Story of an Abu Dhabi Beauty Salon
Jocelyn and Marilyn are young sisters, from Philippines, wearing a blue apron. They arrived in the United Arab Emirates four years ago. I would stay there for hours to hear how sweet their broken Arabic sounds. They play with sounds that rhyme with some Filipino words. They laugh like hell for the meanings they’re able to make… Their phonetic puns crack them up while tidying up different colors of nail polish on a window board.
Salwa is from Aghadir. Her eyes are so elusive. You cannot tell if she’s concentrating on the job she does for you or not.
Leyla is in her forties, from a coastal town in South Morocco. She laughs all the time, energetic and playful. I am sure she will be the first one to leave the salon, unbeknownst to all the others. She knows how to keep her chin up.
Fatima has never told me where exactly she’s from. She’s the oldest. I’m sure she is. As she always looks tired and her smile is always strained and uncertain. She’s been in the Emirates for eleven long years. Unlike Salwa, Fatima seems to concentrate on every single hair she takes out of your eyebrows. With her, the extraction of every single hair root offers you the satiated feeling of an accomplished project.
Salwa, Leyla, and Fatima wear a pink apron. The apron color decides where you’re from. Decides your wage scale. Decides the moral dignity of your ancestors and your level of “submissiveness”. Decides who you are to others in the United Arab Emirates.
Jocelyn would like to remain in the Philippines this January, when she’ll take her annual leave. She hasn’t told even her sister about her intention to not return. After all, her sister Marylin is very likely to tattle it all to “al-Madame” to finally get into her good books. Their sisterhood is at the mercy of power. Their sisterhood is breathing its last breath under the lashes of Fear.
Leyla tells me about the pale colors of the Atlantic Ocean at dusk while putting my hair in a bun. The suffused lighting of the salon has the same paleness as the Moroccan dusks she fantasizes about, while brushing my hair with optimistic determination. She wants my hair ends to be as wavy as her ocean.
“Al-Madame” halves their monthly salaries when Leyla, Salwa, Fatima, Jocelyn, and Marilyn end up working a bit less. Last July, during Ramadan, I found “al-Madame” yelling at them due to the low turnout of clients.
“Al-Madame”, after all, remains a she. She needs to report the monthly revenues to her husband. The actual owner of the beauty salon. The very source of fear.
Fatima regrets to have got her contract renewed. Another two years of yelling she will have to cope with. Another two years of under-salaried slow hours in the suffused light of the salon. She whispers to me how evil “al-Madame” can become all of a sudden. At every word Fatima says to vent her anger, she puts more energy into her hands, as though she could dump injustice on a hair root. I have a sip of over-sugared Moroccan tea every time she puts downward pressure on my thighs. To forget about the pressure. To forget about her hardships. To forget about the dearth of ways-out we both need to face in our common pain. To forget about me leaving the United Arab Emirates before her.
I wish I could leave with her one of my thighs to get sure she will know where to drop injustice.