I hadn’t cut my hair in seven months, mostly out of fear that a Malagasy barber wouldn’t know how to cut my foreign hair. Plus, stereotypically speaking, I was already a hippy for joining the Peace Corps, so why not embrace the image by growing out my hair? I welcomed the change.
The longer my hair became, the more my Malagasy friends hated it. Many Malagasy people associate long hair with Rastafarianism, which leads to associations of social irresponsibility, which then leads to ill opinion. I also liked to complement my longer hair with facial hair, and this choice in personal appearance was the straw that broke the zebu’s back. By the time I saw Michelle in December, to the Malagasy people I was as attractive as a taxi-brousse crash.
Michelle swore she liked my hair. She said she’d love me no matter what my hair looked like, even if it were all to fall out into irremediable baldness. But when I decided to cut my hair because it was too hot for Madagascar’s rainy season, she seemed thrilled. “You have a nice hairline and your long hair hides it. Hey, can I cut it?” she said. “Sure,” I said.
She needed some liquid courage before cutting her first client’s hair, so we drank some rum and played cards in her home while sweat dripped from every pore. Finally, she was ready. For the next hour she attacked my hair and facial hair with scissors she’d purchased in the market, and when she was finished my hair was short and perfect. My hairline looked nice, too. “I think I’ll give up teaching English and become a coiffure!” Michelle said.
Upon returning to my village, I discovered another advantage to cutting my hair: People no longer compare me to English singer James Blunt or think that I am English singer James Blunt.