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How (Not) to Get a Haircut

A hair-raising coming of age story - from buzzcuts to Emo fringes and the broblem of Egybtian barbers.

I’ve always had a strange and intense relationship with my hair. I guess I had a complex from me being the only brown boy with curly hair in the vicinity of where I went to school in UK. I didn’t understand why I had a sort of Afro that other kids would stick pens in for fun (30 was the record at one point), while everyone else had lovely, soft white people hair. My dad, being the manly, mustache-sporting double-breasted suit-wearing, type of Egyptian didn’t help the matter. Up until the age of about 13, he would shout at us if our hair wasn’t brushed to the back; if we were lucky he would tolerate a slight side-parting of the hair. To have any other sort of style was unthinkable to my malleable little mind. The rare times he would take us out, he would take my two brothers and I to the hairdressers himself and tell the hairdresser exactly what to do. I would ask for spiky hair; my dad would tip the hairdresser more so that we all left looking sort of like brown Fonzie triplets.

Happy Days!

So when I was finally old enough to realize that I am in control of my own hair’s destiny, I went all out. At one point I had a blue mohawk (Dad: “What is the fuck? Why is there a boat on your head”), an Emo fringe (Dad: “Why you put curtain, are you ashamed of your face?!”), a ponytail (“Dad: Tayeb helw, I wanted a girl anyways”), a shaved buzzcut (Dad: “Why do you have football bitch on your head?”) and so on…

But the most annoying part of this entire follicular experimentation is dealing with Egyptian barbers. For a long time, I went to one of these high-end hair salons here and no matter what style I asked for, they always insisted on giving me the Egyptian oblong haircut; shorter on the sides and brushed right to the back. It is absolutely irrelevant what you want to look like, they will always find a way to have you leaving like a brown Fonzie. Even when I insist on certain things like shaving up to a certain point without doing that bee2a Fresh Prince fade, it will usually be met with wiry looks from the hairdresser as if I am a lunatic and he’ll act as if he’s misheard me and carry on cutting out his oblong. I would insist again and again until finally I have to admit to the guy “Ma3lesh ana  magnoon, ana 3ayez keda.” I’d have to succumb to admitting mental retardation to a man that I do not know in order to get the cut I want.

Then I think okay, maybe it’s not their fault. They’re just not used to cutting hair this way, maybe if I reference one of the styles in the abundance of catalogues lying around, they’ll know what to do. Looking at the overly-chiseled German models, sweeping back their long locks of highlighted auburn hair, parallel to other boyishly handsome blonde men twisting their spiked faux-hawks, I got very confused. No one in Egypt has the hair for these kinds of styles. This is nonsense! But I think the catalogue is there for a reason and I point at some ridiculously stylized picture of a white guy with a messy Robert Pattinson-esque do and tell the man to do it like that. Without even flinching, he says of course he can do that and gets to work… and then the conversations starts, and it’s always the same questions:

“Ha, eh a7san – Engelterra wala Masr? Heeeaa? Heeeaa?”

“Just cut my hair.”

“Inta shaghal fein?”

“I’m not a hairdresser, that’s all you need to know. Just cut my fucking hair because I don’t know how to do it myself.”

“Ezay akhook? Kan lessa hena men fatra.”

“His hair is fine. I would like you to do the same.”

*Trying to avoid conversation with him, playing with phone*

“Da Plackberry?”

“Yes it is and if you keep cutting hair I promise you, you will be able to get one one day.”

After finishing up his oblong which has absolutely nothing to do with the picture I referenced, he then gives me his name, and tells me to ask for him next time I come. I never remember their names and it always makes it awkward when I walk in again and I know they’re standing around somewhere watching whilst I’m telling the reception I don’t mind who cuts my hair. As if he’s punishing me, he will always pop up from nowhere with this creepy smile and insist he does it, so then I have to greet him over-enthusiastically in order to avoid the fact that I can’t remember his name: “Ehhhhhhhezzzayak!?!” Damn you Ahmed, or whatever your name is.

I said to myself, you know what? You don’t need to spend 80LE to get a shitty haircut you don’t even want and have your ears bitten off by Ahmed, or whatever his name is. I’ll go to Nader New Look down the road; one of those places with pictures of David Beckham and Saved By The Bellcharacters blown up in different sizes on the window outside, which showcases their ability to cut hair and excellent Photoshop skills.

It took about an hour to cut my hair, due to the interruption of a power cut, and my hair still ended up oblong-shaped but at least all I payed was around 20 LE for the oblong, right? I go to the counter to pay; he says “100LE law sama7t.” I’m shocked, Nader tells me that they charge a lot because he used to work at the high-end hairdresser, it’s the same thing and the rent is expensive. He then takes my phone number and also charges me an extra 5 LE for the complimentary water. It was tap water.

Illustration by Bouklao Illustrations

A week or two passes and Nader the New Look hairdresser starts calling me asking me if I need a haircut, like when Hisham my hash dealer calls to remind me I want drugs… like a clingy girl, you’ve only gone on one date with. “Ezay sha3rak? 3ala fekra el kahraba tamam delwa2ti, inta hatigy emta ba2a!?” and the phone calls wouldn’t stop. Every other day it was Nader New Look trying to get me back for a haircut.

I gave up and stopped cutting my hair for a while but there’s only so long you can hide looking like a caveman by saying it’s hipster.

So I head back to the high-end hairdresser which is also down the road from me on the Corniche. So far so good; I managed to sprint past Nader New Look fast enough as to stay anonymous. Thankfully this time, Ahmed or whatever his name is isn’t there and I’m taken under the wings of a new guy and he is brilliant. He’s hasn’t said a word, he’s given me one of those head massages that make you feel like you’re sleeping on a cloud, for the first time in Egypt, for first time in my life, I’m getting my hair cut exactly how I want. And then Ahmed walks in. I hide my shame: “Ehhhh, I was looking for you…Ahme…Mostaf..Chawk..”

“Ana olt ana shagal el youm da, leh masa2altesh 3aleya?” He then proceeds to take the scissors from this new wonder kid and gets his way with my hair. I leave with an oblong and a frown.

Nader New look spots me on the way back home. “2aset sha3rak fein ya habibi?” Fucking hell.“La2a akher marra kan ma3k!”

“Tayeb ta3ala habibi. Yalla, hanzabatak delwa2ti!”

I proceed to get my second unwanted haircut of the day.