Mark Kaigwa

The Barbershop Professor

In Perspective, Real Talk on February 24, 2009 at 12:07 pm

Originally uploaded by DanieVDM

I coined a saying, though I might not be the first to have come up with it “There’s a professor in every barbershop.”

As many as there are stretchered couches that the pyschiatrists and therapists will have you lie on to tell all your problems and dilemmas, there are barber chairs and stools and seating arrangements in barbershops across the neighbourhoods of Nairobi and this African continent.

Ng’ang’a is my barber-barber. I might do you well to explain just who a barber-barber is: A barber-barber is a man (or woman, these days) who cuts hair and beards as a trade, and has cut a particular customer’s hair for over 10 years. Like I said, Ng’ang’a is my barber-barber. This man has known me longer than I’ve known him. From hi-t0p fades to ‘Jordan’ to Afro trims, from blowouts to curly-kits and those hair-gone-wrong days he’s been there.

I haven’t been to Ng’ang’a’s for over two years, but it doesn’t erase the fact that he’s been my barber-barber for over 16 years. Giving stories as he cuts my hair, barbers seem to have a savoir-faire that’s pretty darn good. And they need it to stay in business. I have countless recollections of telling Ng’ang’a all that was going on in primary school, all the thrills and spills of pubescent life, not realising he was actually becoming a confidant in some way.

Ng’ang’a’s was always the place to be in the large neighbourhood, and he moved shop like two or three times, the clientele always remained faithful. Even as his prices went up 200% as he accustomed himself to the new ‘relaxing routine’, that dominates barber-world of haircut, wash, massage, and a rubdown to the head, clientele remained faithful.

I can be said to be one of the ones who just moved on. With a barber-barber you don’t move on, you just ‘take a break’; it’s strangely like a marriage. No one knows how to cut your hair like he does. Regardless, when he changed to incorporate the ‘relaxing routine’ I changed too. I like all that jazz, but keep it under 100 or 200 bob for me, it’s just a haircut!

Needless to say I’ve found another barber, and if you read about Mbugua and Sam’s breakup. I went to Sam’s yesterday, since Mbugua’s was a little busy, if you consider two people in line busy. I was only going for a cut-which is where he doesn’t cut the hair, but the edges of the hair along the forehead, down to the ears and round the back of the head. Thinking about it, I don’t know why it’s called a ‘cut’ then…Anyways, he did a good job.

It was our convo that really got me sure that there is a professor in every barbershop. He always has a story, an analogy or in most cases an allegory -hence my referral to gossip above- to keep the exchange flowing. With me we talked many things, among them death, and passing on, as you’ll find out more in the Thank You post coming soon.

And if you pick up a phone call in there, it’s likely you’d be grilled or teased (depending on how the barber feels) and the second-hand speech will be used against you by all means.

I’ve been to a couple different barbershops in my days, I’d say, but in life, it looks like you can’t really have that many ‘barber-barbers.’ If you think of it like a marriage, you want it to all work out the first time, and hopefully things get easier, and hopefully better with time.

Gents, are you taking lectures and discussions with your ‘professor’? Ladies, is this true for salons? Wouldn’t be surprised if there were similarities.

  1. you couldnt have put it in a better way. A MARRIAGE! i think that is wat it is. In my experience which actually happened recently, i decided to try out a new hairdresser that i was reffered to coz i liked his work. well, i never thought it would be so hard to make such a decision for it took me a few months before i gathered the courage to call him up and book an appointment.
    now, me and my hair dresser are always in constant argument coz i HATE the drier(the cooking machine that sits on the head,in my opinion, to afflict toture so as to appreciate the outcome…no gain). so like a typical couple we hav a disfunctional relationship which leads her to walking out of her own shop so as to keep me glued to the machine out of guilt. but somehow it always comes out great and thru all this i know that she has my hair’s best interests at heart. ud think its sits on her head!
    so anyway to cut the long story short, i finally gathered the strength to call up this new hairdresser and book an appointment. lets just say, he cut my hair short! at first i hated it bt then i realized it was jus the guilt of going to another hairdresser. so, as at now am jus hoping it will grow back fast coz i will hav some explaining to do!… yah, kinda feels like a marriage ei?

  2. I feel you, and I know what you mean. Glad to hear we share the same things on both ends. With me, I’ll be honest. I can pay 10 bob or 100 bob for a cut. It’s always, always a good cut. At Sam’s the last one I took wasn’t bad, but I paid 20 bob. I can’t imagine that some guys pay like 300 bob for the same thing I get. It’s ridiculous.

    And these guys are real, as in they’ll give you such good stories as you wait, you’ll be back.

    P.S. Guys don’t gossip? Yeah they do.

  3. You totally get me! what?!? the envy of how much guys use on there hair! its ridiculous! lets just put it this way, my bride price may only be able to cover the amount ive spent on my hair. when they say a womans hair is her crown. it means i could probably accumulate the amount ive used on my hair over my life and and buy one big shiny crown!! the list ive spent is 100 bob and highest was 1800 for a treatment!!
    about dudes not gosipping is misconception..its just given a fancy name like..”consultaions or discussion” lol!

  4. By the way, for me it’s not even about the money, it’s the principle. You should pay what you see fit for a haircut. I’ve had quite a couple different styles over the years… @musau You should know… Dreads, Rows, Afro’s, Faux-hawks, etc.

    But there’s times they do such a simple job like a fade, and I’m so pleased with it I pay a lot more than usual, THAT’S how it should work. It’s always discussion and “man-talk.” Aki when guys are at the Barbershop are such hypocrites *speaking like he isn’t one of them*

    @LilSony don’t hate now…see you can see what Musau said about it. Chics have got it T-O-U-G-H! Man, and to think I’ll be the one footing such bills in a couple years *shudders*


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