Rwanda is full of salons (or “saloons,” spelling here being a bit of a free-form art). They tend to have such entertaining names as “New Look Salon,” “Number One Superstar Saloon,” or “VIP Culture Salon.” I do not frequent these establishments. Instead, I usually cut my hair in the privacy of my own backyard.
Occasionally, however, that privacy gets invaded.
One morning, as I was in the middle of giving my hair a much-needed shortening, Alice (the woman who fetches me water) came over. It had never really occurred to me that my method of hair hygiene might seem strange to a Rwandan villager. So it was with a combination of amusement and bafflement that I observed Alice observing me. As my dull scissors lopped off each curl, Alice made the Rwandan signal of surprise: a low grunt accompanied by a slight widening of the eyes. Then she started gathering up my fallen hair. It’s probably a sign of how long I’ve been in Rwanda that I didn’t find that odd. I just figured she was picking it up so as to prevent the hair from dirtying up the dirt in my courtyard. As with most of my assumptions about Rwanda, this one was wrong.
That afternoon, as I was walking home, Alice’s young son came running out of the forest to greet me. This was fairly normal. But what was not normal was the pile of bright orange curls perched atop his head. We exchanged polite “Good mornings,” and went our separate ways, leaving me to wonder just how many little pieces of myself were currently scattered around the village.
So now after cutting my hair, I deposit it safely out of site in my shower shack. The birds there are constructing a palatial nest, and the orange accents provide a nice contrast to the otherwise drab, brown exterior. I just hope they’re building a saloon for all their fashion-conscious, well-coiffed avian friends…