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January 24, 2019

Of crowning glories, black shoe polish, rice water and the vanity of politicians

No matter how aggressively masculine they behave, many men are terribly vain creatures, but would rather nobody ever knew, so I’d advise you keep this story under your hat.

Watching the TV news in Nairobi I couldn’t help but notice that quite a number of once grey haired public figures I knew through the 1990s and the 2000s were now sporting jet black full heads of hair. Everything has been coloured, sideburns, moustaches, beards not forgetting eyebrows, seem to have received the hair dye treatment.

I am not one to judge, but nevertheless it reminded me of a driver at a newspaper I worked at many years ago. The poor fellow was approaching retirement age and was concerned that he would not have enough to live on. In those days salaries were still poor and pensions a fantasy. The old man came up with a stunning wheeze to stave off retirement.

He dyed his hair with shoe polish to eliminate the grey and thus hoodwink the management of the newspaper that he was too young to retire. The problem with the shoe polish as hair dye was, when it was hot, he would perspire and all you could see on his face were these very black rivulets of sweat running down. We never knew where to look when this happened. I guess the poor fellow couldn’t afford the good stuff.

Clearly our politicians can afford the good stuff in their efforts to maintain youthful looking hair. In fact, I am told there is a Nairobi barber who is making a tidy fortune from an exclusive clientele of public figures and especially politicians who trust him with their hair care secrets. Of course if you are getting your hair done at a barbershop, then confidentiality may be somewhat lost, for obvious reasons. So for certain very private clients the barber makes house calls.

When I made a comment about our hair dye leaders, I was told what may very well be an apocryphal tale of the latest fad by the well-to-do and painfully vain, in an effort to look 20 years younger.

Apparently, for those in the know, rice water - which is left over from when the rice is washed to remove the starch before it is boiled - is the latest trick to grow the precious dyed hair and supposedly keep it from falling out as hair tends to do with age. The many years of the harsh chemicals in the hair dye doesn’t help, apparently.

The mental picture of all these macho political figures sitting at their exclusive barbershop having rice water massaged into their scalps, before having each follicle painstakingly dyed blacker than is even natural is one that had me rolling on the floor with laughter, especially knowing how they would recoil if anyone were to suggest that they henceforth be classified as metrosexuals.

So next time your favourite political leader tries to act all butch, macho and confident for the TV cameras, imagine him sitting at the hairdressers having his hair smothered in rice water and then dyed black and you might find you take them just a little less seriously than they’d like.

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