Friday, June 5, 2009

Mani/Pedi in Freetown

Ok, if that title made no sense to you, then you might want to stop reading here because you won't care. If you can raise your hand because you've had a manicure or pedicure before, then this might be somewhat entertaining for you.

Fridays we work a half day at Embassy Freetown, so we get off work around 1pm. Don't worry, we still work a 40 hour week because we work a little longer each of the other four days. Anyway, I digress. Today after work I decided to treat myself to a mani/pedi. It had been two weeks since the last one and it was time to look pretty again. I have a girl, Mary, and she comes to my house when I call her. She is Sierra Leonean (about 30 years old) and she learned the trade by working for a Lebanese lady at a local hotel. The hotel closed, the lady went back to Lebanon and Mary took her tools and trade on the road. She is very nice, does a professional job and it's pure pampering to have this service at home. The first time she came, I had a glass of wine (for her not me), lit a candle, played the music I liked and she totally made me feel beautiful. She has been coming every couple of weeks since then. Today I sent her a text message to see if she could come over (text messaging is the main way everyone her communicates; calling is more expensive and takes more time and is only done if absolutely necessary). I got a polite text back saying no, she could not come today because she had just been admitted to the hospital. Now, in the U.S. if someone said that you would be alarmed. Here; it's a fact of life. People get sick all the time and go to the hospital. There is not really any other form of health care. People die all the time too, so someone as young as Mary could be so sick that I might not see her again. I hope that's not the case, but I have learned here how often death strikes. It's appalling and you never get used to it. Anyway, Mary was not coming so I needed to make other arrangements.

Plan B was to drive downtown and find a salon. A friend recommended a place that I could not find, but I stumbled upon another place that looked ok. Now, looking "ok" means that they appear to have some manicure equipment around, probably have some towels and probably have a basket of polish somewhere. They had all that so I went in. The place inside was so dirty that any of you probably would have gotten on the phone to the health department ASAP, but here, that's the norm. After living here a while, you get used to filthy conditions. Imagine this: next to me in the chair is a woman getting some sort of hair extensions put in--and the girl doing it is about 9 months pregnant and she is literally sewing fake hair into the head of the woman she is working on. I had never seen that done before and I was fascinated. First, she had to braid this woman's hair really tight to her head in all these neat little rows and then she sewed fake rows of hair into the braids. I thought she looked better with the braids, but it's all a matter of style, isn't it? This process took about 2 hours and she was not quite finished when I left. Across the room was a woman eating food out of a bowl with her hands. I was hoping she was not going to be the one working on me. Eating with your hands is a common practice here--the woman was eating some sort of rice and vegetables. It's ok with me to eat with your long as you do it at home and not at the nail salon. Another woman was soaking her feet in some sort of murky brown water that smelled funny. She called a vendor off the street and ordered some sort of food item. The vendor was a middle aged woman with a huge basket on her head filled with something that smelled like greasy chicken. Now add that to the rice/vegetable dish that the first woman was eating and you have quite a mix of smelly food. Well, at least for a while, it overpowered the smell of the brown water.

Back to me. The girl working on me got the foot tub ready for me to soak my feet in. The machine was one of those foot baths that you plug in and it vibrates and makes bubbles. In this case, there was no electricity, so the water was still. The water...get this. She poured hot water from a thermos (like something you make coffee in) because of course--there was no electricity to make hot water. She made the water so hot that when I put my feet in it started burning! So she went out back and got a pitcher of cold water and added that and we were ready to go. At this point, I have to tell you that I forgot one very important element of a pedicure; the use of pointed objects. Oh boy. She took out this tool that is supposed to be used to trim cuticles. Right. The tool is so sharp that pretty soon she's hurting me and I'm trying not to say anything so I don't cause either of us any embarrassment. But I realize she is doing more damage than good and I just hope she finishes with the torture soon. After my feet are clean of all cuticles, she takes out the scrubbing lotion. This stuff has little bits of sand in it and it's green in color. I have had this treatment before, so I'm not really worried. But I have not had this treatment in Africa. Right. She gets that tool that looks like a cheese grater with a handle that is supposed to remove the dead skin and 'goes to town' on my foot. By that I mean, she scrapes and scrapes my skin over and over. The tool is meant for the bottom of the foot where dead skin grows and callouses grow and this tool helps remove all that stuff. But she does not stop there; oh no. She scrapes that metal thing across the top of my foot where the skin is thin and delicate. She does this over and over which leads me to believe that she really has no idea what Beauty School is about. I'm wincing and trying not to show it and still she keeps going. I realize I still have the other foot to go and I'm hoping against hope that she does not try this on my hands. She finishes with my feet and I breathe a sigh of relief. Next come the hands. She does the same pointy tool cuticle treatment to my delicate fingers and I watch as a few of my cuticles start to bleed. I try to be blasé, but then remember that I'm in Africa where sanitation is at a minimum and I'm worried--I went for an innocent manicure only to be infected with some deadly virus I try to push that out of my mind. Oh, I forgot one very important point. While I'm waiting for the hands and feet treatment, she has me soaking in something. It's a mixture of something that smells like Pine Sol. Now, my hands were in this stuff for over 20 minutes; until they were white and wrinkled and I took them out myself. I have to tell you, that smell stayed on my hands the whole rest of the evening! Imagine your hands smelling line kitchen floor cleaner--not especially romantic or pretty-feeling. Anyway, the polish was another dilemma. I asked for clear polish with some designs on it--to be subtle. She starts painting my nails a bright pink and when I object, she says that the clear polish only looks good on black African women and that the pink will look great on me. Well, so much for my choice. She finishes my hands and feet in neon pink and then proceeds to paint a couple of artistic white stripes on each nail . It would have been beautiful except the stripes didn't match and I looked more like a candy cane than someone with an elegant manicure. Even though I didn't care much for the outcome, all the African ladies in the shop said I looked "really great" and I tried to believe them as I left the shop. The one great thing in all this is that I managed to purchase those little flip flops they put on your feet as the polish dries. They call those things "slippers" and I bought them for 5000 Le; which is about $1.60. Money well spent, since the manicure/pedicure cost 50,000, or about $16.00. If any of you can write me that you spent less than $2 on flip flops and less than $18 on a manicure and pedicure--let me know. I will let you know the status of any infections and I will try to look at my nails and not see candy canes.

Cheers everyone and appreciate civilization and sterilization,