I had my first Siwan, and simultaneously my first Egyptian, haircut a few days ago.
During previous stays I haven’t bothered about my hair, just had it cut before I came here and again on my return to Australia, with no need for a trim in between. But after three and a half months here I was starting to feel ratty, as though I was in perpetual backpacker mode – too many days wearing very casual clothes, badly abused feet from lots of walking on rough ground and through sand (and for a few days, mud), and hair that was split and dry from the sand dust and swimming.
So I did some work on cleaning up my feet, rearranged my clothes so some of my more elegant, feminine clothes also get an outing if I am visiting someone or have visitors, and I am not just getting by all day in the rougher, more masculine looking clothes. As the Siwan women wear dresses in feminine, elaborate fabrics under their covers, I was starting to feel very boyish when visiting with them or even among the younger, uncovered girls in the street, who always look like they are going to a party or wedding.
But fixing my hair was more going to be more problematic, as there are no hairdressers for women in Siwa, or at least none in the streets. You do see plenty of hairdressers in the centre of town and further out among the houses but they are only for the men, who get haircuts and shaves frequently as nearly all here wear their hair close cropped.
I am sure the women have their own hairdressers, maybe they do each other’s hair or there are those who visit among them in their houses and do hair, but I haven’t managed to find out yet. So until I do, I decided to ask one of the men’s hairdressers to cut my hair, and chose one at random who had a light, airy salon. He looked surprised by my request, and his friend who had some English confirmed that this was not a hairdresser for women. But he agreed and drew the curtain at the front door to protect me from curious stares. He spent an hour doing my hair while we watched, thanks to salon’s TV and Foxtel, a Jackie Chan movie filmed in Australia, featuring lots of Chinatown and even the Snowy Mountains, and Australian actors with a variety of Aussie accents, but of course with Arabic subtitles! A strange experience and as there was no point me trying to explain to hairdresser that this was my old country we were watching, something I could only smile at to myself. I also kept an eye on the mirror, concerned the hairdresser would be busy reading subtitles and not paying much attention to what he was doing to my hair.
After the film, and halfway through the cutting, Cameron Diaz was being interviewed in one of those “star profiles”, and he indicated he would model the finished cut on hers. The result is that I now have shoulder length hair, though I had just intended a trim. An hour of haircut, a vigorous head massage, conditioner, blow dry, and a bit of his life story and mine exchanged in his basic English and my basic Arabic – all for $2 Australian. Finally, he also jokingly offered to give me a shave, which the men have done when they get their haircut – humor often so easily crosses language barriers here, and we both laughed as I insisted I did not really need this.
When I got home, I had to wash my hair three times to get out the heavy product he put in it to make it look slick, which is probably needed with curly Egyptian male hair but just made me look like I had been swimming in oil. After the washes the cut came up really well, so I will return to him until I find out where the women go. Now when I walk past he calls me in to the salon to show off to his (all male) customers his work.