So, what’s it like getting a haircut in Tamale?
Somewhat stressful, to be honest.
First, you get directed by a man selling spare bicycle parts to a narrow alley some 100 feet away. You walk in to a narrow barber shop, appreciating a fan running that provides a refreshing breeze. You sit down in the one unoccupied chair, and wait for the barber to finish a man’s shave.
Soon, you find yourself seated in the barber’s chair, actually a wheeled office chair, and the familiar apron gets cast over you. When asked what you want, you don’t really know – something presentable in a Ghanaian office, “something that looks nice”, you say, “maybe short on the sides and a little longer on the top”. The goal is to give the barber as much creative freedom as possible – he’s the expert, after all.
The Barber gets started. You catch yourself thinking how different your own hair is from the hair he must usually deal with – straight, unkempt, hasn’t seen a razor or scissors in some time. But the Barber exudes a confidence that puts you right at ease.
You begin to small-talk – the Barber’s name is Habiv, you learn. He’s 24, one brother, one sister. The feeling is somewhat familiar, idle chat while the artist sculpts, you doing your best to turn this way and that, to stay out of his way and offer the best profiles for his electric razor. Habiv uses the tool somewhat differently than you’ve seen before – quick light brushes, taking off just the tips of the hair, bit by bit. He circles you a number of times, working from each angle. He is speaking of Tamale – it’s “cool”, he says, those quick light brushes of the razor just brushing your hair, the light buzz of hair being trimmed ringing reassuringly in your ear.
The scene is therefore quite comfortable when, with Habiv directly behind you, the razor’s tone drops suddenly – by a couple octaves at least. You feel a sharp tug on your scalp, a brief pain. A loud “tch” of someone clicking their tongue comes from behind a moment later. A pause.
Habiv goes back to work. The brushes of the razor are a little firmer now, the sound a little deeper, as Habiv starts to dig in a little further into the hair around that spot that still tingles. Conversation has stopped – only the whirring of the fan, stirring the hair that Habiv is trying to deftly manage, accompanying the steady whir of the razor. He goes back to circling you.
Soon, he asks what you think, a hopeful smile on his face. You feel around – the sides, about an inch, the top, a little longer. A good length, maybe even a little long. Hesitantly, your hand creeps around, and as you circle your head, the hair feels a little shorter, and then – sure enough – almost scalp.
Not wanting to offend, you throw on a smile. “It looks great Habiv, it could maybe even be a little shorter…” Damage control. “This length here is good, I think”, you say as you throw on a smile, the hairs poking your finger tip as you twirl them in circles only a few millimeters in diameter.
“Ah yes, I will do better” says Habiv, and continues. His razor’s brushes are again more determined, deeper. His circling continues. You ask more about Tamale, and the conversation resumes.
It takes time, and several more circles, your hair growing shorter in the mirror with every pass, but eventually Habiv arrives at a length that pleases him. Throwing on your glasses, you look in the mirror – it looks good, short on the sides, maybe a little longer on the top. You smile – it looks sharp! There’s no mirror to show you the back, but who ever notices the back of a haircut anyways. It’s still short, but overall, it looks good.
“Do you want me to shave?” he asks. The man before was shaved – again with the electric razor, and it’s something that’s been on the to-do list, so you agree – “yes, please!” Habiv sets in with his electric razor, specs of hair flying from your face and your neck as he goes roughly about the process. Electric shavers are by nature a little rough, feeling like sandpaper against the skin of your face. Soon, the process is done – you bring your hand to your face, and feel the rough stubble on your raw face, characteristic of an electric shaver.
He grabs a small piece of foam, pours a little liquid from a bottle, and wipes the side of your face. It feels cool, refreshing, after the steady rasping of the razor. Hesitating, he asks: “Do you want _____?” You miss exactly what he. Asking for clarification, he lifts a bottle – white, unlabeled – and asks again. “Aftershave”! Sounds good, the man before got it done – “Please!” He dabs some more liquid on the sponge, and liberally and roughly daps it over your face.
The smell of alcohol hits your nose a bare moment before the sting. With each dab, your face echoes with red-hot pins and needles. Your jaw clenches as you try to ignore it, pride demanding you not say a word.
At last, with one last check in the mirror, you stand up, thank Habiv, and shake his hand. You exchange numbers, pay him his price (about $1.40), and walk back out into the heat and noise of Central Market. A man grabs your hand, complimenting your new look, his face broken in two by a smile. There’s a call from your right – two young men are sitting on a bench. “Looks good”, they say. You flash a smile and thumbs up. They return them, and you walk on into the day, thinking to yourself, “Good haircut. Good haircut.”
And the back.
Wait, what about…? (leave a comment below).