Disappointing Hair Salon Experience in Nairobi, Kenya

It was December 2016. I had done extensive research, gotten recommendations, weighed my options and was finally ready to take the dive. I woke up early so I could make it in for the appointment. I had never had to book an appointment for such a thing before so I didn’t want to be late. What if I walked in one minute after 10:00 a.m. and she turned me away because the procedure was to take exactly one hour and arriving a minute late meant shoddy work? She was a professional; she couldn’t put her name to shoddy work. What if I arrived at 9:59 a.m. and had to sit there in the waiting bay looking lost? Everyone would see through me – a newbie who had never done this before. I couldn’t even sleep well the night before because of nerves. For some reason, I tend to dream of all the things that could go wrong when I need to do something for the first time. All I’m saying is that anxiety is real.

So, there I was at 10:00 a.m. walking through the door with the most nervous smile I’d ever had.

“Sasa! Ndio kufika. I hope sijachelewa.” (Hey, how are you? I’m here. I hope I’m not late)

I knew I wasn’t late. I don’t know why I had to state the obvious in the form of a question. I proceeded to lurk sheepishly past the door because I couldn’t find a seat and didn’t have my spectacles on so I couldn’t quite scan the room for one.

“Poa sana. Ulikuwa ufanyiwe?” (I’m fine. What were you supposed to come in for?) She responded as she handed me a plastic seat and went back to what she was doing.

I was tempted to feel offended because I’d like to think that I’m memorable, mostly because I always have a million questions which most people find annoying. Plus, I was literally here the day before yesterday. How could you forget that fast? But then I remembered that if I humble myself God will lift me up so I bit my tongue, swallowed my sarcasm (along with the ‘hot potato’ stuck in my throat) and responded kindly.

“Nilikuwa hapa juzi ukaniambia nikuje leo straightening na trim kidogo.” (I was here the day before yesterday and you asked me to come in today for a gentle blow-out and light trim)

She (fake) remembered and then directed one of her employees to find another seat, keys to a smaller room at the back and the necessary tools.

“Wacha nitengeneze hapa kidogo halafu nikusort.” (Let me finish up on this and then get to you) She said as she ushered me into the smaller room and went back to preparing braids that (I guess) were to be installed on another lady in the salon.

I obliged and took my earthly possessions into the room with me. I had earphones, music and enough charge on my devices, I didn’t have errands to run after the appointment and I had some people to catch up with so all was well. I didn’t worry much about the time because I was occupied. Little did I know that, looking occupied meant that no one would be in a hurry to attend to me.  Thirty minutes later, the lady rushes in apologizing profusely, letting me know that it is the festive season so they have so much work, yanking cords left right and center while rummaging through (what I assumed to be) the storage room looking for a socket so she could plug the blowdrier into a power source. By this time, I’m just looking at her thinking, “I hope she is not as confused when she gets to my hair because I will…..*cue Canton Jones’ ‘Imma Stay Saved’*” So I sit quietly asking Jesus to take both wheels – mine and hers.

Finally she asks, “Umeosha na uka deep condition ama pia inafanywa?” (Have you washed and deep conditioned or are we doing that as well?”

“Nimefanya kila kitu. Ni straightening on low heat juu sijaguza blowdry miaka mbili na ninaogopa heat damage. Halafu trim kidogo juu nimekuwa nikitrim so haina split ends nyingi. Ulikuwa umesema itakuwa 500.” (I’ve already done everything. I just need a gentle straightening and a light trim/ dusting since I’ve been trimming and don’t have split ends. You’d mentioned that it would cost KShs. 500 to do the job) I respond maturely without rolling my eyes. I also ensure I remind her that we had agreed on a price because Kenyan service providers have a way of changing the price conveniently when it suits them.

She then calls in her employee and asks her to sort me out because she has to go finish preparing the braids she was working on. At this point, I almost flip because she had told me she would handle my hair herself. There were three other people working on those braids and my thing wouldn’t take that long. So at what point did she decide that I wouldn’t mind being pawned off to someone else? I would have to give the new lady the instructions from scratch. Worse still, the new lady goes, “Ushaosha na ku deep condition?” One epic face-palm later, I decide to repeat everything I’d already said without throwing daggers at her with my eyes or walking out. In hindsight, I wish I would have just walked out because Bella (my hair) would have thanked me for it.

A few minutes later, the blowdrier is breathing as furiously as my angry Baite sisters (:-D I had to) and she just sticks the comb into my roots. Who sticks a blowdrier straight into the roots of a kinky natural’s hair? Who?!!! Have you never heard of the tension method? Do you not know that you’re supposed to start from the tips to minimize the tangled mess and breakage? I calmly stop her and ask her to start from the tips so she doesn’t have to pull at my hair for no good reason. Like any noisy Kenyan high school boarding preps, she obeys for a few seconds then goes back to her ways. At this point I’m just so annoyed that any conversation will not be beneficial. After all, this is a famous natural hair salon and I trust whoever recommended me so let me let her do her thing and just focus on calming down. Minutes later, Bella is falling past my shoulders looking like she’s about to hop into a top-down convertible on Thika Road where she can fly in the wind without a care in the world: not tangling, not shrinkage, not split ends or single-strand knots, not a care in the world.

Kidogo kidogo (Chinese for small small), the new lady calls her boss lady. Many whispers (in tongues I don’t understand) later, she comes in to compliment how healthy and long my hair is. How after trimming it will just look phenomenal and how I will be happy she refuses to lightly flat iron it because I will have dodged the heat-damage bullet. She then gets some scissors and a fine-toothed comb and starts to trim at the back. Three snips later, she calls in her employee (new lady) and a few discussions later (in the same tongues I couldn’t understand) the boss lady walks out and leaves the new lady trimming. I can’t see the back of my head and there was no mirror so I had no idea what she was doing back there…..until she got to the mid-section of my hair and I asked her for a mirror just to see what she was doing. Lo and behold! My chest and all its capillaries! This woman was cutting more than four inches off of my hair!!!!! I ask her why she is doing that because I came in for a simple trim and not a cut. She calls her boss and I can see the shock she is trying to hide once she walks in. It turns out the new lady is actually an intern. AN INTERN!!!!!!!! You had an intern working on my hair after I expressed all my concerns and you didn’t even have the audacity to say anything? At this point, I’m seeing red everywhere. The intern proceeds to show her boss that she is using the technique she showed her a few minutes ago. They are there nodding and agreeing, telling me how trimming is good for my hair, how it will do wonders for my volume, how Bella will grow longer and healthier and how most people end up stagnating in growth because of not trimming.

Now I’m not just seeing red, I’m also hearing and breathing red. Do you think that my hair survived two years of no hairdressers while colored because I don’t know how to take care of it? Do you think I’ve been trimming my hair every quarter (and told you the same) because I don’t know the benefits of trimming? Do you think I came here for a half-hearted lesson conveniently timed with your realization of the mathogothanio your intern just did on my hair? Does my face show any indication that I really want to go there with you? I close my eyes, calmly tell her to finish (because the madness has already gone down and I’m not dramatically walking out of a salon in a huff to go pay someone else to fix her mistake). I made my bed and I was going to lie on it. The intern continued to butcher my inches along with my soul.

After the last snip, the boss lady walks in to style my hair and I’m thinking, “You’ve got to be kidding me! Now? NOW you show up? To STYLE my hair? Because it was the most important part of what I came for here today?” I calmly tell her I don’t want my hair styled. I’ll just do a ponytail or something. She insists that I would look so great in an elegant updo (mind you I’m just in casual jeans and a top) and she can even use her bobby pins for free. I kid you not! There aren’t enough facepalms in the world to capture the whole shenanigans. I tell her updo’s are not my thing (team forehead) and I’m in casual so I don’t want too much of a contrast. She proceeds to insist on how great the updo will look. I get a call from my mom telling me they’ve rushed my dad to hospital so I should try get back home as soon as possible. I let the boss lady have her updo and ‘GIFT’ me these bobby pins that I ‘COULDN’T’ have gotten for 20 bob in a shop. I give her the 500 bob and walk out, hit the first corner and find a building with reflecting glass windows. I sling my bag tightly on my arm and proceed to undo my hair in the middle of the busy street. Everyone is walking past me, throwing those “Is this one okay” looks. At this point I genuinely don’t care. I ruffle my hair, pull out a rubber band and put it in a ponytail. I apologize profusely to Bella convincing her that she will grow back and fly one day, beg my forehead not to cut anyone before we get home, promise to never step foot in that salon again and vow never to listen to handsome mysterious men who pique my interest enough to convince me to go find out how long my hair is when it’s straight.

0 thoughts on “Disappointing Hair Salon Experience in Nairobi, Kenya”

  1. Oh no sorry for that terrible experience. I’m such a sceptic on these salons haven’t stepped in one in ages and not planning to any time soon!

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