Monday, June 8, 2009

A Hairdresser Named Maryam

I got my hair cut the other day. As much as my kids wouldn't like it, I decided to get some layers cut in and to have my bangs shaped a bit better than my rushed feeble attempt of the other day.

I've written about my kids' strong attachment to my hair and how they really don't like me to alter how I look. However I look is me. If I don't look the same, how am I still me? Oh, but I am and they are living with it.

A hairdresser named Maryam took me over to her chair to consult with me and see what I would like to do before she washed my hair. I explained how I wanted the layers cut in and how I wanted the bangs to be and she asked if I wanted them on the side and then I could put in a little gel and that would work. "Um. No. I don't use gel." Maryam raised her eyebrows at this, but she said nothing. I didn't dare tell her that I wash my hair with baking soda and rinse it with vinegar. I didn't think that would fly.

We made small talk as she washed my hair. She had an accent that I couldn't place. She laughed when my kids came over and asked if they could please go to the pet store next door and I said no. They accepted it and went back to the couch to read Cosmo or Vogue or something that I don't ever read. Her daughter, she explained, has two little kids 7 and 5 and they are always asking why? Why this and why that. They never accept an answer and must be told the reason for everything. Maryam said it tires her daughter. I explained that I do my fair share of explaining too, it's just that this time the kids accepted my answer willingly.

I followed Maryam, my damp hair in a towel turban--which as a child I would have arranged so as to look like Cher and pretend I was on the Sonny and Cher Show. Maryam asked if the kids were out of school yet. "No. We're homeschoolers, so we're sort of done, but not really." This is a much better answer than I usually give explaining that we unschool and we don't use a curriculum and the kids learn all the time all year round. 'Cause they're alive, that's why.

She was curious about it and at first thought that maybe a teacher comes to the house--no, it's me, I explained, I'm the teacher and we do what we want. Maryam wondered if we use the same books as the schools do and I explained that we don't. She asked if the kids learn the same things. No, they learn what they learn. They're ahead in some ways and behind in some ways, but they're learning what they need to know and will be fine by the time college rolls around. She got that.

She shared that her granddaughter is a little chubby and gets teased unmercifully at school. I saw pictures of grandkids on her work space counter--cute kids and a shot of an older set of kids. One was a teenager. Maryam told me that he's 18 now and lives back where she's from. "Where's that?" I asked. "Iran." "Oh, Persian", I said. She grinned and was pleased that I know that. I said smugly, "Well, we're homeschoolers..."

I went on to explain about our field trip to my friend's mosque and that it was that kind of visit that was why we were homeschoolers. My kids would never go to a mosque as a field trip in school. "We also went on a behind the scenes tour of Trader Joe's, and wouldn't have been able to if there was a big school group." "Oh, Yes.", she said. She got it.

We talked a bit about the hijab. She asked if my friend wears a hijab. She felt she could never do it. She felt it was an infringement on her person, on her liberty to be told how to dress. Her daughter is married to a Muslim man and does wear a hijab, but she felt she could never do it. She felt bad for the women of Afghanistan in their burkas.

She's Christian and had a very hard time in Iran. At 13, through an arranged marriage, she was given away and had her first child at 15. She said she never listened to others who tried to make her something she was not.

She continued school and her husband didn't like it. She told him she would go any way. She graduated and went on to college where she became a political science major. "Why did you learn how to cut hair?", I asked wanting to know more of her story. As she worked on my head, snipping here and there, she calmly told of her time during the revolution. Her husband, the man she had been given to at the tender age of 13 was killed. She had 12, 10 and 8 year old children. She had to learn something to survive.

Maryam sent her son to Japan and the rest of her family got out of Iran and made their way to India. Eventually, she came here and was granted political asylum.

She continued to look at my hair, taking strands from both sides of my head and pulling them to the front to check if the cut was even. I said something sympathetic, but I was sort of floored by the horror she had endured. I told her I was so sorry and how awful that must have been. She seemed very strong and resilient--she had had to have been--and she was sorry about what her country had become.

We agreed that women in this country have great freedoms. We have freedom that is unknown to oppressed women and girls in other parts of the world.

My kids sidled up to me and I asked them if they would go next door and then come back or wait for me there and not go anywhere else. Yes, they would. Would they not bump on the glass trying to get the dogs' attention and just carefully look at everything? Yes, they would be careful. "OK. You can go." Big grins all around, including Maryam who felt I should let the kids go all along.

Maryam finished up my haircut and gave me her card and I paid her and gave her a big tip. I shook her hand and thanked her for the great haircut and for sharing her interesting story with me. She smiled and thanked me for coming.


Anonymous said...

I enjoyed reading this! Thanks for sharing.

Laura said...

Thanks for reading.

It was amazing to have Maryam cut my hair and tell me about these different parts of her life.

Everyone has a story, but hers really got me. The act of cutting my hair as she told me of her husband's killing--it was a startling juxtaposition.

Holly Noelle said...

I reeeally enjoyed this post. Maryam sounds incredible! I wish she could cut my hair too!

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