looking sections so she knows which parts have and haven't been done. She then proceeded to spread a cooling gel across my legs to avoid any potential burning. The laser part itself was actually not at all as awful as I'd feared - it felt like tiny little pricks along my legs, and this is coming from someone who's been dying to get a tattoo but faints when she has to deal with needles. When a particular part hurt slightly more than the rest, I mentioned it to Dr. Shalaby in fear that this might have been a burn. Without stopping her swift hand motions, she reassured me that it was likely because it was a sensitive area or because there was a hair that hadn't been removed. Long legs are a challenge; not even Amira managed to catch all the strays.Thinking, yet again, that the awkwardness was over after Dr. Shalaby removed the excess gel, I was asked to basically flip over like a rotisserie chicken so we could repeat all of the above on the other side of my legs. Cue more white pencil crayon, more cooling gel, and more laser beam pricks. Amusement and humour aside, the procedure is actually not at all painful or invasive if you have a qualified professional clinician who knows what they're doing. They should not only make you feel comfortable, but also explain everything to you beforehand and address any questions or concerns that may arise as you're being poked with little tiny laser beams you can't see. While Dr. Shalaby and I didn't quite reach the heart-to-heart level that I'd established with Eleen, she was both comforting and informative, which helped lay any speculations and misconceptions to rest. After removing the excess cooling gel at the end of the procedure, yet again, I assumed that the awkwardness was finally over. I was then handed two ice packs and told to ice the entire area for a while to make sure the skin doesn't get irritated. That wouldn't have been something substantial had the ice packs not come in the form of two frozen, water-filled latex gloves; now I was using my hands to navigate another set of (very cold) hands along my own legs. Dwell on that for a moment.Before leaving the room, Dr. Shalaby informed me that Amira would be coming in to put cream on the treated areas as a preventative method so they don't get irritated. I don't know why I didn't see this coming, but Amira proceeded to spread Fucicort (anti-inflammatory cream) on both sides of my legs like Philly cream cheese across a loaf of 3eish fino. After nearly finishing two full tubes, I looked down at my legs and then up at Amira. "Tab howa ana ha3od 2ad eh 3ashan anshaf?" I asked, recalling the scene from La Tarago3 Wala Esteslam where Ashgaan, in translating for the plastic surgeon, says "youm lel 3amaleya w talat ayam 3ala ma yenshaf." She giggled as we tried to find alternatives to dissolve the cream so I didn't walk around sticking to my own dress.
Well, doubters of every kind, I finished my first session of laser hair ‘reduction’ in Egypt and lived to tell about it! My skin is not red, irritated, inflamed, or burned, and I’m not dead, so I consider that a good day in my books. Perhaps by the time my sessions are over, Dr. Shalaby will have become my laser-clinician-turned-therapist, and I’ll be a far less awkward person. I wouldn’t put too much hope in the latter, but what remains true is that we can’t continue to fear what we don’t know simply because we’re uneducated about it. The world – no, scratch that; forget the world. This country has so many different things to see, do, and experience, if only we don’t let ourselves get held back by our fear of the unknown.
The folks at Alexia Cosmetic Clinic have been quite awesome; should you have any questions, they can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or what I've finally learned is 51 Demashk Street in Mohandeseen.
Photography by @MO4Ntework's #MO4Productions.
Photographer: Ahmed Najeeb.