KAMPALA – There’s nothing quite like being shaven. By stating that I mean: being shaven by someone else. And, by being shaven, I mean the face being shaven (sorry, ladies). In Uganda, male haircuts are usually limited to the unimaginative trim job: short, very short, hair. The way barbershops appeal to men here is by billboards of that handsome guy from Criminal Minds and Idris Elba, both known for their impeccably well-taken-care-of facial hair. The kind that makes you look suave. The billboards look weathered and discolored by the Ugandan sun, and every face has a sight unhealthy blueish tint. The facial hair, however, is still visible. It is the the kind that you buy special equipment for. But, if you have facial hair you care about, you will let someone else take care of it.
I, on the other and, am not Ugandan, and I trim my own beard. For years, I have been going for the I-don’t-care-look that is paradoxically taken care of in detailed manner. The 3-day beard that makes me look very intellectual (so I have been told) and handsome (so I like to think).
Getting a haircut in Uganda gets you a facial massage, which is pretty much the highlight of the entire thing in the first place. If you have ever gone to a decent barber you now they have this way of applying shampoo by massaging it into your skull in an utterly relaxing way.
Yesterday, I decided to treat myself and let the lady who does the skull massage to trim my beard. It’s my last week here so this is my treat (I keep telling myself that for pretty much anything I currently spend money on).
And there’s nothing quite like being trimmed, too. It makes you feel so incredibly important. Besides the fact that everyone has their blind spots and my shade has never looked better. There is something about sitting in a chair with a white linen around your neck having someone pay so much attention to your face. The only thing I missed was slow jazz music, or blues, and a glass of whiskey.
The hipster-types with the handlebar moustaches go to hipster-places like that, I have been told. You can even buy moustache wax for that glorious curved cockroach on your lips. I now finally understand the attraction of seemingly old-fashioned places where they shave (or trim, let’s be modern).
A large part of the hipster culture (and, let’s face it, modern culture) revolves around acquiring a sense of authenticity through mass consumption. What you do, and what you wear or own defines who you are. In order to be considered unique in a uniform world, you refer back to the times you think people were indeed unique in their own respect.
This romantic view of the past makes people start wearing monocles, or suspenders, grow handlebar moustaches and sit in the park typing on a typewriter. It is an almost desperate attempt to experience a less complicate and more meaningful time in human history, when meaning was demarcated in logical and simple categories and boxes.
Which is exactly why I missed the old jazz and my glass of liquor, and maybe the Italian guy talking to me in an Italian accent. Greek would have been okay, too. I would have imagined myself in New Orleans or New York. Not that I have ever been to any of those places, and neither do I have any extensive knowledge of barbershops or fashion culture in New Orleans or NY, but thanks to the associative imagery summoned by Hollywood and other so-called representatives of culture, I get to imagine a glimpse what it must have been like.
Instead, I got trimmed by a Canadian-trained, Ugandan female barber, who, although definitely not being Italian and male, did a very good job.
I also imagine that the handlebar-hipster feels even closer to that past, in some way. He may reinvent it (because, let’s face it, the 1930s man was probably not liberal nor feminist, nor did he own an iPhone) slightly, modernizing it, thereby twisting and turning the cultural meaning of the behaviour whilst it superficially remains a romantic and symbolic representative of a forgotten era.
If there is any lesson to this piece, here is it: if you happen to have facial hair and you find yourself in the situation where you get to pay someone to do something with it (in a non-creepy way), do it. Don’t think too much about it, and please don’t decide to allocate time to write a blog post about it; one is more than enough (and I am pretty sure somewhere on the internet, people have already written about this, extensively).
Also, as a side note: why should we limit the pleasure of skull massages with shampoo to our regular but relatively few visits to the barber? Really, get someone to massage your skull with shampoo, today. An old housemate of mine once told the unflattering story of a shower blow job whilst he was applying shampoo to the blow job giver. Just sayin’, if you want to multi-task.