Before I moved to Saudi Arabia, I used to get my hair done every six weeks. Always. My hairstylist, Amy, is amazing. (She’s at Blush Studio in Springfield, Missouri, in case you’re wondering. If you’re in the Springfield area, that’s the place to go.) Even when I lived five hours away, I always made trips back just to get my hair done. Okay, so sometimes I would stretch it to seven or even eight weeks, but never longer than that. I had to get my hair done.
This is remarkable for me because until about four years ago, when I started going to Amy, I kind of avoided hairstylists like the plague. Throughout high school, college, and a big chunk of grad school, I would go years at a time without setting foot in a salon. Most of the time, my hair was dull and full of split ends, which is why I almost always wore it up in a librarian bun. (I was so attached to The Bun that once, when I was in college and I was a tutor in a class of second graders, I actually wore my hair down one day and a little boy said to me, amazed, “Wow, Miss Hunter! I didn’t know you had hair!”)
My experiences with hairstylists mostly left me and my hair traumatized, so I avoided them. Then, after a good two years or so without a haircut, my best friend Annie recommended that I give her stylist, Amy, a try.
I admit, in the beginning, I was skeptical. Annie is much more exciting than me, especially when it comes to her hair–I mean, on her wedding day, her hair was platinum blond with a big streak of hot pink down the side. And she can pull that stuff off. It always looks so cute on her. Natural, somehow. Like she’s been walking around with a hot pink streak on her head since the day she was born.
I, however, am a bit more conservative when it comes to my hair, and I knew that if I walked out of Blush Studio with a pink streak on my head, it would be off with someone else’s. But Annie swore that Amy would listen to me, she wouldn’t do anything that wasn’t me, and that whatever she did, I would love it.
Annie was obviously right, which is why I’ve been returning to Amy religiously ever since. And not only does she do my hair, when I took Saleh to her after he, too, underwent several traumatic haircuts in Missouri, she gave him such a good haircut that he proposed marriage (to me, not to Amy–just to be clear). Not even joking; you can read more about it here.
So, given all that, obviously one of the things that had me most concerned about my move to Saudi Arabia was finding someone to do my hair. It may sound ridiculous and shallow, but that really had me worried. I’d spent years trying to find a good stylist, and now I had to move halfway around the world from the one person that made my hair worthy of something other than The Bun.
Knowing about my concerns, Saleh researched salons here in Riyadh and chose one that was supposed to be one of the best. At my last appointment with Amy before my big move, she gave me careful written instructions for my hair’s maintenance. She told me to give the instructions to the stylist in Riyadh, and it should be fine.
I guarded that slip of paper like it was my child. Every few days, up until I went to my first hair appointment here in Riyadh, I would peek into my wallet to make sure that yellow piece of legal paper was still neatly folded and tucked into its place.
The day before I went to the salon here for the first time, I mentioned on Facebook that I would be getting my hair done in Riyadh for the first time and that I was nervous. A friend of mine, who is from Egypt, commented on the post, and mentioned that when she came to the States, she had a difficult time finding a stylist who knew how to handle her hair. It wasn’t that the stylists were bad; rather, they just had no experience dealing with her hair’s texture and color.
I worried a little upon reading that, but not as much as I should have.
The next day, I arrived at the salon clutching the sacred yellow sheet of paper in my hand. In the States, one stylist does everything on your head. At this salon, there was a person who colored my hair, a person who rinsed and shampooed it, a person who trimmed it, a person who styled it, and a person who supervised it all.
Before everything started, I handed my beloved sheet of paper to the supervisor and explained that these were the instructions that my stylist in the States had written down for me. She looked them over and said, “Yes, we can do this. We don’t have these exact products, but I understand the numbers and what she means. Yes, we can do this.”
I relaxed. I leaned back in the chair, got out my reading material, and quit worrying about it.
Things didn’t start getting uncomfortable until after my hair was colored, rinsed, washed, and dried. It was then that I began to understand exactly what my Egyptian friend meant when she said that the stylists in the States didn’t know how to deal with her hair.
The lady who was working with my hair to style it was trying to style it in curls. The only problem is, her method for doing so involved a round brush and a hair dryer. That’s it. She would wind a chunk of my long, fine hair around the brush, hold the hair dryer on it for a few seconds, and then look totally stumped as every single time she tried this, my hair stubbornly refused to slide free of the brush in a smooth, elegant curl, as, I assume, most Saudi women’s hair does in this situation (and oh, how I envy them for that). So instead, she would have to yank and pull and I would close my eyes and try to ignore how much it hurts to have someone inadvertently attempting to yank your hair out of your head (it’s a good thing I’m not “tender-headed,” or I probably would have run out of there crying. Alas, the crying didn’t come until later). And every time she yanked, I silently prayed that the brush actually would let my hair go, followed by flashbacks to summer days spent at daycare, when round brushes were banned from our daycare because we girls, while playing beauty parlor, would wind each other’s hair around those brushes and inevitably get them stuck, and the unlucky girl with the brush stuck in her hair would have to be carried away, sobbing uncontrollably after much painful yanking and pulling, by a mom or dad who had to be called away from work to come get her to get her hair chopped off. I had always managed to avoid being both the girl who did the brush winding and the girl who had the brush stuck in her hair, and as I sat in this chair, I wondered if finally my time had come, and I thought, “Of course, this happens now that I can’t call my mommy or daddy to fix it. Of course.”
Luckily, the brush never actually got stuck. But every time the stylist managed to free my hair from the brush, the chunk of hair did not fall gracefully into a neat curl, but rather, sort of clung to the side of my head in a sad frizzball. By the time my entire head got this treatment, I looked like a horde of dust bunnies was feasting on my brain after I had attempted to fight them off with a Van de Graaf generator.
But my hair’s color looked okay. No drastic changes there. No streaks of hot pink, and everything seemed to be pretty uniform. So I was satisfied. I paid, thanked all five of the ladies for dealing with my mess of a head of hair, and went outside and hopped in the car, where Saleh was waiting.
“How did it go?” he asked.
“Fine, I think,” I said. “But I need to get home and brush my hair.”
When I got home, I took off my tarha and before I even took of my abaya, I started brushing the frizzballs out of my hair. It wasn’t until I’d conquered a few of those dust bunnies that I realized that my hair was blue.
Okay, so we’re not talking Cookie Monster blue, but trust me when I say that my hair had a distinct blue tint to it, especially where the highlights were. My highlights were cornflower, to borrow a color word from the trusty Crayola box.
“Saleh!” I yelled.
He came into the room. “What’s wrong?”
“What’s wrong? What’s wrong? My hair is blue!”
“Honey, what are you talking about?” he said, as he walked toward me. Then, as he got closer: “Your hair isn’t…oh.”
I cried. Then Saleh apologized for taking me to that salon (“I’m sorry, it’s my fault. I thought that was supposed to be a really good place”) and then I cried some more because honestly, isn’t that just the sweetest thing, that he had tried to so hard make sure every little detail about my big move was taken care of, even something as shallow and, truthfully, insignificant as where I would get my stupid hair done?
I hugged him and promised him that it was a really good place; they probably just weren’t used to dealing with my hair type, which is understandable.
When I went back to the States last month, I related this story to Amy. After she did my hair, she sold me a tube of the color she uses on my hair and a bottle of the activator she uses. Yet again, she wrote down careful instructions for me. She admitted she’d never actually done this for a client before, but she’d also never had a client in this particular situation and didn’t want me to undergo any more hair trauma.
“You can do this part at home,” she told me. “It’s not a huge deal. It’s not like if you leave it on too long it’s going to burn your hair off. You put it on your roots, it does its thing, and then it stops working. Now, highlights…highlights you can’t do at home. That can burn your hair off if you don’t know what you’re doing. You can’t do that at home. But I think you can maintain this part pretty easily on your own. Then whenever you’re back here, you can come in and we’ll do a cut and color and highlight like always.”
She instructed me to go to a beauty supply store and get a color mixing bowl, a beaker, and a color application brush.
After plopping down about eight dollars on these three supplies, I headed back to Saudi Arabia with everything I needed to reasonably maintain my hair without turning it blue.
Which brings us to yesterday, six weeks after my last wonderful visit to Amy. I closed myself in the bathroom, mixed the color according to Amy’s instructions, took a deep breath, stared at myself in the mirror for a minute, took the brush in hand, and finally started making a sad attempt to imitate what I had seen Amy doing.
Alas, it became pretty evident from the beginning that I was messing things up more than I was fixing anything.
And then, yes, I admit it: yet again, I cried. What can I say? As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a crier. I cry when I’m angry, when I’m frustrated, when I’m sad. It’s my natural reaction to unpleasant feelings, although I do try to confine my crying to when I’m around people who are aware of just how much I cry, like my husband and my parents. I used to think of it as a bad thing, but I’m past that now. I embrace it. Criers unite!
After a little while (and probably after hearing my quiet sobbing coming from the bathroom), Saleh knocked on the door. “How’s it going in there?”
I replied, “Uhhhh…”
He opened the door and found me standing in front of the mirror in my rattiest sweats, my hair sticking up all over the place, my face puffy, red, and tear-stained, plastic gloves on my hands, and my purple brush clutched in one hand, poised awkwardly to take another swipe at my head.
Mr. Mostafa quickly swooped in to do damage control. Like a little kid excited to have a job to do, he exclaimed, “I can help! But I need you to sit down right here.” He pulled a chair from the dining table over to the bathroom door. I sat.
He surveyed the situation for a moment, brush and bowl in his hands, before he finally said, “Okay. I’ve seen Amy do this a couple times. I can handle this.”
I decided to relax. I focused on my reading and zoned out. After awhile, though, I had to ask, “Well? How’s it going up there?”
Silence. Then: “Well, um…I can see why it costs so much to get this done.”
Yes, that was exactly what I was hoping to hear, honey.
As it turns out, my hair doesn’t look half bad. Granted, Saleh’s no Amy, and after I rinsed, shampooed, and conditioned my hair, he was honestly a lot more harsh on himself than I was; he wasn’t very impressed with his work. But my hair is done, and most importantly, it is not blue, and that was really the main goal. We’re going to watch a few YouTube videos to help him improve his technique, and from now on, while we’re in Saudi Arabia, he’s in charge of my hair color application.
If nothing else, this will ensure, without a doubt, that I go back to the States at least once a year, if not more. I’m sure poor Saleh will be regarding as little vacations those lovely times when he will get to hand my hair drama back over to Amy to deal with. She is, after all, a professional.