The women in my building all get together for tea every couple of weeks. The first time I went, a neighbor who lives on my left came to my door to let me know the tea was going on. She told me that it was just going to be women so I shouldn't worry too much about it, "just be comfortable." I guess I thought it would be something like if I went to hang out over coffee with some girlfriends in the States, so I went to the tea (at a 10th floor flat) wearing exactly what I had on in my house: Jeans, a maroon colored t-shirt, and silly socks with hearts all over them. I pulled my hair up into a pony tail, and didn't bother putting on any make up.
When I walked in, I took my shoes off (you don't wear shoes inside houses here), exposing my silly socks. I said hello to the hostess at the door, took a look around, and immediately wished I could rewind time and take the entire morning getting ready. The women all looked like they were attending a wedding. A very very fancy wedding. Everyone's hair was done (this was the first time I'd seen most of my neighbors without their head coverings on), they were wearing skirts or dresses, high heels, full make up, and gold. Lots and lots of gold. Everyone had necklaces, earrings, and especially lots of gold bracelets. No one wore pants, let alone jeans. No one had silly socks on.
Turning around and walking out wasn't an option, so I decided to find a little corner chair to sit in where no one would see me. I entered the living room to see that my little corner was not there. The room was arranged so that everyone could sit in a big circle and see everyone else. By watching other women, I picked up on the fact that I was supposed to go around the room and one by one greet each neighbor. If the neighbor was younger, I kissed her on each cheek then said "Hello, welcome." She'd reply by saying "Welcome to you too." If the woman was old, I was supposed to kiss her on the back of the hand then touch it to my forehead. Of course I fumbled that whole ritual up. In fact after a few years of this, I still don't know where the age cut off is for hand kissing vs. cheek kissing. This whole greeting ritual is made even harder by the fact that it's really hard to tell age. I think that life is often hard here and a hard life coupled with heavy smoking (which almost everyone does) makes for 37 year olds who look closer to 55.
I eventually took a seat. Not too far from the door because that's the seat of honor. Not too comfortable because that also should belong to someone who has a higher rank than me (rank mostly measured by age). I looked around and it seemed that EVERYONE (30 or so ladies) was staring back at me. And all at the same time. The ladies looked at me then whispered to one another. I felt about like I do in one of those crazy humiliating dreams where you go to the store then suddenly realize you forgot to wear pants but its too late and everyone has seen you in your undies. Only this was no dream. All the pantyhose and black pumps with spiked heels that people apparently save as indoor shoes for special occasions like this one seemed to mock me and made me feel even worse about my silly socks. My feet were almost itching from the attention they were getting as the women looked me up and down. I was thankful that I brought a black diaper bag which I promptly set in front of me and thus blocked the socks from view.
My sock problem somewhat solved, my brain immediately started focusing on my hair problem. A pony tail. No one but little girls wear pony tails around here. I felt like a big doofus. Everyone else seemed to have perfect shiny hair - some in elegant up-dos, some down but perfectly curled. How, I wondered, did they all get their hair to look so nice? Why, I wondered, does my hair never ever ever look that nice. And my most plaguing question: Why oh why on a day like today did I not even take the time to wash it???
Since that horribly embarrassing day I've figured out where the nice hair comes from: The kuafor.
Usually hair salons have pictures like this on the outside of them, attracting people with the trendy styles.
But sometimes they have pictures like this.
This one says it's a kuafor for girls with head coverings. When I go for a walk in the mornings I pass this window and it almost always makes me wonder. What do they do in there that's different from the others? Do they pin on and arrange head coverings in a really stylish way? Are they talented at doing hair then covering the head back up without messing the hair up? Do they not do anything with hair, but just do make up instead? Does it really take a different kind of specialized skill to work with covered women? Someday I'll have to find the answers to these questions, but for now I guess they'll just remain a mystery.