SIDON, Lebanon: The sight of Lebanese women having their hair braided in African styles might be jarring, but one Sidon salon has introduced locals to a variety of unfamiliar beauty practices. The interior of Elsa Salon is designed with an Ethiopian twist, but its customers come from all walks of life and comprise many nationalities. Lebanese, Bangladeshi, Filipino and, of course, Ethiopian nationals come to get their hair done and nails painted.
While discrimination against nationalities associated with domestic workers has been in the news in Lebanon in recent years, Elsa Salon has managed to draw even Lebanese clients.
Leila, a Lebanese woman, has become a frequent customer at the salon run by Rita Ifkadu and Eslabet Negash.
“I’ve been coming to the salon since they opened,” Leila said. “Society should change its outlook and do away with discrimination.”
“I feel comfortable here and the hairdressers are very professional,” she said.
Negash, who graduated from a beauty school in Addis Ababa four years ago, explained she initially arrived to Lebanon to work as a sales attendant.
“I hold a degree, and I came to Lebanon not as a domestic worker, but as a retail employee until someone opened this salon and I came to work here with my friend,” she said.
“Our customers are Ethiopians, other Africans, Lebanese, Bengladeshi and Filipino.”
“Braiding is the most popular hairstyle I do, and this takes a lot of time ... about 120 minutes,” Negash said. “The Ethiopians also like to fit wigs, and I have several styles and colors.”
Negash said she dreams of styling a Lebanese bride one day, but that most of her bridal customers have been Ethiopian: “I styled an Ethiopian bride two months ago.”
“We work all week long but the shop is especially crowded Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays because this is when most domestic workers have their days off,” Negash explained.
Braiding has also caught the attention of the employers of domestic workers, Negash said.
“The most interesting and funny thing is that Ethiopian domestic workers are starting to bring their employers to braid their hair. The employer is jealous of her maid’s braids,” she said, “Whereas our Filipino and Bangladeshi clients love to have their makeup and nails done.”
The salon has a special section to ensure the privacy of veiled women who also come to get their hair done.
Though the majority of its customers are female, Elsa Salon is actually unisex and caters to males as well. Many Ethiopian men come to the salon to braid their hair.
During the Ethiopian New Year, the salon was full of expats who came to beautify themselves for the occasion.
Elsa Salon’s rates are considered reasonable by their clientele. For example, the price of fitting new wigs ranges from LL15,000-LL100,000.
Ifkadu, who is mainly responsible for makeup, said the job was not as easy as it looked:
“It’s a hard job because you have to find the right foundation to match the skin color before it is applied.”
One regular customer, Ethiopian domestic worker Tamara, said, “I love to style my hair at the beginning of every month. A woman should look beautiful at all times.”
Tamara enjoys the familiarity the salon offers:
“In this salon everything reminds me of Ethiopia and that’s why I feel very much at home.”