x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

How to look your best when your stylist is late for iftar?

A Ramadan trip to the hairdresser's wasn't such a bright idea after all.

Some combinations make sense. Hummus and pita. Spaghetti and meatballs. Movies and popcorn. Spiced coffee and dates.

Haircuts and Ramadan? Bad idea.

This is the number one top-secret Ramadan tip missed by all e-guides and travel brochures.

"The stylists said they don't feel hungry in Ramadan," I told friends who warned me. "They're above hunger. They have energy from prayer. And they can cut hair. Anyway, how bad could it be?"

My answer came a day later. My hair was a shade of fluorescent yellow seen only in breeds of tropical fish.

A Ras Al Khaimah haircut, on any day, can be a stressful one - more so if you don't speak Arabic, have fine hair and little of it.

That's not to say that RAK stylists aren't artists. They are experts at whitening, waxing, threading, straightening, curling and blow drying hair to heights that rival the Burj Khalifa. We have an entire neighbourhood of villas converted to colourful saloons, and for good reason.

But if you are not a part of the wedding or henna parties that crowd saloons most nights of the week, there is a good chance you will have to fight for attention and care. So I reasoned that the solution would be Ramadan, when the wedding season pauses and the crowds disappear.

I didn't count on the Eid rush.

The last days of Ramadan can be a saloon's busiest time as women preen themselves before the three days of the Eid Al Fitr holiday. At that time, women look their best to visit family and friends in far flung villages and cities across the country.

And so I found myself, sitting between dozens of women preparing for Eid splendour.

It was the second time in my life I'd dyed my hair. I was nervous. But judging by all the customers, I was sure I was in good hands.

"Highlight?" asked the hairdresser.

Yes, I said. Yes please.

"Shway, bas?" she asked. A little only?

"Bas," I said. Only.

She put on some goop and disappeared.

When she reappeared some time later, her voice was sweet with concern. Too sweet.

"Sorry habibti," she said.

And then, her voice dropped to a baritone as she lifted the foils on my head. "Oh. That is too much white."

She immediately disappeared to cut the hair of a toddler.

Being new to the saloon experience, I was sure she knew best. So I was surprised when she returned and removed the foil to reveal that my hair had gone orange.

Not a healthy, fiery orange. More the shade of a dirty, old orange peel.

The second time she removed the towel my hair was grey. Not metallic, superhero grey. Grandmother grey. If it had a smell, it would be cabbage.

The third time she removed the foils my head glowed highlighter yellow. All 30 women in the saloon stopped to stare. They gasped. They held their hands to their lips. They gave me looks of shock and pity.

The stylist prepared to go again - fourth time lucky! "No," I said. "Wait. This is what I want."

"This," she said, "this is what you want?" What I wanted at that moment was to be a brunette.

For a few days afterwards I was afraid to touch my hair. It stayed iridescent yellow. Strangers assumed that I was a woman of low morals and high prices. But at that moment in the saloon, I had just wanted to escape.

"Habibti?" asked the stylist, above the gasps. "You like this?"

She had been fasting all day. It was shortly before iftar. I did not have the heart to complain.

"Yes," I squeaked. "It's ... perfect. Exactly what I want. Thank you."

Women's expressions changed from pity to horror. In a land where over-the-top is not enough, I had reached a limit.

But then, an Emirati woman in her 40s with blood-red highlights in her jet black hair gave me a thumbs up. "Original style," she said, and winked.

The limit? Maybe not.