I’m sitting cross-legged on the floor of a dingy, fluorescent-lit room. The walls, once screaming with hot pink paint, are now muffled by dirt, cobwebs, and crumbling plaster. Behind me is a line of empty chairs, all facing a long dirty mirror, beckoning to be sat in. In the corner lean six dilapidated hair dryers- the kind you would imagine old ladies with giant curlers to be sitting under in a vintage American sitcom. Back on the floor, my shoulders are squeezed inwards by two strong Malawian thighs. A sharp pain is felt on the top of my head and a trickle of sweat and dirt runs down my arm.
While the bleak description above betrays a sense of unpleasantness, I am more than content. In fact, I feel somewhat at home. The hot pink paint reminds me of my best friend’s sparkling pink walls circa 2008, where we’d spend hours listening to music, talking, and just being teenage girls. Yet, I wasn’t back in middle school; I was in a Malawian salon.
An hour earlier, after inquiring about a display of hair mesh in a women’s clothing shop, I was led through a back door that opened up to the serendipitous room where I now sit. There are four other women here, who oscillate between gossiping rapidly, griping about the heat, and chatting with me as someone braids my hair. Although I can comprehend only a fraction of their banter, I somehow feel like one of the girls. I feel oddly connected to this unexpected group of women who wear modern clothes, speak some English and understand customer service. Although they were initially surprised to see a white woman enter the salon, the women are giving me space and allowing me to peacefully indulge in the old, familiar world of girliness. Yes, I think I’ve found a new form of stress-relief. #WackyHairDaysHereICome
PS. Soon I’ll be posting pics from my Modern Malawian group’s graduation party. Stay tuned!