The following post was written on July 9th, 2012, while I was living in Gulu, Uganda.
In desperate need of a haircut, I finally decided to give in; I was going to risk it all…everything… and go to a barbershop in Gulu. I asked around at work for recommendations of a good barber. I also asked my Acholi friends where they got their haircut. No one could really agree on an answer, and a few even told me they only get their haircut in Kampala. Unfortunately, I was in no position to drive six hours to Kampala to get my haircut.
One evening I was walking down the main road on my way back from dinner when I ran into my friend Collins who was sitting outside of a few shops. I immediately noticed him because he was wearing the Butler Bulldogs hat I had given him a few weeks ago. I went to say hi when I noticed one of the shops he was sitting outside of was a barbershop, so I mentioned I was thinking about a haircut. He told me in his Acholi accent, “This guy here, he’s what? He’s been in the game some few years.” That essentially means he has a lot of experience and he is good.
Two days later the weekend came and I was leaving our professional development conference at Hotel Kaka Nyero; I decided to venture back to the barbershop and let the massacre to my hair begin. I walked in and Collins again was sitting there just hanging out in the shop. I asked him if this was his local hangout and he said it is where is spends a lot of his free time. I asked him if the barber would be able to do a fade cut and not just shave my head to the scalp. “Josh, continue with our program, this guy here as been in the game some many years,” Collins replied confidently.
As I waited I watched the barber perform a precision trim on the facial hair of his current customer. Watching his steady hand eased my initial worry somewhat. Although, This Is Africa and I was going to be satisfied with whatever hair I had left.
When it was my turn, I quickly leapt out of the waiting chair into the barber’s chair. I tried to explain a fade cut to the barber and he replied in Acholi so I wasn’t really sure what was about to happen. Collins had ventured outside at that moment so I did not have a translator either. The barber pulled out the clippers, snapped a guard in place and went to work. I listened to the buzzing and watched my thick hair fall to the ground. He took his time, every cut precisely how and where he wanted it. I could sense his frustration as the power would go out from time to time due to a shaky connection to the outlet. I quickly learned I wasn’t getting a five minute, 15 dollar Great Clips cut. He started out on the sides of my head with a very short cut and began to fade it as he went up. Half an hour later I had the best looking fade cut (and possibly the only one in Gulu) I have had in quite awhile; granted I usually cut my own hair.
After the barber was finished, he directed me over to another chair and I sat down. I woman then came out and started massaging my head with shampoo. When I say massage, I mean it was a full on head massage; I was in heaven for nearly 10 minutes. When she finished I went to the counter to pay the lofty price of UGX 5,000 (equivalent to less than $2.50)…this was definitely not a $15 Great Clips cut, both in price and in quality.
I wrote a blog a few weeks ago about misconceptions/preconceived notions. I think I needed a reminder of it. …I may wait until next time I am in Gulu to get my haircut again.
Sunday July 8th marked one month since my stepfather passed away. I find it very interesting how I am able to cope with this fact on most days, but in the most obscure times it will hit me. I was sitting in history class the other day about to start teaching, when I was the reality of my dad’s death caught me like a blindsided punch to the gut. Anyway, I knew it was going to be on my mind on Sunday and I was trying to figure out some kind of activity which would make it a positive day instead of a sorrowful day. Fittingly enough, on Saturday night my good friend from work, Aballa Godfrey, invited me to his church service for Sunday. “Josh, where do you do your prayers? Would you like to join my program on Sunday?” …of course, he asked me this while we were out with a big group dancing on Saturday night/Sunday morning at BJ’Z. *Side note: I have written about Godfrey in a previous blog, but if you did not read it, click here and find the paragraph about him. He has been an absolute rock star to me and one of the best friends I have made here.*
On Sunday, Sarah and I met Godfrey at Café Lorem for breakfast before we attended Mass. I ordered a banana pancake topped off with Nuetella. Anyone who has had Nuetella before knows that my pancake was more than delicious. I bought Godfrey breakfast as I know he really does not have any extra money. He is working at SSBS just so he can pay enough of his University fees in order to attend the fall term. Breakfast for two at less than UGX 15,000 (>$7.50) is not too shabby. After we finished we walked a few blocks and arrived at the church.
The building was beautiful on the outside and equally stunning on the interior. It was old and had a simplistic design, although by Gulu standards the architecture and paintings inside seemed rather complex. The crowd was flowing out of it as there were no seats left inside. Godfrey led us inside and we found a few seats, although they were separate from each other. As I looked up I noticed the ceiling was lined with black angels/cherubs. Where there were not angels flying there were Celtic knots in the shape of the infinity symbol. Have I ever mentioned that there is just something about that #8? I may have to get the infinity symbol in some sort of commemorative tattoo symbolic of this trip and my stepfather when I return home.
I loved the service for two main reasons: The choir/music was awesome. Local, tribal songs mixed together with gospel songs; thunderous kimbe drums echoing off of the ceiling as many women shrieked the tribal call. I am in Africa. Throughout the service I was also surrounded by many small children. One of my favorite things about being in Gulu is the way a small child will look at me with the biggest grin. It is because I am a munu, but seeing those smiles every day puts everything in perspective. One particular child was sitting about three feet from me and kept catching my eyes, smiling, and then hiding behind her mother in a moment of shyness; thirty seconds later the process would be repeated.
Living in Gulu is a constant reminder of what life should be about: love, happiness, and a general appreciation and respect for others. Children, who live in complete poverty, who literally have just the clothes on their back, are able to smile the biggest smiles and enjoy the simplicities that life has to offer. The materialistic attitude is minimal here in G-town…shame on me for losing that perspective from time to time.
Sunday was not a sorrowful day at all, rather a positive one. It just took a great friend, a child’s smile, flying angels, and a Celtic knot to remind me why everyday should be a positive day; a day filled with love, happiness, and selflessness towards others.