Those of you who know me well understand that I rarely cut, shave, trim, style or in any other way adulterate my full head of hair or lush beard. In spite of this, every once in a while, I cease to view myself as a professional due to my wolverine-esque locks. For some inexplicable reason, I envision myself as a scruffy, incompetent, wide-eyed sheepdog as I interact students and parents. I’ve also been gently told I look the part.
So once every few months I step out into the frenzied Dhaka streets and walk down to a place in Banani for a haircut at a hole-in-the-wall place for a hundred taka. I’m given exceptional service but sometimes receive than I bargained for.
For starters, the name of this place is Starlet. I must re-emphasize that this is a salon for men. The dictionary definition of the noun starlet is: “a young actress promoted and publicized as a future star.” Score!
Secondly, the door has Justin Bieber, Edward Cullen and the One Direction gang plastered all over it. Possibly not a good sign as one of my worst nightmares is to be locked in a room with “Baby, baby, baby oooooohh” pulsating relentlessly through loudspeakers. (Insert horrified shudder here.)
An average, bi-monthly trip to the local barbershop usually unfolds something like this:
I open the door by giving Justin Beiber’s smug grin an aggressive shove and stroll into a dark yellow room to be greeted by surprised stares from customers and over-eager workers bickering over who has the privilege of cutting the white guy’s hair. Sometimes I’m forced to wait and am served scalding chaa in an impossibly thin plastic cup with several generous teaspoons of granulated sugar stirred in.
After I’m seated, my neck is wrapped in two sweat-soaked towels, taken directly from the neck of the customer before me, and some tissue paper. My head is massaged briefly (often accompanied by the comment that I have dandruff or that my hair is dirty… this, while conceivably true, does come into play as a sales tactic later!) before he begins snipping at my hair with a set of slightly rusty, un-sanitized scissors. The combs are encrusted with some greasy yellow substance and talcum powder is constantly, but randomly, applied to the back of my neck. I sport a permanently bemused look as I stare at myself and my enthusiastic hosts in the cracked, yellowing mirror.
After the haircut, (during which, I always must fight against ending up with the trademarked Bill Emberley poof…Bill, your luxuriant head of bouncy hair would be all the rage here!) is when the real fun begins!
I am offered a litany of massages, face washes and other spa-like treatments for which I do not understand the purpose or rationale. Most of the time I refuse because of the price tag but once I decided to say “yes” to everything and anything they offered.
I believe, after a long, hard thought and careful consideration, I can sum this experience up in a single word…no, I can’t. I need to use several.
First, they gave me another scalp massage, this time with a lukewarm oil of some kind. It felt pretty good and likely eliminated some of the (aforementioned) dandruff. My head was rinsed again and then an odd set of forceps that look like antiques from the Spanish Inquisition was fetched. This scared me a little bit, to be honest, but it was just for my nose hair and, apparently, some hair in my ears. Next, my face was scrubbed with some sort of shampoo.
And then came the fun bit; I had this, odd smelling cream slathered onto my face and was directed to wait for five minutes. As I contemplated my life choices in the cracked mirror, it dawned on me: my skin was being whitened with bleach! I frantically flagged down the barber who acquiesced to my frantic pleas, albeit with baffled confusion, and wiped my face off with a warm towel. My face was whiter…or was it just clean? I couldn’t tell; I ended my open-tab barber experience there though!
In the end, I’m happy I have had the FULL Bangladeshi barber experience. I’ll stop at a haircut next time though!