With a newfound love of henna as of last summer, I decided to spend my afternoon at the coiffure in Kassala at the mercy of weapon bearing women programmed to cluck, tsk, and shake their heads in disapproval at my unshapely eyebrows whether in Atlanta, Montreal, Kassala, Khartoum, or Lahore. These farm animal renditions are followed by variations of scolding, cajoling, and fist shaking directed at my naive, unworldly eyebrows unassumingly hanging out where they should be – above my eyeballs. Eventually, these plier wielders realize that I will champion my eyebrows till the end, and they best get on with what I actually came for – the henna. Today, as the henna-tube was pulled out, wiped, and everything squished from the back forward like a toothpaste tube at its end, faint grumbles continued:
Manal (Coiffure lady): Inty hilwa…laikan (*points at her own thinly arched, cleanly shaped eyebrows*) ma hilwa (You’re pretty…but [eyebrows] not pretty.)Me: Ma hilwa? Ma mushkila! (*Grins – lovingly, reassuringly strokes eyebrows*) (Not pretty? No problem!)Manal: *Heaves grunt of inability to understand*After the usual eyebrow ordeal, we got on with the henna, which proceeded without any incidents.Coiffures have become one of my favorite places to explore. There’s something bizarrely comforting in the universality of its inhabitants – coiffure ladies. Coiffure ladies might be the one Truth, with a capital ‘T,’ in the world. They’re the same everywhere. You are never in control. You will always disappoint them. And there’s always one more hair to pull off, one more coat of nail polish to apply, just a little bit more color to put in your hair, or have you tried this mask yet – it’ll get rid of that ugly tinge to your skin.
Even more twisted, I always feel a bemused yet heartfelt sense of camaraderie with my persecutor.
Anyways, I was innocently sitting, watching trashy Egyptian movies waiting for my henna to dry, when I once again came to the attention of the coiffure lady. This time, I became the khawaja barbie…helpless against my overly enthusiastic attacker, my khawaja hair was brushed repeatedly and then pulled back into a ‘horse’s tail’ so tight that my scalp is still yelping in pain. My fingernails and toenails were painted (painted being loosely used – more like splattered thickly) a lemony-gold as I sat the helpless victim. The finishing touch – a plastic, beaded bracelet to adorn my arm.
Kaif hilwa! (How beautiful!)
No one heard my pleas for mercy.
I was nine-years-old the last time I painted my toenails.