Sweheny Todo: The Immigrant Barber of Voortrekker Street

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The thing most humans freak out about on their piece of shit bodies is what covers the top: their hair. Whether it’s the Constantia hippies with their braids and dreads to make them look more “ethnic” or the young Xhosa girls who take their Afros and make their hair straight, resembling the brilcremed hair style of a 50’s biker. We are constantly obsessed with our hair, whilst trying to conceal this insecurity with words of disregard.
I however can safely say I do not give a shit. Since I was a child I have had a thick fast growing head of hair which has been the envy of many. And I have always tried to get a hairstyle that I like. Mohawk, tedboy, dreadlocks, surfer, old school rocker and even highlights. I liked them all. But I didn’t like them for long, and I always reverted back to my favourite hairstyle. What is known as the “kaaskop” or actually having not a single hair on your head. This was good for two reasons. I saved money on shampoo and I could do it myself, not having to worry about some smart ass homosexual telling me how it should look like. Like he knows about what the opposite sex finds attractive.
So it was that on a certain Monday my thoughts drifted towards the haircut. My hair had grown quite long, and had begun to piss the hell out of me. It got in everything. My eyes, my beer. I kept setting it alight whilst lighting things. I considered shaving it off, but advice of female friends led me to reconsider. Why I listen to these women is beyond me, for as one of them once informed me “The only thing a woman wants to know is to know what she wants”.
This line of thinking found me in several unisex hair salons in the Northern suburbs. There I was scraggly 6.5 ft tall dude bedecked in Taxi Violence shirt and cheese stained jeans, to a world where words such as “shimmering” and “exfoliate” drifted around like plastic bags in the wind. I was not what would be called “GQ” or “metro sexual”. Some lame saxophone music played at a barely discernible level so as not to upset the punters. The first few sort of ignored me or immediately informed me of their extravagant prices to just lop off pieces of hair from my head. A certain receptionist looked me up and down the way females do when they are trying to make you understand that they are a good judge of style, whilst wearing some neon pink rag and leopard skin stilettos. She scoffed when I questioned her price for a trim and a shave of R80, and henceforth ignored me.
Things were desperate and my mind returned to shaving it all off. But as I was driving down Durban road, I stumbled upon a thought. At the end of Durban was the historic road of Voortrekker. And in my wanderings there I had spied many barbers. MALE barbers to be precise, not these poncy “unisex” barbers that was on my side of the N1. I decided to park at the Shoprite centre and walk up towards Goodwood to see if I could find one.
Lo and behold I came across “Jerrys male barber” next to the Moscow nightclub. In I walked to the sound of Dr. Dre feat Snoop Doggs “The next episode” pumping out onto the street and the smell of dangerous chemicals permeating the air. It was really larger and far better lit up than I expected. I also thought I would see the stereotypical group of old men playing dominos on a cardboard box. No sir, not at Jerrys. In the front were two Islamic women beautifully clothed in their Ramadan best, bent over a table playing chess. Two young boys with frilly “kofayatjies” sat on the floor in front of them playing backgammon. And best of all, two enormous West Africans were playing on a pool table at the back of the barber shop, each with a large cigar in their mouths. I walked in not quite sure what to do now as there was no trendy style whore receptionist behind any sort of counter in the whole room. I thus proceeded to sit myself down at the closest chair. In front of me was a mirror facing a mirror as is typical in barber shops where you see yourself in yourself in yourself. On the walls were pictures of Tupac, Beyonce, Mary J Blige and Patrice Lumumba. I looked around me and noticed 5 men seated on the couch behind me. Like all the other people in the barber shop they looked angry as hornets. Not necessarily angry with me, but angry at the world with that accepted and defeated rage that is accentuated by protruding lips and prominent nose. I thus took on the same facial expression and put on a hardcore look whilst staring at the hip hop videos on Channel O. I was the only white person in sight. Did this bother me? It didn’t seem to bother them, so I slunk into my seat and awaited the barber.
Soon enough a muscle bound West African came along and without a word put a sheet over me. He then took toilet paper and carefully wrapped it around my neck. With a tired look in his eyes he asked me what I wanted done. I asked him to trim it. A look of incomprehension came into his eyes, and I realized that I might be the first white person whose hair he had ever cut. I also realized I did not really know what a trim was. “Just cut it shorter all round” I told him, maintaining my hardcore look. He then took out a shaver and took off most of the back part of my hair with a single shave and a slight surprised look on his angry face. He then proceeded to cut off about a centimeter all round the circumference of my head, till I looked like a true mommy’s boy.
I then told him to just take it all off, but this just seemed to confuse him more. He then kept on cutting little pieces of my hair off of my head till I sort of looked like the arms dealer in “The fifth element”.
Whilst this was happening one of the large pool players came over. He was a comical sight. Terribly fat with a branded Levis shirt and really short pants and wearing huge sunglasses with an unlit cigar protruding from his fat lips. He started loudly scolding the barber in some African language whilst the barber defensively answered him in said language. The fat one then sat on the barber’s chair next to me and pushed his face right next to mine. “This is the style you want?” he asked me in broken English. “Yeah, I want it all off.” I replied without really looking him in the eyes for fear of laughing in his face. Meanwhile the man taking off my hair couldn’t understand why he couldn’t get my hair to come off by jamming the shaver into my skull. With an irritated noise the fat man grabbed the shaver from the hapless barber, and begun to shave from the bottom up. The barber skulked off with a hurt look on his angry face.
In walks two bums, one clasping a bag of wood, the other a braai grill. They produce a wad of some shithole African nations money to the fat man who I now began to suspect is the boss of the place. “How muts fo dis moneys?” asks the toothless gentleman. The fat man sniggers and hands the money back. “This is not money.” he says, and duly ignores the bums and returns to my head. They stay awhile imitating gun toting gangsters whilst the gunshots ring out on that “Paper Planes” M.I.A song. This scene is so far removed from any hairdresser I have ever been to that I began to feel panic welling up inside of me. What the fuck am I doing here? What if they take me for a ride? What if they charge me like a R100? What the fuck do I do then?
By this time my head is being neatly shaved, accentuating the widow’s peak as well as cropping the hair to a shorter length further down to my ears, just like they do in the Ice Cube movie “Friday”. I bravely ask him for a shave half expecting him to wield some 19th century flick blade, but he removes a very expensive Phillips electric razor and takes off my moustache and trims my goat. The entire process takes about 20 minutes.
When he has finished he brushes my head and face with an ostrich feather duster like the ones maids use to clean a house. He then applies some sort of disinfectant to my head, and for some reason rubs braiding lotion into my scalp. A little girl with a large Afro comes and picks up all my hair and puts it into a plastic bag. She then takes it to a woman outside who then walks off down Voortrekker with a bag full of hair hand in hand with her tiny partner. It will probably make a nice weave for some black girl at the end of the month.
I then cautiously get up. I tower over the fat man and ask him how much. He ignores my question and over emphasizes my height with a mock amazed look in his face. I let a slight smile creep over my face. He bumps fists with me and begins to laugh in that way only black people laugh: from the belly up. I look around me and all the angry looking people are all cracking up with laughter, not in some menacing “now you’re gonna get it white boy” manner, but a good “now we can laugh” kind of way. He then lights his cigar and says “Go to the girl there”. A pretty woman with long braids is sitting on a couch with a ledger book like the ones we used in accounting in High School. A haircut and a shave for R20.
And a mad experience too.The thing most humans freak out about on their piece of shit bodies is what covers the top: their hair. Whether it’s the Constantia hippies with their braids and dreads to make them look more “ethnic” or the young Xhosa girls who take their Afros and make their hair straight, resembling the brilcremed hair style of a 50’s biker. We are constantly obsessed with our hair, whilst trying to conceal this insecurity with words of disregard.
I however can safely say I do not give a shit. Since I was a child I have had a thick fast growing head of hair which has been the envy of many. And I have always tried to get a hairstyle that I like. Mohawk, tedboy, dreadlocks, surfer, old school rocker and even highlights. I liked them all. But I didn’t like them for long, and I always reverted back to my favourite hairstyle. What is known as the “kaaskop” or actually having not a single hair on your head. This was good for two reasons. I saved money on shampoo and I could do it myself, not having to worry about some smart ass homosexual telling me how it should look like. Like he knows about what the opposite sex finds attractive.
So it was that on a certain Monday my thoughts drifted towards the haircut. My hair had grown quite long, and had begun to piss the hell out of me. It got in everything. My eyes, my beer. I kept setting it alight whilst lighting things. I considered shaving it off, but advice of female friends led me to reconsider. Why I listen to these women is beyond me, for as one of them once informed me “The only thing a woman wants to know is to know what she wants”.
This line of thinking found me in several unisex hair salons in the Northern suburbs. There I was scraggly 6.5 ft tall dude bedecked in Taxi Violence shirt and cheese stained jeans, to a world where words such as “shimmering” and “exfoliate” drifted around like plastic bags in the wind. I was not what would be called “GQ” or “metro sexual”. Some lame saxophone music played at a barely discernible level so as not to upset the punters. The first few sort of ignored me or immediately informed me of their extravagant prices to just lop off pieces of hair from my head. A certain receptionist looked me up and down the way females do when they are trying to make you understand that they are a good judge of style, whilst wearing some neon pink rag and leopard skin stilettos. She scoffed when I questioned her price for a trim and a shave of R80, and henceforth ignored me.
Things were desperate and my mind returned to shaving it all off. But as I was driving down Durban road, I stumbled upon a thought. At the end of Durban was the historic road of Voortrekker. And in my wanderings there I had spied many barbers. MALE barbers to be precise, not these poncy “unisex” barbers that was on my side of the N1. I decided to park at the Shoprite centre and walk up towards Goodwood to see if I could find one.
Lo and behold I came across “Jerrys male barber” next to the Moscow nightclub. In I walked to the sound of Dr. Dre feat Snoop Doggs “The next episode” pumping out onto the street and the smell of dangerous chemicals permeating the air. It was really larger and far better lit up than I expected. I also thought I would see the stereotypical group of old men playing dominos on a cardboard box. No sir, not at Jerrys. In the front were two Islamic women beautifully clothed in their Ramadan best, bent over a table playing chess. Two young boys with frilly “kofayatjies” sat on the floor in front of them playing backgammon. And best of all, two enormous West Africans were playing on a pool table at the back of the barber shop, each with a large cigar in their mouths. I walked in not quite sure what to do now as there was no trendy style whore receptionist behind any sort of counter in the whole room. I thus proceeded to sit myself down at the closest chair. In front of me was a mirror facing a mirror as is typical in barber shops where you see yourself in yourself in yourself. On the walls were pictures of Tupac, Beyonce, Mary J Blige and Patrice Lumumba. I looked around me and noticed 5 men seated on the couch behind me. Like all the other people in the barber shop they looked angry as hornets. Not necessarily angry with me, but angry at the world with that accepted and defeated rage that is accentuated by protruding lips and prominent nose. I thus took on the same facial expression and put on a hardcore look whilst staring at the hip hop videos on Channel O. I was the only white person in sight. Did this bother me? It didn’t seem to bother them, so I slunk into my seat and awaited the barber.
Soon enough a muscle bound West African came along and without a word put a sheet over me. He then took toilet paper and carefully wrapped it around my neck. With a tired look in his eyes he asked me what I wanted done. I asked him to trim it. A look of incomprehension came into his eyes, and I realized that I might be the first white person whose hair he had ever cut. I also realized I did not really know what a trim was. “Just cut it shorter all round” I told him, maintaining my hardcore look. He then took out a shaver and took off most of the back part of my hair with a single shave and a slight surprised look on his angry face. He then proceeded to cut off about a centimeter all round the circumference of my head, till I looked like a true mommy’s boy.
I then told him to just take it all off, but this just seemed to confuse him more. He then kept on cutting little pieces of my hair off of my head till I sort of looked like the arms dealer in “The fifth element”.
Whilst this was happening one of the large pool players came over. He was a comical sight. Terribly fat with a branded Levis shirt and really short pants and wearing huge sunglasses with an unlit cigar protruding from his fat lips. He started loudly scolding the barber in some African language whilst the barber defensively answered him in said language. The fat one then sat on the barber’s chair next to me and pushed his face right next to mine. “This is the style you want?” he asked me in broken English. “Yeah, I want it all off.” I replied without really looking him in the eyes for fear of laughing in his face. Meanwhile the man taking off my hair couldn’t understand why he couldn’t get my hair to come off by jamming the shaver into my skull. With an irritated noise the fat man grabbed the shaver from the hapless barber, and begun to shave from the bottom up. The barber skulked off with a hurt look on his angry face.
In walks two bums, one clasping a bag of wood, the other a braai grill. They produce a wad of some shithole African nations money to the fat man who I now began to suspect is the boss of the place. “How muts fo dis moneys?” asks the toothless gentleman. The fat man sniggers and hands the money back. “This is not money.” he says, and duly ignores the bums and returns to my head. They stay awhile imitating gun toting gangsters whilst the gunshots ring out on that “Paper Planes” M.I.A song. This scene is so far removed from any hairdresser I have ever been to that I began to feel panic welling up inside of me. What the fuck am I doing here? What if they take me for a ride? What if they charge me like a R100? What the fuck do I do then?
By this time my head is being neatly shaved, accentuating the widow’s peak as well as cropping the hair to a shorter length further down to my ears, just like they do in the Ice Cube movie “Friday”. I bravely ask him for a shave half expecting him to wield some 19th century flick blade, but he removes a very expensive Phillips electric razor and takes off my moustache and trims my goat. The entire process takes about 20 minutes.
When he has finished he brushes my head and face with an ostrich feather duster like the ones maids use to clean a house. He then applies some sort of disinfectant to my head, and for some reason rubs braiding lotion into my scalp. A little girl with a large Afro comes and picks up all my hair and puts it into a plastic bag. She then takes it to a woman outside who then walks off down Voortrekker with a bag full of hair hand in hand with her tiny partner. It will probably make a nice weave for some black girl at the end of the month.
I then cautiously get up. I tower over the fat man and ask him how much. He ignores my question and over emphasizes my height with a mock amazed look in his face. I let a slight smile creep over my face. He bumps fists with me and begins to laugh in that way only black people laugh: from the belly up. I look around me and all the angry looking people are all cracking up with laughter, not in some menacing “now you’re gonna get it white boy” manner, but a good “now we can laugh” kind of way. He then lights his cigar and says “Go to the girl there”. A pretty woman with long braids is sitting on a couch with a ledger book like the ones we used in accounting in High School. A haircut and a shave for R20.
And a mad experience too.

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