Driving past Wakulima Market last week, a friend and I mused about how angry people in Nairobi are.
A mkokoteni guy was ticked off by a comment made by a driver and we talked about how easily people are just a comment away from going at each other’s throats or going mad. It’s not even a joke.
Last year, while going through a rough patch, I packed my bags and went back to Nyeri, and just being there changed my mood.
Nairobi as a city has a personality. It’s angry and never misses a chance to show you how angry it is.
Nairobi is always in a rush to get somewhere and Nairobi will take the kindness and empathy that you brought from your rural home.
Nairobi is lonely, even when it has millions of people going through it each day.
Nairobi knows how to show you a good time though, and make you forget that it’s slowly sucking you dry.
We laughed about the little things that make the city unique and worth living in, and I remembered one of the things that I miss about having short hair: a visit to the barbershop.
Sounds strange, doesn’t it? A trip down to clipper lane used to make my weeks a little more bearable.
We also laughed at how barbershops are holding many Nairobi marriages together.
But what is it about a barbershop that makes men go there thrice a month and sit there for two hours?
Comedian Teacher Wanjiku did a whole routine on it and why she would never let her husband go to another one again.
The massages after the shave are no ordinary massages. They were crafted in the valley of maintaining happy marriages and fashioned in the fires of illicit daytime open-air pleasure.
They were founded on the same spirit as the 24-hour Kilimani massages, which everyone castigates in daytime but go to in the night.
The first time I experienced it, I was a bit surprised. So the shave went well. Barbershops are amazing.
It’s a room full of men and no judgment. It’s a space for men, by men, and it’s a chill atmosphere where you get to be yourself.
It’s where men vent about their marriages and their children and their jobs and their debts and their side chicks, who refuse to stay loyal.
I’ve managed to know my barber Pato pretty well over the past few years.
I know about his wife and child and the pressure he has gone through because of how tough the economy is.
I’ve also got to know many chaps from the barbershop and we have conversations even before getting to know each other’s names.
Business advice is given, connections are made over a haircut. You also leave feeling heard.
The second half of the shave gets more exciting, though. You move from the shaving chair to another one and the head massage begins.
The first time I got it, I was confused about what was going on. My head was smack in the middle of her bosom and she was doing things to my head that my body couldn’t understand.
My eyes were closed and I had to make sure to keep my mouth shut. I don’t know where they get these girls but there’s a place in heaven for them.
For the people in formal shirts and vests, their shirts are taken off and the massage goes down to their shoulders and that’s a moment you look away from because you really don’t want to see the faces that they make. It’s a sacred moment.
I enjoyed my massage religiously and would put my phone on silent. If they used the scalp massager, I was done.
I would cut my tongue out first so that I don’t give away my ATM Pin number.
The masseuses know exactly what they’re doing and they’re both friendly and flirtatious, and so you end up having conversations you’ve kept away from people you know.
You go from stressed to having everything off your chest from the time you get in to the time you leave.
It might not seem like it, but it feels like the closest men get to therapy.
Several intentional initiatives, including Lions Barber Collective in the UK and The Confess Project in Atlanta, USA, have recognised barbershops as safe spaces for men, and have trained the barbers to be amateur therapists as a way of improving men’s mental health.
Though training doesn’t happen here, the principle is the same. It’s a good place to be yourself and go back to the world a happy man.