Black hair salons - it's an experience like no other

THERE is an award-winning documentary waiting to be filmed about the story of black salons.

I have had my hair done in every part of Gauteng as I chased a different look every month: From the squatter camps of Zonkizizwe, the rented rooms in Alexandra to the plush air-conditioned salons in Sandton Square, where the owner greets you at the door with a side plate of canapés and a glass of bubbly wine.

I once allowed this young hairdresser in Mabopane, north of Pretoria, to abuse me emotionally to no end. She was Edward Scissorhands when it came to chopping and teasing any hair into submission and a mean Rihanna cut.

Come Saturday mornings, her backyard salon was a long queue of would-be fashionistas who had weddings and parties to attend to that day and relied on her hot iron wand for our Cinderella transformations.

She often disappeared for hours claiming she had gone to buy hair extensions, but we always forgave her for hanging us to dry like biltong on a hot afternoon, because she was that good.

It's the crowded salons in the central business districts of any city, however, that takes the number one spot on the winner's podium.

Hygiene in those salons is not a priority.

At some of the worst salons, cockroaches roam around louder than the insistent chatter that your hairdresser will insist to have with the next stylist.

It does not matter if you are not part of the conversation or can hear what is being discussed. What happened to salons fulfilling the same roles as bars do for men?

Can you respect the fact that out of the R400 I pay you to plait my hair, R50 is supposed to be for the counselling services you need to offer me about my emotionally vacant boyfriend? I love how everyone is called "My Friend" at these salons.

My favourite at these salons is the blaring of the Africa Magic DStv channel. My friend, the other day, licked my ear and neck with a straightening iron as she concentrated too hard on the implausible plot of the Nigerian movie.

The furniture at these salons is of the so lank ek lewe (temporary) variety, as the Afrikaners have aptly put it.

I once saw a woman nearly electrocuted by a faulty hairdryer at one of these joints. Luckily for her, someone quickly switched off the power supply.

You need to take extra cash when going to some of these salons. They are the gateway to hawkers selling soft goods. You can buy anything from meat, tissue rolls, tinned stuff to clothes.

I have never seen anything like the salon I went to in Hillbrow.

I heard about this master weaver with a hand to transform my kroes hair into a flowy ag-my-hare (the flicking motion I would make after getting my locks), so I braved it and headed for Hillbrow.

On arrival, I was client number nine and it was only 8.30am.

This salon hires up to 20 stylists who all stand in a line like they are in a factory. Each stylist pays a fee to the landlord for utilising a space no larger than the floor space of a regular toilet. The three chairs each stylist owns are marked with their initials. A fight nearly broke out between two other stylists when one stole a chair.

By 11am the circus of the black CDB salon had played itself out.

I had been taken up two flights of stairs to an uninhabitable space that was as cold as a fridge in a morgue to have my hair washed.

An "entrepreneur", holding a department store brochure, was urging customers to "order" the clothes they wanted and she would deliver them in an hour.

I was tempted to order, but only had enough money for my fabulous hairstyle.

It was an experience like no other, My Friend.

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