For those of you who are assiduously following our progress, we are rewinding several months for this episode that has been engraved on my memory.
After 5 months in Sudan, when my ‘look’(it’s a French word, honest) was becoming dangerously like that of a hardened missionary woman, I decided that it was time for a haircut. After numerous helpful answers of ‘Me ? I wait to have it done when I go back home’, I was somewhat disappointed that nobody had dared try the local option. So I resolved to seek out a beauty salon. Finding a promising candidate, I refused to be deterred by the surprise of the receptionist when I made my appointment.
The next day I sat in the chair with a sense of optimism. The first difficulty was one of communication. A friendly Ethiopian, she admitted to never having cut a European’s hair before, but ‘I did have five months experience of hair cutting in Ethiopia !’. I was clearly in good hands.
To offset the possibility of language difficulties, I’d brought with me a picture of Katie Holmes, with a lightly layered cut. As she shot me a slightly worried glance, I murmured ‘Go on, I’m sure it’ll be fine’. Starting to tremble, she took a lock of hair between her fingers and purposefully snipped it off. So far so good. Except that the cut was diagonal to my head, and was the wrong side of her fingers.
As she pressed on, a dozen Sudanese ladies crowded round to have a look, offering her advice on technique and for me encouraging smiles. Ten minutes later, I was looking a little less like Katie Holmes and more like Cruella De Ville from 101 Dalmatians. Although my hair was indeed layered, some layers were a good few centimetres longer than others. Once she had insisted on straightening it, the effect was multiplied.
‘It looks very nice, doesn’t it ?’ she asked. ‘Do you want to see the back ?’ Absolutely not. Nor did I have the courage to tell her that a) I would have to wear a beret for the next six months ; and b) I would never be seing her again.