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Beauty salons and the beast

There is a new kind of man on the streets of Tanzania’s biggest cities. In Dar es Salaam, Arusha and Mwanza, these men wear designer clothes, shoes, belts, bracelets, rings and chains. They talk about their new Calvin Klein jeans and Fila shoes and see no problem in buying a pink floral shirt and wearing it with light-blue sneakers. They do not bother with the big Tanzanian musicians. It is Hollywood names that roll off their tongues as if they were speaking about a neighbour.

These men, who work for private companies or non-governmental organisations that pay them well, leave work early on Fridays so they can rest before starting another shift in the nightclubs, where they drink expensive cocktails instead of beer. You can smell their expensive imported fragrances from several metres away. You will find them with a Blackberry in their left hand and an iPhone in their right.

Spending a lot time at their local barbershop has become a must for these metrosexual men, for whom a simple haircut without oiling, massaging and scrubbing is just not enough. Gone are the days when men would get their hair cut or their beards trimmed by an old man with a mirror, a bench and a chair under a big tree. No, our metrosexuals spend more time in barbershops than women do in beauty salons.

Because of the metrosexual, the modern barbershop seems to be one of the fastest-growing businesses in the cities. A friend of mine recently sunk about R40 000 to open one in an upmarket suburb in Dar es Salaam. He has no doubt that in the next few months the business will pay him well.

From the interior of these modern shops, you get an idea of the services provided and what they cost. The nicer the place, the more expensive — and expansive — the selection. But in most you will find a big flatscreen television — or two, depending on the size of the shop — to entertain those waiting their turn. A fancy sofa and a music system are essential, as is a shelf full of creams, oils, powders and other male-centric beauty products.

The basic service is, of course, the cutting of hair and the trimming of beards, which are done by male barbers. The customer can decide whether he prefers to have his beard shaved with a razor or with “magic powder”. This special mixture is used with water and is more expensive because it leaves a man’s cheeks softer that a razor and it can take up to four days before the beard starts growing again. A normal haircut can set you back R15 but using the magic powder costs you double.

After the barber is done with his customer, a beautiful young lady will approach him to offer the next service available on the menu.

“Are you scrubbing?” she will say in a very polite soft voice. Any man will agree to the proposal, even if it sets him back another R8.

The scrubbing process starts on the face and the neck and usually takes 15 to 20 minutes. And then, as a customer waits for the next step, the girl will ask again: “Brother, what about your nails? Would you like a manicure and a pedicure?” Another R5 for each of those services.

At the end of all this, a man will be taken to another small room with sinks for the cleaning process. The young lady washes the customer’s head and face before applying creams and sprays.

Women do not really like the idea of their partners going to these new barbershops. After all, the beautiful women in cute outfits who work at the barbershops might easily steal their partners from them. Some women wait outside for their partners to finish so that they can protect them from the beauticians. They might be right in one way or another. The young women try hard to make sure that they keep their customers happy so that they are left with a tip after the service.

Still, every modern woman in Tanzania would die to have her very own metrosexual man. Most of them do not mind having men who look as beautiful as them. After all, their good looks do not come cheap and the metrosexual man has the flash and the cash to keep the barbershops, and his woman, smiling.

Erick Mchome is a 2011 winner of the David Astor Journalism Award. He lives in Dar es Salaam

To read more stories visit our special report Voices of Africa.

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