Getting a Haircut in Africa

When you live in a foreign country, simple everyday things can become unique experiences. I remember that in Ukraine, going to the post office was a unique experience on each and every visit! But in Africa, at least in the Congo, one thing that really stands out to me is the Barber Shop experience.

First of all, in case you weren’t aware, pretty much everyone here is Black, which means that the standard barbershop tool of choice is the clippers. In fact, I didn’t even see any scissors on the counter at all. Since I knew they would only use clippers I asked for a #2 on the sides and a #4 on the top, figuring I’d end up with something close to a military cut.

I was seated in a barber chair, they put the standard cover around me and tied it off in the back, and there was a rotating fan mounted above the mirror pointing down at me so I could stay cool during the experience. My barber, who happened to be named “Welcome” (I’m not kidding you. That’s his actual name!), then got to work.

Step 1: Trim everything to #4. I guess he wanted to get rid of my shaggy hair, so he just started working with the #4 trimmer and would go over every part many many many times until he was satisfied.

Step 2: Begin working on the sides with the #2 clippers. Again, he was meticulous, getting every little hair that was too long.

Step 3: Start mixing and matching between #’s 1-4 to create a nice blend from the lowest edges to the top, and he would constantly go over areas he’d already done checking to see if he’d missed a hair. (We’re about 30 mins in at this point.)

Step 4: As usual for most guys, he used the clippers to go around the edges and ears to get them nice and straight, but, thankfully, I knew what was coming next:

Step 5: The Razor Blade – Ok, I’d seen this already when I watched my boss get a haircut. At this point he takes out a brand new razor blade (The double sided sort). He unwraps it and begins to use it to shave the edges of my hair line and physically slice off the hairs to make every edge of my hair line perfectly straight. He also started using it to dry shave my face as well. My friend Dre had previously talked about his experience with this – He said “And then the guy pulls out a razor and start shaving my cheek! I just yelled stop, got up, and got the bloody hell out of there!”

Ok, so, normally when all the edges are done, the haircut is over for a guy. Well, not here.

Step 6: Get out the clippers and Repeat step 3!

Step 7: (We’re about an hour in at this point) Rub some water into my hair and then flatten my bangs. Now, my head has basically been buzzed by clippers, so the odds that I’ll ever flatted out my bangs are low, but he checks and then pulls out that razor and start cutting each little straggler individually to make sure they’re all perfectly straight.

Step 8: He takes out some stuff I think is gel and then starts rubbing it into my hair and it foams up. For a second I think it’s mousse, but then I realized that it’s shampoo. He massages my hair with the shampoo right there in the hair and I’m wondering how he’s going to get it off. Then he goes and rubs it all over my face as well! He walks away and I sit there looking at my bubble covered hair and face and wonder how I’m going to get home.

Step 9: Ok, this is the best step. He comes back with a hot, wet towel and begins to rub it over my hair and face to mop up all the shampoo. This how towel would have been really nice before the razor though. (One time in my life I’ve had a hot towel / straight razor shave and it was the greatest shave I’ve ever had)

Step 10: He then massages my head to get my hair to dry. This was also very relaxing.

Step 11: He grabs some pomade and rubs it through my hair, doing a bit of styling.

Step 12: He begins to brush me off with a powdered brush, covering my neck, face and everything to prevent discomfort from the loose hairs.

Step 13: He grabs a cotton ball, tears it in half and then cleans out my ears to get all the loose hairs out (Ok! This is something I’ve always hated dealing with after a haircut and a reason I usually go home and take a shower.)

Step 14: One hour and twenty minutes later I get up and I pay him $5. He gives me his cell phone number and says to call him anytime and he’ll head over to the barbershop if he’s not there and cut my hair.

So, there you have it, a 14-Step haircut, involving more than an hour of labor and completely meticulous work, and it only cost me $5. (And this is the expensive barbershop!)

I don't know if I can live without the razor cut lines

This edge is perfect without a single stray hair!

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4 thoughts on “Getting a Haircut in Africa

  1. This brings back memories. Believe it or not, I used to take Jake and Sam (when they were VERY young) to a new barber shop run by a Hispanic guy. In the beginning there were never any other customers in there. He did the same thing with them–a straight razor to have meticulous edges, and not a stray hair in sight. The boys loved Danny and always wanted him to cut their hair. It took forever and was $10.00. It was always a little unnerving having someone use a straight razor on your 2 and 3 year olds.

  2. My mother basically wrote me the exact same thing in an email after I posted this. She used to take me to my grandfather’s favorite barber shop where they would use a straight razor as well. I actually went back there once many years later and had a full straight razor shave, which was an amazing experience and I wish more people offered it.

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