In Summary
  • People in aprons were running about, closing windows, grabbing chairs and towels and hauling them inside stalls.
  • I turned heard someone screaming “Kanjo! Kanjo!” I sat upright and saw people running outside.
  • I bolted out of my seat, jumped over the stones and trench outside, ran and ran until I got to the estate gate, got in and ran into the first green gate that was open.
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An innocent search for a salon earned me the nickname Bolt.

My boyfriend, let’s call him Mr A, had moved to a new estate somewhere in Eastlands and I was visiting with hair that looked like a bird’s nest. I decided to look for a local salon to fix it.

I had no idea where to begin looking for a salon as I was new to the area as well.

Anyway, just outside the estate gate were some container stalls and apartment (I mean flats) extensions with various shops selling different wares — from groceries to clothes — and, of course, ‘hairdressing parlours’ aka salons za mtaa.

I walked the whole stretch of container stalls trying to get a glimpse of the state of the salons there and gauging how clean they were and how friendly the hairdressers were; because nothing ticks me off like a dirty salon or an unpleasant attendant when I’m trying to relax and treat myself.


I walked the whole stretch and then walked back towards the estate gate questioning myself when I noticed the stream of water just in front of some stalls, flowing in a small trench adjacent to them. Stones and blocks of wood were placed strategically to act as small bridges over the water.

I reached the estate gate and I had all but given up, deciding I would venture out again another time. The estate guard, perhaps sensing my frustration, asked what the matter was. I could not ignore his concerned look and soft tone.
Natafuta salon (I am looking for a salon),” I said.

Ah, hio tu! Enda ile ya pink and green, kwa mama Mary. Hio ndio poa. (Ah. Just that! Go to the pink and green one, it’s mama Mary’s salon. It’s the best),” he said, pointing to a stall a few metres away.

I was reluctant but his smile was reassuring. So off I went to Mama Mary’s Salon.

I stood outside a few seconds, staring at the many shoes neatly arranged at the entrance and the clean PVC carpet-covered floor, then peered in at the crowded stall. One of the staffers rushed to the entrance to welcome me.


She ushered me in as I asked how much it would cost for hair treatment and a blow dry.

Hearing what it would cost me -- almost half of what it would ordinarily cost at my regular place -- I quickly removed my shoes and entered before I could start thinking too much about how cheap it was and start doubting their services.

One of the attendants looked at my feet in horror, then jumped up and declared: “Tuko pia na pedicure (we also offer pedicures).”

She then held my hands, and, looking at my fingers like a mechanic scrutinising a car engine, she added: “Pia manicure (And manicures).”

I was so embarrassed, feeling like I had talons as the attendant, Esther, could not even look me in the eye as she talked. Were my nails that horrible?

Softly, I asked how much and she responded “Sh1,000 bei ya customer mpya (Sh1,000 for our new customer)”. I agreed and wearily looked around the small salon for a foot bath, and sighed with relief when I saw one.

I sat down on a chair as Maureen removed my head scarf and began undoing the matutas on my head, while Esther dutifully rolled my T-shirt sleeves to my shoulders and began working on my nails. She placed a towel on my laps and plopped a small basin with warm water on it, asking me to soak my nails.

There was a queue for a hair wash, including a priority customer whose hair was being relaxed. As I waited my turn, Esther quickly did what she said was a manicure. I breathed in and out and relaxed, as she skipped several steps in a basic manicure.

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