Beauty under curfew in Tunis

A flash blow wave but no time for a wash, a quick eyebrow shaping, rushed facials or a hurried massage: anxious women dart in and out of Tunis’ beauty salons before the nightly curfew descends.

Used to staying open until 10pm or 11pm to doll up clients for parties or late-night weddings, the salons now empty out early as everyone rushes to get home before an overnight curfew covers the capital in silence.

Salon owners say business is down, supplies are short and people are holding off weddings — a steady source of income in calmer times.

The week-old curfew was imposed after several days of fresh unrest between pro-democracy protesters and government forces in and around the capital, triggering a new round of stress for many.

“As soon as I hear noises on Habib Bourguiba Avenue, I close the curtains of the salon,” moaned Imed, owner of a downtown beauty salon whose tension showed in the dark shadows under his eyes.

Habib Bourguiba Avenue was the epicentre of both the unrest in December and January that toppled long-time president Zine el Abidine Ben Ali and kicked off pro-democracy revolts around the Arab world, and last week’s troubles.

Typical of many working women rushing in after their jobs, a Tunisian journalist asked for “just a quick styling” because she’s “really busy”, before dashing back into the street lined with rotting garbage thanks to a new strike by municipal workers.

Elegantly dressed 50-something Souha said she comes to Imed’s to “clear my head” of the country’s troubles.

“Despite the stress and the curfew, I steal a few happy moments to make myself pretty — and because I do not want my husband to look elsewhere,” she said.

A young, veiled employee sitting under photographs of short-haired women on the walls of the sparse salon obsessively consulted Facebook, explaining she was “following the situation” in the country.

‘Many weddings postponed’
Another worker repeatedly phoned her husband to remind him to fetch her before the curfew — declared May 7 from 9pm to 5am for an indeterminate period — “for fear of being detained”.

Owner Imed groaned that the new unrest has left him short on beauty supplies. “Once again I do not have all the products that I need.”

In another salon, aesthetician Zeyneba Aich said her clients are still coming in for facials, manicures and pedicures but want it “faster”.

“They’re all telling me “quick, quick, I want to get home before the curfew’,” she said.

In a salon on the outskirts of Tunis, hairdresser Latifa said her clients had also upped the pressure, all demanding “only quick blow waves”.

“The women are afraid of being detained, of being robbed,” if they are caught out after the curfew, she said, adding she too was scared.

Other beauticians complain they’ve lost clients, like salon owner Maryam who said her business has halved since the curfew was imposed.

“The staff live far away and I cannot keep them late,” she said. “The young women do not come for make-up anymore because they no longer have evening parties.

“Many weddings have been postponed,” she added. “We could be busy on two or three weddings a day because we could stay open late, but now every bride wants to be ready by 2pm at the latest.”

In Tunisia, weddings are often held between 9pm and midnight.

The upshot has seen some women returning to traditional, less costly beauty rituals at home, like using olive oil as a hair treatment or fig sap mixed with rose water as a face mask. — AFP

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