Difference between a Kenyan beauty parlour and the 'saloon'

I saw a beauty salon advertising its services online, and showing off one of its best works by posting a photo of a client who had just gotten some braids done.

She looked happy and excited and rightfully so, for the hair had been well done but how she had managed to smile for the camera still gives me sleepless nights.

How did she manage to move and stretch her facial muscles without yowling, feeling as if the edge of her scalp was tearing apart? How was it possible that her make-up was still intact?

I was almost seeing a specialist for the insomnia and other stress-related ailments when it occurred to me that perhaps, it was because the beautiful client had gotten her services at a beauty salon, nay, a beauty parlour.

You see, I know of a ‘saloon’. Here, idling and gossip is the order of the day, while at a salon, some level of professionalism is exhibited, with clients deeply buried in glossy magazines or on their phones.

At a ‘saloon’, services are advertised on the door, painted by fingers that have obviously painted on other walls and doors in the area, for the handwriting is the same and the spelling mistakes too similar to be a coincidence.

Unlike a beauty salon, there’s no air conditioner here, save for the open door, where a net lace is covering the opening.

Here your shoes are outside the door, where a duster is drying. Actually you wanted to enter the freshly-mopped room with your shoes but the hard look from the hairdresser instilled some sense in you.

Both shops are located at prime and strategic locations; the beauty parlour at a busy, high-end town centre that identifies itself with a 24-hour economy, and the ‘saloon’ at a busy shopping centre just next to a vegetable market that smells like a dirty rabbit hutch.

Both have a stream of clients flowing in and out of their doors.

In both places, your hair will be washed in a sink by a committed hairdresser, who will take their time massaging your scalp for best results. However, warm water flowing from a small nozzle will be used at the salon, relaxing you as you feel your scalp cleansing, while at the ‘saloon’, a container will be used to draw cold water from a bigger drum then poured on your hair.

Also, unlike a parlour, which has an established drainage system that begins at the sink, in the ‘saloon’, a bucket is put directly underneath the sink where it catches water passing through the hole, since there’s no drainage pipe. Meanwhile, the scalp massages differ in intensity.

Whereas a gentle and soothing massage will be offered in a salon, the hairdresser at the ‘saloon’ will vigorously scratch and graze your scalp with their fingers as though you have a debilitating case of dandruff and lice. If they have long fingernails, you’re in for it.

Unlike a parlour, which has embraced all forms of electronic transactions, you will hardly find something like Lipa na Mpesa in a ‘saloon’.

They will mostly take cash, thank you and if you have to use mobile money services, then you will just send the payment to the hairdresser’s line. You must remember to send the amount, na ya kutoa!

In a beauty salon, the hairdresser is referred to as a stylist, in a ‘saloon’, the hairdresser is fondly addressed by their common name.

It therefore made sense to me. Going by the quality of the beauty salon and its services, I understand how one would still be able to breathe normally without incident after a long braiding session, while the conditions in a ‘saloon’ would probably make you feel too exhausted to pose for a camera (thankfully, no one will ask you to).

Here, by the end of the beauty ordeal, during which the hairdresser will turn and bend your neck in dangerous, unnatural ways, you will be tired and hungry.

 Your back will hurt and your neck will be smarting. Your buttocks will feel numb and your legs will be tingling.

Your face will be oily and shiny, and the little lipstick you had on will have smudged and changed into an unknown colour.

Moving your face too much will cause you excruciating pain, so for survival, you will be forced to speak flatly without showing any life or emotion.

You will not be able to eat anything that is not soup. You will not be able to lay down your head. You will not be able to think of anything else but the utterly uncomfortable tightness of your dear scalp and how a cough or sneeze would be fatal.

And when someone swoons over how good your hair looks, you will pray that they don’t insist on touching it.