Canadian Expat Mom

A Trip to the Congolese Hair Salon

In order to get your hair done in the 3rd world, you basically need to be at peace with the fact that things may go terribly wrong. You need to go into the situation acknowledging that it’s ‘just’ your hair, and if the worst case scenario arises, it will grow back.

I speak from experience.

When we lived in Indonesia I went to the nicest place I could find, hoping for the best. The result was my hair being so fried that before I left the salon, I had a 15 cm ‘trim’. I vowed never to go back to that place again, but I still wasn’t ready to ditch my highlights and embrace my natural, mousey colour.

Eventually I found an Indonesian hair stylist. She didn’t have hot water in her tiny salon, but overall she could do a pretty decent blonde highlight and it never ran me more than 40€, pedicure included. That’s right, you could get a manicure and pedicure WHILE you were getting your hair done. No complaints there!

Fast forward a year and now we’re living in Congo. I thought my hair type was foreign in Indonesia…here in Congo, it’s off the charts; non-local! But a girl’s gotta do what a girls gotta do! A few of my friends here have embraced their natural colour and a some have tried the boxes of hair colour sold at the supermarket. I fall into neither of those categories. Until now, I’ve managed being in France just enough to maintain my hair. However the last French salon visit was December and now it’s late February. I couldn’t take it anymore.

With no plans to leave the continent until spring, I decided to bite the bullet. If I could find somewhere to go in Indonesia, surely it couldn’t be that different here.

I took to the internet and posted a message on the Facebook page of our local international expat community asking if any blondies had been brave enough to try out the local salons.

I didn’t want to end up somewhere like this…The response came quickly. There were two options in town, and the girls wanted a full report-via blog post.

So here you are ladies. All in the name of research! 🙂

I tried L et Lui, requesting a stylist recommended by a friend.If I dropped someone new to Africa on the pot hole covered street in front of the salon, they likely wouldn’t even entertain the idea of going in. But as a resident who has adjusted her expectations accordingly, I was pleasantly surprised upon entering. It looked “normal”. There were proper salon chairs, a nail bar in the corner, and even a little stash of Clinique products on display for purchase.

What I hadn’t anticipated, but of course makes perfect sense, was the selection of weaves hanging on the wall. It was a glaring reminder that indeed it was me, and my blonde hair that was the minority here.When I get highlights in France, they often don’t use foils and simply let the bleached strands of hair fall where they may. That’s still weird for me, but not as weird as today’s situation.

Instead of foils, they used cotton strands and plastic wrap. I decided to trust the process and reminded myself that if I did go under the dryer like that, cling-wrap was in fact microwavable; so I should be okay.It didn’t take long before I got to find out about the heated plastic wrap first hand. The stylist wheeled over the surprisingly modern dryer and plugged me in for fifteen minutes; then an additional ten. By this point I was warm, shrink wrapped, and vacuum sealed into a forty-five layer, plastic helmet. So overall, how scary was it?

Once you remove the initial shock of the ‘wall of weaves’, and the cling wrap in my hair, it was okay. After my hair was rinsed we were creeping up on lunch-time and I only had time for the world’s fastest trim; which I later had to go back to get fixed because it was completely lopsided. A leisurely blow dry wasn’t in the cards for today, so she quickly hand dried it with the blow dryer and sent me on my way.

The “After”

Total damage: 70 000 CFA (That’s about 110€/$150 CND) Not exactly the steal of a deal you’d think you might get if you were willing to get your hair done in West Africa, am I right? But that’s the thing about living in Congo. If you want to live a “western” lifestyle and keep your blonde hair sparkly, it’s expensive. Looking on the bright side: my roots are gone and I don’t look like I dumped a bottle of Sun-In on my head. So I’ll consider it a win. With not many other options in town, it’s fair to say I’ll likely be back in six to eight weeks…or sooner if I’m tempted by the shellac pedicure that I now know is available!

7 thoughts on “A Trip to the Congolese Hair Salon

  1. Sally Rose

    I got one of the worst haircuts ever by a Frenchman in Chile who had come highly recommended by the expat community. My hair style is very short, but I had let it grow a bit before visiting “Francois.” Instead of putting me in front of a mirror, he turned me so that I was looking out a window while he was working. Suddenly, large chunks of hair started falling all around me. When he was done, I had a mullet.

  2. Claude

    So glad hair is inconsequential to me, it always grows back anyways. I just got another flat-top, good for 4.5 months until the next one. Great for racing season:)

    I think you should go ‘au natural’. You look smashing regardless of the color of your hair, just saying’!

  3. Sandra Atwill

    U r a brave girl Lisa, just picturing the cling wrap under a hot dryer, would have left me with the picture of having to shave my head after the cling wrap melted in my hair” glad it went well for u, u always look awesome !

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