The Haircut

I would like to introduce a guest poster, on his own blog, Dave! Blogging has been cathartic stress relief for me but I thought this story was too good not to tell in first person so Dave will give it a go.  Enjoy!  

I needed a haircut. That is an easy to solve problem in the States, and one that shouldn’t be difficult in Nepal, since it seems there is a barber on every corner. In the States, Hannah typically cuts my hair, but unfortunately our clippers broke before we moved.  I wanted to buy a new set prior to our departure but my father-in-law encouraged me to support the local economy.  So I didn’t bring clippers and after month in Nepal, I was pretty shaggy.

There was a barber that I passed every day, and I figured this would be a good place to try, since they typically were busy, and I had not seen anything too alarming on my walks past (except for one fellow getting his nose hairs trimmed while standing up). I had a free half hour, so it was hair cut time. On my way there I practiced my Nepali numbers, so when they asked what setting to put the clippers at, I could easily say, “six” pointing to the side of my head, and “eight” pointing to the top. What other language barriers could there be for the simple task of a hair cut?

The barbershop was nothing glamorous, an opening on the side of a dirty building, in a row of similar businesses, with 4 chairs all facing mirrors attached to the walls. There was a lone, fluorescent light bulb hanging in the middle of the ceiling. I walked in and made eye contact with one of the barbers. I raised my eyebrows (universal language for “I’m interested”) and he pointed to a chair. My seat was pushed in, and I resolved that I would not get upset, no matter what the result.  I was going to have a Nepali haircut experience.   We had been told in orientation that haircuts often end in a nice head massage.   How about that! I thought of my friend Orren from residency, who would get his hair cut at the country club.  He would be given a glass of scotch and his haircuts were finished off with a head massage. Well I was about to get a country club haircut, except in Nepal and without the scotch.  Orren had nothing on me!

As I sat in the chair and looked at myself in the mirror, I noticed that there were no clippers on the little shelf.  ‘Maybe they are in a drawer somewhere,’ I thought to myself, but then I noticed there were no power outlets either.  The mystery of how I was to get a hair cut was solved when the barber appeared behind me with a slightly archaic looking, oversized pair of scissors.  Hmmm, guess I would not be using my practiced Nepali numbers.

Without hesitation, he began snipping away at the right side of my head. Edward scissor-hands could not have been faster.  I tried to time it, and he was making at least 3 snips a second. Forget clippers this guys was the machine! Also like electric clippers, this guy did not stop even when he was not actually cutting. He would hold the scissors next to your head, and continue working the scissors, still about 3 snips per second. Sure he was fast, but he was also meticulous.  He would pass over the same place 3 or 4 times before he was satisfied. When he came to my ear, which I gathered he was especially concerned about, he made at least 10 passes before he felt that every stray hair had been accounted for. By the time he reached the back of my head, I had already been there a good 10 minutes. In the states the cut would have been finished and I would have been paying at that point!  In Nepal the haircut went on, and the process was repeated on the back of my head, then the left side. The top was equally as involved.  The first verbal communication we had, was a question of whether I wanted my bangs “sita” (straight).  After that the haircut came to a close.  He did a great job, I was impressed, better than a home cut, although certainly not faster.

I began to take my wallet out to pay, but not so fast!.  He was still snipping at my right side-burn which also seemed to be a place of great concern for my barber. He continued his way down, and soon I found that he was going to trim my entire beard for me! Fantastic! I was wondering how I was going to keep that neat without a clipper! It was a bit exciting when he trimmed my mustache. Imagine those 3 snips a second right on your upper lip. I could feel hairs shooting up my nose. I decided I simply wouldn’t breath while he was working there to avoid aspirating my own mustache. He finally finished the facial hair, and I again reached for my wallet.   I looked up to ask how much and I realized he had fetched the straight razor. I was not quite sure what he was meaning to do with it.  Shave my neck, clean up his beard work, or do away with the beard entirely? Thankfully it was just the neck, along with some more touch up work around the ears. He did not use shaving cream, but rather stuck some lotion on his finger, and would wipe the blade on he finger between passes.  He slowed he cuts down to about 1 per second with the straight razor, which I was grateful for.

This time he really seemed to be finished.  “Massage?” He asked. “Hazure!” (yes) this was the part I had been waiting for. He produced a small little packet which he cut open, and then rubbed the contents into my scalp. It had a scent somewhere between hippy and pine forest.   He began to rub, knead, and massage hippy/pine forest all into my newly cut hair. Then it all started to tingle. Every time he touched my head, there was a little electric sensation. That stuff he had rubbed onto my head was some sort of scented Icy Hot!   Once I had a minty fresh head, things started to get a little weird.  He slapped me across the forehead. Actually slapped me.  Not just a little ‘pat’, but an all out, you could hear it across the room slap. Then he did it again. Then again at approximately the rate of 3 slaps per second, he went to town on my forehead. I couldn’t help but laugh out loud. I wasn’t sure if this was supposed to be relaxing, or if I was being punished for some cultural faux-pas. The slapping stopped after about 30 seconds and a total of 90 whacks.  Next he massaged my eyes and ears followed by a thump on my head.   This was followed by a technique, which I’m sure he had practiced for years, but didn’t make sense to me.  He would open his hands so that the palms were open and facing each other, like praying, then he would spread out his fingers, and overlapped them just enough so that his knuckles were all in a straight line. He then proceeded to hit me in the side of the head. The knuckles aligned in this manner combined with a collision with a solid, dense object (that would be my head) produced a sound similar to popping bubble wrap. This was surreal.

At last he stopped. I was seeing stars.  I looked up in the mirror and realized that it was now dark outside, which combined with the stars had a nice effect. “How long have I been here?” I wondered. Since there was only a single bulb, the room had also become a fair deal darker. Given the poor lighting, I had lost track of where my barber/ masseuse had gone to. He soon returned with a pillow. Apparently we were not done yet. He laid the pillow on the counter in front of my chair, and then placed one of my arms on in, then the other, and then he pushed my head forward. It became clear what was happening when he pulled the back of my shirt up. Apparently I had not only agreed to a head massage, but also a back massage.

This started in a relaxing manner, and in spite of all what had just happened to me, I began to doze off. Then he put his hand in my armpit. This tickled a great deal, and once again I laughed out loud.  He was trying to massage my latissimus dorsi, but this was far to close to being tickled. I was about to lose it, when he grabbed my “love handle.” Let me be clear. He didn’t rub, or apply pressure. He just grabbed on, and then gave it a twist. He had one hand now in my armpit, and one twisting my “love handle.” He alternated these techniques, and I was caught somewhere between hilarity and terror.

It was a neck massage next, and the back of my head. He then took my head in both hands and twisted it. He pulled my head around until it would not go any farther.  He has twisted it so far I could see his face.  It was completely emotionless… and then he flexed. I had the sudden thought “this is how they kill people in the movies!” I was about to die. He knew that if he just gave me a nice haircut, he would get a bit of money, but if he snapped my neck, he could have the whole wallet! At least I would look sharp for the funeral!  My neck gave up a loud “crunch,” and then he released. I was still alive! I was elated but then I saw he was just switching hands. Oh no! He was only loosening my neck up so he could kill me twisting my head in the other direction! “Crunch.” I am certain that he managed to pop every facet between C1 and C7, but somehow, had managed not to sever my spinal cord.

He pulled my chair back and this was the signal that the “experience” was officially over. I asked how much. “300 rupees” was the answer. $3.50! I looked at my watch. I had been there for over an hour.

So the moral of the story is you may get more than you bargain for with a Nepali haircut. The haircuts are meticulous, but the massages are a bit odd. Perhaps you could say ‘no’ to the massage, or you can just bring your own clippers.