Haircut

I like plans, schedules, agendas. Writing out what I’m going to do tomorrow, next week, or next year helps me organize my thoughts, set goals, and plan for contingencies. Peace Corps is not always conducive to these habits. Indonesia laughs at this practice and tosses it aside. I must say, I don’t really mind when things don’t go to plan. It seems the only consistency here, and in life in general I suppose, is inconsistency.

I have a running list of things that I want to write about for this weblog. It keeps me on track and motivated. I add ideas when I think of them and in my more creative moments will jot down a few choice sentences I would like to incorporate into finished works. The list typically follows my experiences in Indonesia and thoughts about culture that I find interesting. I do my best to anticipate events that will merit writing about, such as holidays, by leaving space to write about them.

The problem with this system arises when something weblog-worthy happens for which I did not plan. If it’s not time sensitive then I will add the event to the back of the list; however, sometimes I will rework my schedule in order to write about it closer to the event’s actual occurrence. And thus, on this day when I had planned to write about my new host family, I will instead recount my experience getting a haircut.

This past Saturday I had laid out a nice list of things for me to do: run, go to market, laundry, write some post cards, get haircut. I have had a difficult time trying to find a place to cut my hair at site. There are a few places I have seen in my angkot rides through the villages near me, but their hours of operation are not clear and I can’t just look them up on Google to find out.

My CP directed me to a barber earlier this week but I showed up around the noon call to prayer so his shop was closed. Last week I walked to a place maybe a quarter mile from my house that I believed to be a hair cutting establishment. Outside the house women were sorting through cloves. I asked if I could get a haircut and the ibu of the house invited me in to sit down. After a couple minutes of polite conversation I think she explained that there wasn’t any electricity so I couldn’t get a haircut. Confused and defeated I resigned for the day.

And so it was on this past Saturday I had become resolute in my determination to find someone who could cut my hair. In the morning I ran, did my laundry, and wrote a list of the people to whom I wanted to send post cards. At ten o’clock, feeling quite accomplished, I left my house and waited on the street outside for an angkot to take me somewhere, anywhere I could find a haircut.

As I sat on a rock outside, thinking about Indonesian words to describe how I wanted my hair (all I could come up with was pendek, or short), an angkot going in the opposite direction of the one I wanted to go slowed down to a stop across from me. I live on the north side of Mount Tampomas and the road that the angkots take circles the base of the mountain. Angkots run around the mountain clockwise and anticlockwise. From my desa I have only ever taken angkots that were headed in the anticlockwise direction. This driver was headed clockwise and I had never been more than a 100 meters that direction.

As the vehicle came to a stop I waved him on and tried to look like I didn’t want to go the direction he was heading, a difficult concept to emote apparently. The driver leaned out his window, waved, and yelled, “hallo, Mishell!” (The English ­–ch sound is hard for Indonesians to pronounce). The driver turned out to be a very friendly guy that had driven me into Kota Sumedang the week before last. He had told me his name was “Freddy Mercury,” though for some reason I’m not sure if that’s the truth. During our first trip together he was amiable and kind. He even taught me a few words in Indonesian and a little about the kabupaten.

Freddy asked me where I was going and I told him I wanted to get a haircut. He gestured for me to get in his angkot but I tried to explain the barber I planned on going to was in the other direction. Freddy told me there were places to get one’s hair cut in the direction he was going and he would show them to me. At this point, there being several people in his angkot I felt like I was encumbering by chatting to their driver in the middle of the road, I obliged and got in the angkot going a direction I knew nothing about. With an exclamation of ayo, we were off.

Our second trip together proved much like the first, though without any of the initial gawkiness of our first encounter. Freddy told me all he knew about the desas and kecamatans he drives through every day. He pointed out people he was familiar with and would occasionally introduce me to the people that got into his angkot as his friend. He praised my Sundanese language skills, which are practically nonexistent, to his passengers and was very eager to get me to use the few sentences I knew in Bahasa Sunda.

Moments such as these are a delightful reprieve from the wonted tediousness of my first month at site. Integrating into the community has proven more difficult that I imagined it would be. Certainly more difficult than it was during PST. While I enjoyed my time with Freddy, I still wanted to get a haircut. The first place we drove by that Freddy had intended to take me was closed, so we drove on.

At some point we drove by a roadside barbershop that was open and even had someone getting their haircut. I wasn’t sure if Freddy had noticed the place, and I thought perhaps he was trying to monopolize my time. I asked why we didn’t stop at the place we just passed and he told me he had gone there once and was disappointed by the results. Regardless of the validity of his story it was nice to think someone was looking out for me and my hair.

Eventually we made it to a place where I could get a haircut that wasn’t disappointing to Freddy. When I got out of the angkot I asked how much the fare would be but Freddy refused payment. A very kind gesture from a man who works in a job which usually overcharges bules. After Freddy drove away I got my haircut and was back on schedule for the rest of the day.

7 thoughts on “Haircut

  1. way to stick with it. my solution, after chopping off a ponytail to comply with Malawi’s Banda-inspired conservative culture, was to never visit a barber during the two years of service. was happy to have my hair back, but now I see what i missed!

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  2. When I first read “Mount Tampomas” I thought it said “Mount Tampons”… Also, I was totally anticipating a really bad haircut pic at the bottom of this post when I started reading it- glad Freddy found you a good barber!!

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    1. The word for “handsome” in Indonesian is “tampan,” which sounds almost exactly like “tampon.” Indonesian is riddled with homophones. Some in English, but lots in Hindi too…

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      1. Hmmm… maybe. Perhaps regional accent plays an important role in how it’s pronounced because I have more often heard it said like “tahm-pahn”

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