Letters from the Desert (2) I visit the Turkey Barber
Today I went to the Turkey Barber. It's not what you're thinking. I don't
actually have a turkey. In fact, turkeys are quite rare in the Kingdom.
There are chickens and roosters, many of them on the street right outside
the school I teach in. But no turkeys, unless you count the frozen kind.
What there are in the Kingdom, along with chickens, are many western
ex-patriots, and that means many a lonely person yearning for home.
Thanksgiving and Christmas especially are holidays when missing home
really hits hard. To the average Saudi businessman, however, these
lonesome ex-pats represent a money-making opportunity. Large, frozen,
grossly overpriced turkeys appear like magic in the Kingdom's supermarkets
in the fall.
A medium sized frozen turkey costs about $50 Canadian. I bought one
anyway, but having paid that much for my Christmas turkey, I wasn't about
to add to the cost by giving the deceased bird a haircut. Which it didn't
need anyway, having been thoroughly plucked before being frozen.
I was the one who needed the haircut. Hair normally is worn quite short in
the Kingdom, at least on men. I doubt the same applies to women, but I am
only guessing, since women generally are blanketed head to foot in the
basic black abbaya. The exceptions are Western women who are thoroughly
black only from neck to foot, their bare heads and long hair being a sort
of ex-pat symbol of feminist defiance.
I wasn't trying to defy anyone. I just needed a haircut, but in the
Kingdom that meant I had a choice - visit a Saloon or visit a Turkey
I had already been to a Saloon. In my first few days as an ex-pat, perhaps
still suffering from jet-lag, I was astounded to find in Jeddah a huge
number of businesses calling themselves Saloons. I had begun to think that
the Kingdom didn't really deserve its reputation as perhaps the most
conservative Islamic country in the world, where possession of a single
glass of beer will get you a prison term.
On one particularly hot evening, then, I confidently walked through the
doors of a Saloon - wondering if all the beers would be American brands -
only to be hustled into a barber's chair by a gentleman who wielded
scissors and a straight razor about my head with great abandon, all the
while talking non-stop Arabic to another gentleman sitting nearby. I got
an excellent haircut, and for only 10 Saudi Riyals, too, which works out
to about $3.90 Canadian. I did not get a beer.
Despite my good haircut, I had been rather surprised by my Saloon
adventure and had decided to try a new barber. After Saloon, Turkey Barber
seems to be the most commonly found English phrase on those signs which
have any English at all below the Arabic script. I had asked around, too,
and had been assured that turkey didn't mean either a large, stupid bird
or a medium-sized gullible ex-pat. I chose my Turkey at random, took a
breath, and pushed through the doors.
Not a gobbler was in sight, and in the end I received yet another fine
haircut. About the only difference between the Saloon and the Turkey
Barber was the price. This one cost me 20 Riyals, or about $7.80 Canadian.
But it was worth it. The slight tugging on your hair in time to the
clicking of the scissors and the first shiver you feel as the straight
razor whispers against your neck ... it is a sensory experience we have
lost in the West where hair salons assault your head with designer gels
and angrily buzzing electric razors. Give me a Turkey Barber any day.
The bell for class is ringing. Just one more thing -- it turns out that
Turkey, as in Turkey Barber, really means the country. My barber is a
Turkish ex-pat with a mostly Turkish clientele, now increased by one
well-groomed but still thirsty Canadian ex-pat.
From the Kingdom,