The women and girls here are very proud of their hair and spend hours and pesos on styling it. There is a hair salon on every corner and the shops are lined with all kinds of hair relaxer and conditioning treatments. Most females have extremely long hair. It is black and usually naturally curly and they many spend hours and many pesos trying to straighten it. To see a girl here with short hair is remarkable – you sit up and take notice because it is so unusual. They are extremely vain about their hair although, ironically, because it takes them so long to style it, it is very common to see women with a head full of rollers going about their daily business – shopping, riding a motorcycle, and our personal favourite, jogging!
It was Mother’s Day here on Sunday. As Rich promised in an earlier post, I was not allowed to acknowledge it as I had already celebrated the UK Mother’s Day so it passed in our house without much note. But on Monday, my dear friend Massiel came over and asked what I had done for Mother’s Day. Massiel is very beautiful and has gorgeous long hair which she takes good care of. Today it looked a funny colour and was wet and shiney and she had clips all over it all over. But anything goes here so I didn’t ask about it. “I have come to bring your Mother’s Day gift,” she said. “Come with me back to the salon (aha, the shiney wet hair and clips, she is of course, in the middle of a salon treatment) and I am going to treat you to having your hair styled”. What a lovely, kind idea. I was a little overwhelmed as much by typical Dominican spontaneity as the kindness itself. She wanted me to go with her then and there!
I think I have mentioned that the sun, humidity, salt and chlorine have all conspired to give me hair like a cross between one of the Drifters and Madge from Neighbours in the eighties. I have not visited the hairdressers since we arrived for a few reasons – 1) we are living quite frugally so a trip to the salon seemed an unnecessary expense 2) I am not confident enough in my language ability to convey to a hairdresser what I want and fear I would return in rollers and relaxer 3) actually I hate going to the hairdressers, I would rather go to the dentist!
But Massiel’s kind offer seemed to negate all my objections – it was a gift, she would explain to the hairdresser what I would like so there would be no misunderstanding and even I can bear a trip to the hairdressers, with a girlfriend, once a year.
Upon arrival at the salon I was introduced to “Nanny” my stylist, and alarm bells perhaps should have started to ring as Nanny has turned her naturally black curly hair into blond straight hair. Or at least she has tried. The hair here is so dark and curly that I think you would have to spend several hours with your head in a bucket of Domestos to get it anywhere near straight and blond so the end result is a light brown frizz.
“What would you like?” asked Massiel”Just a trim would be lovely” I replied.”No no, you must have colour, I’ll be here for hours.”Massiel was about 2 hours into what turned out to be a 5 hour treatment!” “OK” I meekly replied. “Maybe a couple of highlights?” Nanny took over. There was much talking between her and Massiel and over the noise of the driers and their hundred-mile-an-hour local dialect I was completely lost.
“What did she say?” I asked Massiel. “Don’t worry, just trust Nanny. She’s very good.”
Nanny took the scissors and chopped away about six inches. So much for the trim.
She gave me a colour chart to peruse and I chose a sort of honey blond and requested a couple of highlights. Nanny just smiled and marched me to the basin and suddenly it’s like I wasn’t there. Massiel is under the dryer so she can’t help me and Nanny is busy rubbing a blue potion all over my head. “Highlights?” I suggested. She just smiled. My scalp started to burn and I asked if I was nearly done. More smiling from Nanny. “OK I think my head is on fire. Please can I be done?” The blue stuff is washed away and Nanny proudly escorted me to the mirror to admire her handiwork. Before I got there, Massiel jumped out from under hair dry and forewarned, “Nanny says if you don’t like it she can change it for you.”
Oh my goodness. It was orange. “Es naranja. Tengo pelo naranja” “It’s orange, I have orange hair! Please help.” It was the most ridiculous colour hair I had ever seen and most definitely orange, although not really the kind found anywhere in nature. Massiel’s head full of rollers was bobbing around laughing hysterically. “Don’t worry”, said almost crying with laughter, “Nanny can change it. She’s never done gringo hair before, she didn’t know that would happen.”
“I asked for honey higlights and I’ve got all over orange. What got lost in translation?” “Nanny said you need all over colour, she can’t do hightlights on your hair.”Wish I’d had this information sooner!” Do you want to go darker or lighter?” “I think darker would be best, I’m not having a good feeling about Nanny’s ability at the blond end of the spectrum.”I am muscled back to the basin for another potion, just a sample this time at the side to see if I like it.The patch test is a sort of mousey brown which versus the orange will do just fine. I agreed to go with that all over, or so I thought.
Another potion was mixed and there was more scalp burning which caused more alarm, as it is peroxide that burns the scalp and the job of peroxide is to take colour out of the hair to make it lighter (I used to be a salon manager don’t you know). But this treatment is only left on for a couple of minutes as just as the burning starts it is quickly hosed off.
Massiel’s rollered head appeared in my field of vision. “We can change it if you don’t like it,” she cautions, “We will stay here until we find a colour you like”.
As I feared, we have not gone darker, towards the rodent brown that would have been just fine and I that thought we agreed on. I tentatively looked in the mirror and burst out laughing. Nervous, hysterical laughter. Staring back at me was Big Bird from Seasame Street. My hair is now yellow with orange tips.
Quite a crowd had gathered in the salon by now. The gringo hair was clearly causing quite a stir in the neighbourhood. A couple of people had brought their plastic chairs in from outside to watch. “MASSIEL” I shouted. “What happened to the brown we chose?” “Don’t worry” she said “We are not leaving until you like it.” I wonder if I would be finished in time to catch my plane on Friday!
A friendly verbal tussle then ensued between Massiel and Nanny and I kept picking up the two key phrases. “Mas claro” (Lighter) says Nanny. “Mas oscuro” (darker) says Massiel. “Si, mas oscuro”, I tried to join in, although my opinion didn’t seem to be counting for much!
More potion was mixed and added to my hair and at least there was no burning sensation this time, so I was mildly reassured.
As I emerge from the basin for the third time and made the slow, nervous walk over to the mirror my crowd of supporters, cheer-led by Massiel, started nodding their approval. “Rubio, muy hermosa” “Blonde, very beautiful”. I was going to take some convincing. We had been in the salon about two and a half hours by now and even Massiel was coming the end of her five hour hair-a-thon.
It still looked yellowy orange to me but I don’t think I can take any more of Nanny’s magic brew so I asked her to dry it and hoped for some miracle by hairdryer. My miracle does not come. Everyone was trying to assure me it was lovely but I’m not sure anyone, least of all me, is convinced!
It was a quiet drive home. Massiel was anxious for me to stay and have another treatment to get the colour I want. “We can try another place, we can come back tomorrow” she implored. “No, no. Really it’s fine. I’m sure I’ll like it more tomorrow, I am just a little in shock!”
When I arrived home I was greeted with very quizzical looks and interesting remarks from the children. “Mummy, what’s happened to your hair? It looks very funny.” But the final coup de grace was delivered eloquently by Ben. “Mummy, you look exactly like Nana”. (My mum has recently celebrated her 71st birthday so my three hour salon ordeal has added 27 years on me!).
Oh well, it’s only hair. It will grow again!
I would like to dedicate this story to two very special girls in my life. Firstly to Massiel whose kindness and friendship towards all of us has really made a huge difference to the enjoyment of our stay. I filled with tears when she came round and said she was taking me to the salon as her treat for me for Mother’s Day. Besides the chicken soup from our other friend Sharon, it is one of the kindest acts in my life of recent times and I will remember the kindness long after Big Bird has flown the coop.
Secondly to my darling sister-in-law Sarah, for her extraordinary bravery and positivity who I think would love the chance to go the the salon and be turned into Big Bird. We love you very much, big, brave girl. XXXX