In other news, Wednesday I got my hair cut. I really ought to have had it done before we left America, but I didn’t get around to it. It was longish but looked acceptable. Then we arrived back in Africa, where it tends to be hotter than Oregon, and suddenly it was just too long. But I still put off getting it cut. After all, we had only just arrived. How was I to know where would be a good place, clean, competent, used to Westerners and our hair? I spent a lot of time eyeing the two coiffeuses between our apt and the school, and when we were downtown, I would look at salons I passed.
Learning a new country involves more than just learning if you can find peanut butter or which store carries fresh milk instead of long-life milk; it also involves keeping your eyes open and trying to interpret what you see around you. I don’t know many Moroccans yet. So as we walk around, I watch other women out of the corners of my eyes, trying to figure out what is normal here, trying to discern if the woman I am eyeing is one I would want to imitate.
We Americans are individuals and we have the concept of individual style. If you dye your hair pink it may or may not mean anything beyond a simple urge you had. But this is something I learned in my years in Mauritania: Arab societies aren’t like that; they are much more tightly bound together. (Which, to just rant against Disney again for a minute, is something that bothers me so much about Aladdin. Jasmine, an Arabian princess, simply wouldn’t take matters into her own hands and ignore her father like that! Grrrr.) You communicate the kind of person you are by how you present yourself, and the rules are strict. I know the Mauritanian rules much better than Moroccan. Respectable women don’t show their calves, for example, and they wear sleeves. If you are taking a taxi alone, you should sit in the back.
Doing this sort of thing changes the way people react to you. This is something that is difficult for Americans; we demand that people accept us for who we are, and it’s a message that is drummed into us from childhood. Arabs, in general, aren’t this way. You dress a certain way because that is how it’s done. Period. If you wear your turban a certain way or grow a beard, it signifies your religious leanings. Of course styles come and go, but there is more of a rigidity, more of a sense of obligation to how one is viewed by the world. And as a guest to this culture, I want to be clued in. I don’t expect or even want to become Moroccan, but I want to be viewed as someone you would want to be friends with, rather than a wild unpredictable foreigner.
Morocco is much more flexible than Mauritania. I see women in everything from head-to-toe djellaba and hijab scarf, to tight jeans and midriff-baring tshirts, whereas I have never seen a Mauritanian woman in public in Mauritania who wasn‘t wearing a muluffa. Everyone here is wearing nice shoes though. No flip-flops or comfortable, manly sandals. Also, there seems to be a real difference depending on age. Like in America, it’s the teenagers who are wearing the skimpiest styles.
This is what I’ve noticed so far: older, respectable women wear a variety of styles but they are always modest, always dressed nicely, always have great shoes, and always have short hair or tie their hair back (although the majority cover it).
I realized my hair was too long to wear loose. I noticed I got a lot of attention when I walked down the street with blonde curls flowing down my back–much more than when I tied it back. So I tied it back, every day, but reluctantly, and I knew I wanted to get it cut.
I decided to try one of the salons I pass daily. It has a dark window and door that says, “Haute Coiffure pour Dames” in French and Arabic (presumably, that is. For all I know it could say “Live Chickens Plucked Here“). I poked my head round the door on Tuesday afternoon and met a nice woman who spoke no French, but who managed to communicate I should come back in the evening, which I did, and managed to make an appointment for the following morning.
I was right on time, but the coiffeuse wasn’t. She was 20 minutes late. I’m used to that from Mauritania. I looked around the salon. It was nice; small and clean, with diplomas from “Ecole Parisienne” on the wall. I didn’t look closer to see where this school is actually located, in Paris or perhaps right here in Rabat; still, I was impressed by the diplomas, which I suppose is the point. The posters of models with extreme hair weren’t sun faded, a good sign. The Arab-speaking woman handed me some catalogues to browse through. This was encouraging right there, because in Mauritania I would have to page through 2 year old versions of news magazines, looking for someone with hair remotely like mine.
Madame appeared eventually, full of apologies for being late. “This usually never happens,” she told me, but I really didn’t care. This is my 7th year in Africa, and if I was going to worry over people being late to appointments I’d never have made it this far.  I showed her the picture I liked, without much faith that she’d be able to reproduce it. I was just happy I’d remembered the word for layers.
So I was surprised when she did it. She had all the tools of a modern American salon (only probably not sterilized nearly as often, but if I was going to worry about that, etc etc). I have thick, heavy, curly hair and I’d selected a picture with a lot of layers in it, expecting that meant I’d get a couple. She had thinning scissors and everything. The result is shorter than I’d have liked, but it will grow.
After she cut it, she shampooed it, which I found an interesting switch to the normal order. Then, it was time for the “brossing.” I usually just sort of push my hair into shape and go; I never blow dry it or attempt a style. But it was a cool morning and I really didn‘t want to go out with wet hair, and I have a reader’s love of letting scenes develop to see what happens, so I agreed to have it styled.
It took ages. Madame would curl a bit with a brush and her assistant would blow dry it. It was very involved. The result was a sort of flip, with a straight top part and curly ends. It’s hard to describe, but it looked like it has never looked before. Also, I apparently have bangs for the first time in about 15 years! Surprise.  My family freaked a bit, and Elliot thought I looked like I was wearing a wig, but today I washed it again and it looks fine, or rather it will in a couple of days, when the curl dies down a bit. (It sproings a bit after a cut, because of the weight it’s lost, if that makes sense. Today it‘s a bit like Attack of the Curls)
I know you want pictures. I just hate pictures of myself, because the camera always adds about 10 pounds to my face. (Question: How many cameras were on you?) Couldn’t you just imagine it? I did have Donn take pics but I hate them.

Ok: Before. I’m the one with the curls

With the flip style

Attack of the CURLS!

Your opinions. Cute and sassy? Or hopelessly retro-80s, not in the good sense?

Also, I forgot to say that you can read about my last Mauritanian hair cut here.